The Merit Badge Program
188.8.131.52 The Benefits of Merit Badges
There is more to merit badges than simply providing
opportunities to learn skills. There is more to them than
an introduction to lifetime hobbies, or the inspiration to
pursue a career—though these invaluable results occur
regularly. The uncomplicated process—beginning in
a discussion with a Scoutmaster, continuing through
meetings with a counselor, and culminating in advancement
and recognition—provides several learning
experiences. It gives a Scout the confidence achieved
through overcoming obstacles. Social skills improve.
Self-reliance develops. Examples are set and followed.
And fields of study and interest are explored beyond
the limits of the school classroom.
184.108.40.206 Unit Leader Signs Application for Merit Badge ("Blue Card")
Though a few merit badges may have certain restrictions;
short of them, any registered Scout may work on any of
them at any time, as long as he has the approval of his
unit leader. This is indicated by his or her signature on
the Application for Merit Badge, No. 34124, commonly
called the “blue card.” Although it is the Scoutmaster’s
responsibility, for example, to see that a counselor is
identified from those approved and made available,
the Scout may have one in mind with whom he would
like to work. He may also want to take advantage of
opportunities at merit badge fairs or midways, or at
rock-climbing gyms or whitewater rafting trips that
provide merit badge instruction. This is acceptable, but
the unit leader should still consider the recommendation
and approve it if it is appropriate. Whatever the source,
all merit badge counselors must be registered and
approved. See “Counselor Approvals and Limitations,”
220.127.116.11, and “Registration and Reregistration,” 18.104.22.168.
Scouts may not begin work on discontinued merit
badges (see “Discontinued Merit Badges,” 22.214.171.124).
All merit badge requirements must be met while a
registered Boy Scout or Varsity Scout, or a qualified
Venturer or Sea Scout. Accomplishments before
joining, or while a Cub Scout, do not apply.
A unit leader should consider making more of the process
than just providing an OK. The opportunity exists, then
and there, to share in a young man’s life. Preliminary
merit badge discussions can lead to conversations about
talents and interests, goal setting, and the concept of
“challenge by choice.” The benefits can be much like
those of a well-done Scoutmaster conference. Typically
after the unit leader’s approval, the Scout contacts the
merit badge counselor and sets an appointment.
The Application for Merit Badge blue card has three
parts. The approving counselor should retain one of them
for at least a year—in case questions are raised later.
If all the requirements were met, the counselor signs the
other two parts and sends them off with the applicant.
If not, he simply initials what has been finished. This is
called a “partial” (see “Partial Completions,” 126.96.36.199.).
Once a registered counselor certifies all requirements are
met, the applicant submits one part to his unit leader and
retains the other for his personal records.
It is important to note the blue card is the nationally
recognized merit badge record. It has been updated
from time to time and carries the information needed
for proper posting and for evidence and reference as
needed later. For very large events—such as the national
Scout jamboree—the National Council may approve an
alternative format and sizing for the blue card. This is
done through the national Advancement Team.
Though it has not been clearly stated in the past,
units, districts, and local councils do not have the
authority to implement a different system for merit
badge approval and documentation. In any case,
through the years, many councils have created new
forms and approaches to the process, some including
IT components. In an effort to gather and consider
these potential best practices, councils are now asked
to submit descriptions and copies of their blue card
alternatives to the national Advancement Team.
About Merit Badge Counselors
188.8.131.52 Qualifications of Counselors
People serving must maintain registration with the
Boy Scouts of America as merit badge counselors
and be approved by the local council for each of their
badges. See “Counselor Approvals and Limitations,”
184.108.40.206. There are no exceptions. For example,
Scoutmasters must be approved for any badge they
wish to counsel or sign off in their troop. Before working
with Scouts, counselors must have completed Youth
Protection training within the last two years. They must
be men or women of good character, age 18 or older,
and recognized as having the skills and education in
the subjects they cover. It is important, too, they have
good rapport with Scout-age boys and unit leaders.
Several badges involve activities for which the Boy Scouts
of America has implemented strategies to improve safety,
improve the Scouts’ experiences, and manage risk.
These activities often require supervision with specialized
qualifications and certifications. Merit badge counselors who do not meet the specific requirements may use the
services of others who do. Additional details can be
found below, and also in the Guide to Safe Scouting,
No. 34416, and the merit badge pamphlets.
