The Merit Badge Program

7.0.0.1 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.

7.0.0.2 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,” 7.0.1.4, and “Registration and Reregistration,” 7.0.1.5.

Scouts may not begin work on discontinued merit badges (see “Discontinued Merit Badges,” 7.0.4.4). 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,” 7.0.3.3.). 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

7.0.1.1 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,” 7.0.1.4. 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 continue advancing.

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, or expertise.

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.

7.0.1.2 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.

7.0.1.3 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 procedures below.

7.0.1