General Supervision Requirements
- Swimming and watercraft activities must be conducted
in accordance with BSA Safe Swim Defense or BSA
Safety Afloat, respectively, and be supervised by
mature and conscientious adults at least 21 years old
and trained in the program applicable. Counselors
for merit badges involving swimming or the use of
watercraft must be so trained, or use others who are.
- CPR instruction, wherever it is required, must be
taught by instructors currently trained by a nationally
certified provider. Several such providers are
mentioned in the Guide to Safe Scouting.
It is acceptable for a counselor registered in
one council to approve merit badges for Scouts
in another. This is an important consideration,
especially in areas where counselors are scarce,
or when Scouts are away from home and want to
The following merit badges have special qualifications or
certifications for either the merit badge counselor or the
supervisor of certain activities that may be involved.
Counselors and advancement administrators should consult
the merit badge pamphlets for details and to maintain awareness
of changes and updates as pamphlets are revised.
Canoeing. Canoeing merit badge counselors must have
either BSA Aquatics Instructor or Canoeing Instructor
certification from the American Canoe Association,
American Red Cross, or equivalent; OR local councils
may approve individuals previously certified as such,
or trained by an instructor so qualified.
Climbing. All climbing, belaying, and rappelling exercises
and activities must be supervised by a qualified rock
climbing instructor who is a mature and conscientious
adult at least 21 years old, and who is trained in BSA
Climb On Safely and understands the risks inherent
to these activities. Training as BSA climbing director
or instructor is highly recommended. Someone with
certification in First Aid/CPR/AED from the American
Red Cross (or equivalent) must be present at these activities.
Lifesaving. Demonstrations or activities in or on the
water must be supervised by an adult at least 21 years
old with certification in Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED
or equivalent, and also as BSA Lifeguard or Aquatics
Instructor or equivalent.
Rifle Shooting. The merit badge counselor must take
responsibility to assure that all instruction involving
any handling of firearms or live ammunition must be
supervised by a certified BSA National Camping
School (NCS) shooting sports director, or National Rifle
Association (NRA) Rifle Shooting Instructor or Coach.
That involving muzzleloaders must be supervised by an NCS shooting sports director or NRA/National
Muzzleloader Rifle Association (NMLRA)–certified
muzzleloader firearms instructor. Shooting must be
supervised by an NRA-certified Range Safety Officer
(RSO). If instruction and shooting are to occur at the
same time, both the RSO and qualified instructor must
be present. The supervisor and instructor may not be
the same person. Note that commercial shooting ranges
may provide RSOs. See the Guide to Safe Scouting and
the BSA National Shooting Sports Manual, No. 30931,
for further details on shooting sports.
Rowing. Rowing merit badge counselors must have
either BSA Aquatics Instructor certification or equivalent;
OR local councils may approve individuals previously
certified as such, or trained by an instructor so qualified.
Scuba Diving. All phases of scuba instruction—classroom,
pool, and open-water training—are limited to instructors
trained and sanctioned by one of the following agencies:
Professional Association of Diving Instructors, National
Association of Underwater Instructors, Scuba Schools
International, International Diving Educators Association,
Professional Diving Instructors Corporation, or Scuba
Diving International, or be a member of the World
Recreational Scuba Training Council.
Shotgun Shooting. The merit badge counselor must take
responsibility to assure that all instruction involving
any handling of firearms or live ammunition must be
supervised by a certified NCS shooting sports director
or NRA Shotgun Instructor or Coach. That involving
muzzle-loading shotguns must be supervised by an
NCS shooting sports director or NRA/NMLRA certified
muzzle-loading shotgun instructor. Shooting must be
supervised by an NRA-certified Range Safety Officer.
If instruction and shooting are to occur at the same time,
both the RSO and qualified instructor must be present.
They may not be the same person. Note that commercial
shooting ranges may provide RSOs. See the Guide to Safe
Scouting and the BSA National Shooting Sports Manual,
No. 30931, for further details on shooting sports.
Snow Sports. Activities in the field must be supervised
by a mature and conscientious adult 21 years or older
who is committed to compliance with BSA Winter Sports
Safety as defined in the Guide to Safe Scouting.
Swimming. Demonstrations or activities in or on the water
must be conducted according to BSA Safe Swim Defense
and BSA Safety Afloat.
Whitewater. Whitewater merit badge counselors must be
designated by the local council, and certified as whitewater
canoeing or kayaking instructors by the American Canoe
Association or have equivalent certification, training,
All certifications listed above must be current.
The required qualifications above for merit badge
counseling and supervision not only assist in managing
risk, but also give counselors credibility. Scouts will see
them as people of importance they can look up to and
learn from. A well-qualified counselor can extend a
young person’s attention span: More will be heard and
understood, discussions will be more productive, and
true interest developed. The conversations can lead to a
relationship of mutual respect where the Scout is confident
to offer his thoughts and opinions and value those of his
merit badge counselor. Thus it is that social skills and
self-reliance grow, and examples are set and followed.
In approving counselors, the local council advancement
committee has the authority to establish a minimum,
reasonable level of skills and education for the
counselors of a given merit badge. For example,
NRA certification could be established as a council
standard for approving counselors for the Rifle Shooting
or Shotgun Shooting merit badges.
220.127.116.11 Sources of Merit Badge Counselors
District or council advancement committees are charged
with recruiting and training sufficient counselors to meet
unit needs. As with any recruitment effort, it begins with
prospecting: gathering names of people who may be
qualified to serve. This can be done in a group setting
through brainstorming as outlined in Friendstorming
On Tour, No. 510-003, or considered on an individual
basis. Merit badge counselor prospects are most often
found from the following sources:
- Schools and colleges
- Parents groups
- Local businesses
- Service clubs
- Trade groups
- Religious organizations
- Neighborhood associations
- Government agencies
- The armed services
- Chartered organizations
- Nonprofit organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America
- Parents and guardians of Scouts
A Guide for Merit Badge Counseling, No. 34532,
can be useful in recruiting. Visits to district meetings,
roundtables, training sessions, and other events may
also uncover prospects. While there, unit and district
volunteer feedback may be sought on the quality of
those currently active.
To learn more about Friendstorming, have your council call the Program Impact Department at the national office.
18.104.22.168 Venturing Consultants as Merit Badge Counselors
Venturing consultants are people whose special skills
or talents are needed for a crew activity or project.
Usually they are adults recruited on a one-time basis.
More information can be found in the Venturing Leader
Manual, No. 34655. Consultants generally would be
considered qualified to counsel merit badges related to
their expertise. To do so, they must be approved and
registered as merit badge counselors, according to the
22.214.171.124 Counselor Approvals and Limitations
The council advancement committee is responsible
for approval of all merit badge counselors before they
provide services, although it is acceptable to delegate
authority for this function to districts. The process should
not be rushed to the point where unqualified counselors
are allowed to serve. There is no limit to the number of
merit badges an individual may counsel except to the
extent the person lacks skills and education in the subjects.
The intent is for Scouts to learn from those with a level
There is no limit on the number of merit badges a youth
may earn from one counselor. And approved counselors
may work with and pass any member, including their
own son, ward, or relative. But we often teach young
people the importance of broadening horizons. Scouts
meeting with counselors beyond their families and
beyond even their own units are doing that. They will
benefit from the perspectives of many “teachers” and
will learn more as a result. They should be encouraged
to reach out.
126.96.36.199 Registration and Reregistration
Merit badge counselors register at no fee, using the Boy
Scouts of America’s standard adult registration form with
position code 42. Designated members of the council
or district advancement committee should provide the
approval signature. The council advancement committee
annually coordinates counselor reregistration. This may be
done as part of the local council charter renewal process.
A letter or message extending an invitation can be sent to
each counselor who is to be approved for another year.
Those identified as not following Boy Scouts of America
policies and procedures, or not providing services as
promised, should not be invited to return.
Volunteers who are properly registered as merit
badge counselors can renew annually without
completing an adult application; their names will
appear on the district roster for renewal. Anyone
who is currently unregistered, or who is registered in
another position but also desires to serve as a merit
badge counselor, must complete an adult application.
The invitational message or letter could include
1. Gratitude for service
2. Invitation to reregister
3. Reminder to maintain current Youth Protection training
4. Listing of merit badges each is currently approved to counsel
5. Contact name in the district or council who can provide assistance and information
6. Response card, e-form, or other way for counselors to return updated contact information, preferred method for contact, merit badges they wish to add or drop, updates to their skills and education profile, and anything else that may be helpful
7. News and information regarding merit badge “midways” or “fairs,” counselor training opportunities, other activities or meetings of interest,
and additional volunteer opportunities
8. FAQs or suggestions covering “best practices” for counseling
188.8.131.52 Training for Counselors
The council or district advancement committee must assure
counselors understand the Boy Scouts of America’s aims,
methods, and mission. It is also important they know how
Scouts can learn and grow through the merit badge process.
Volunteers and professionals related to the national Advancement
Team have developed an orientation that can be
used one-on-one or in group settings. It can be found
at http://scouting.org/Training/Adult/Supplemental/MeritBadgeCounselorInstructorsGuide.aspx and is often
delivered as part of a wider experience covering several
levels of Scout leader training. Where a counselor corps is
organized into groups based on the popularity or subject
matter of badges, with “head counselors” for each group
(see below), there is also an opportunity for “on-the-job
coaching.” This is helpful where individual counselors
need a better understanding of the merit badge plan.
184.108.40.206 Merit Badge Counselor Lists
220.127.116.11 Getting Started
The Worksheet for Building a Merit Badge Counselor List,
available online at http://www.scouting.org/forms.aspx,
organizes the badges into 14 logical groups, such as
business and industry, natural science, communications,
and public service, and advises a head counselor for
each one. The council or district advancement committee
appoints them and they take responsibility within their
groups. Head counselors are not expected to be experts
in each badge, but they should be capable of recruiting
those who meet the qualifications. Remember that
counselor recruiting is an ongoing responsibility.
As new ones are added and others drop off, it is
vital these changes be communicated to the district
or council advancement committee.
The number of counselors needed for the list depends
on badge popularity. First consider badges required for
Eagle Scout rank, which are obvious “musts.” Next think
about those most popular in the local area. Reports on
merit badges earned can be generated at your council
service center. For low-demand subjects, counselors may
appear on more than one district list. Urge troops, teams,
crews, and ships to make as many of their counselors as
possible available districtwide.
The council or district counselor list is reproduced for
distribution to troops, teams, crews, and ships. It is most efficient to set the list up as an electronic document that
includes all counselors in the council. Establishing it as a
spreadsheet or database can allow sorting for counselors
willing to serve at the council, district, or unit level. It is
important to maintain and update this list regularly so that
users can depend upon it.
18.104.22.168 Web-Based Counselor Lists
Online counselor lists present a number of challenges.
They should only be placed on official council websites
that conform to the National Council guidelines at http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/Marketing/Resources/CouncilWeb.aspx. Give attention to protecting
counselor privacy. Limit access to those who have merit
badge–related responsibilities, such as advancement
committee members and chairs, or unit leaders and
selected assistants. Scouts should not have access. Their
interaction with the Scoutmaster in obtaining approval
to work on a badge, and obtaining a counselor’s name,
is an important part of the merit badge plan.
22.214.171.124 Unit Counselor Lists
Units may establish their own lists of counselors, who
may or may not opt to work with youth in other units. This
may be necessary in wide geographic areas. It can also
be helpful to have ready counselors for the most popular
badges. Recognize, however, that Scouts learn from the
perspectives of counselors outside their own troop. Note
that all merit badge counselors, including those serving
only one unit, must be registered and be approved by the
council (or district, if authorized) advancement committee.
126.96.36.199 The Process of Counseling
If subject matter relates to a counselor’s vocation, meetings with youth might take place at an office or work site. Hobby-related badges are usually counseled at home. For others like Rowing, Rifle Shooting, or Geocaching, learning could occur in the field where
special facilities or an appropriate venue are available. Once a counselor has reviewed the signed Application for Merit Badge, he or she might begin with discussions about what the Scout already knows. This could be followed with coaching, guidance, and additional
meetings, not only for passing the candidate on the requirements, but also to help him understand the subject. The health and safety of those working on merit badges must be integrated with the process. Besides the Guide to Safe Scouting, the “Sweet 16 of BSA Safety” must be
consulted as an appropriate planning tool. It can be found online at “Scouting Safely,” http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/healthandsafety/sweet16.aspx.
188.8.131.52 The Buddy System and Certifying Completion
Youth members must not meet one-on-one with adults. Sessions with counselors must take place where others can view the interaction, or the Scout must have a buddy: a friend, parent, guardian, brother, sister, or other relative—or better yet, another Scout working on the same badge—along with him attending the session.
When the Scout meets with the counselor, he should bring any required projects. If these cannot be transported, he should present evidence, such as photographs or adult certification. His unit leader, for example, might state that a satisfactory bridge or tower has been built for the Pioneering merit badge, or that meals were prepared for Cooking. If there are questions that requirements were met, a counselor may confirm with adults involved. Once satisfied, the counselor signs the blue card using the date upon which the Scout completed the requirements, or in the case of partials, initials the individual requirements passed.
184.108.40.206 Group Instruction
It is acceptable—and sometimes desirable—for merit badges to be taught in group settings. This often occurs at camp and merit badge midways or similar events. Interactive group discussions can support learning. The method can also be attractive to “guest experts” assisting registered and approved counselors. Slide shows, skits, demonstrations, panels, and various other techniques can
also be employed, but as any teacher can attest, not everyone will learn all the material.
There must be attention to each individual’s projects and his fulfillment of all requirements. We must know that every Scout—actually and personally—completed them. If, for example, a requirement uses words like “show,” “demonstrate,” or “discuss,” then every Scout must do that. It is unacceptable to award badges on the basis of sitting in classrooms watching demonstrations, or remaining silent during discussions. Because of the importance of individual attention in the merit badge plan, group instruction should be limited to those scenarios where the benefits are compelling.
Volunteers or guests under the direction of a registered and approved counselor who occasionally lend their expertise are not considered merit badge counselors.
220.127.116.11 Partial Completions
Scouts need not pass all requirements with one counselor. The Application for Merit Badge has a place to record what has been finished—a “partial.” In the center section on the reverse of the blue card, the counselor initials for each requirement passed. In the case of a partial completion, he or she does not retain the counselor’s portion of the card. A subsequent counselor may choose not to accept partial work, but this should be rare. A Scout, if he believes he is being treated unfairly, may work with his Scoutmaster to find another counselor. An example for the use of a signed partial would be to take it to camp as proof of prerequisites. Partials have no expiration except the 18th birthday.
18.104.22.168 Merit Badge Miscellany
22.214.171.124 New Merit Badges
Suggestions for new merit badges may be sent to the Innovation Team at the National Council, email@example.com. Ideas are researched for relevance to the BSA mission and the needs of today’s youth and families. Subject matter must spark interest in Scout-age boys; thus part of the process involves presenting submissions to a youth panel.
126.96.36.199 Revising Merit Badges
Through a process managed by the national Advancement Team, all merit badges are reviewed periodically to improve relevance, consistency, and requirement and content accuracy. Merit badge counselors, unit leadership, parents, and youth are encouraged to send suggestions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions are reviewed and considered as merit badges and pamphlets are revised. Feedback has been invaluable in correcting errors, updating material, and enhancing content.
188.8.131.52 What to Do When Requirements Change
The current annual edition of Boy Scout Requirements, No. 34765, lists the official requirements. Changes usually appear first in a revised merit badge pamphlet, then become effective the next January 1 and are published in the requirements book. Unless otherwise
stated there, or in the pamphlet, the following options are allowed.
- If Scouts have already started on a merit badge when a revision is introduced, they may switch to the new requirements or continue with the old ones until the badge is completed.
- If they have not already started, they may use the new requirements and the new pamphlet.
- If work begins before the end of the current year, they may use the old requirements and old pamphlet until the badge is completed.
There is no time limit between starting and completing a badge, although a counselor may determine so much time has passed since any effort took place that the new requirements must be used.
184.108.40.206 Discontinued Merit Badges
Scouts may not begin working on discontinued merit badges. If actual effort has already begun by the time discontinuation becomes effective, and work actively continues, then the badge may be completed and can count toward rank advancement, but presentation of the badge itself will be subject to availability. It is a misconception that discontinued merit badges may be earned as long as the patch and requirements can be found.
220.127.116.11 Earning Eagle-Required Badges for Star or Life Rank
Candidates for Star or Life, in the selection of “any four” or “any three,” respectively, of the merit badges required for Eagle, may choose from all those listed, including where alternatives are available: Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving; and Cycling OR Hiking OR Swimming. For example, Cycling, Hiking, and Swimming could count for Life rank, but only one of those would serve
toward the 12 required merit badges for the Eagle Scout rank.
18.104.22.168 Once It Is Earned, It's Earned
Once a registered and approved counselor has passed a Scout on requirements for a merit badge, it cannot be taken away. Nor does unit leadership have the authority to retract approval, or take the badge away. Even if a merit badge counselor were found to be improperly documented, it would be a rare occasion when a Scout would be penalized for the mistake of an adult volunteer.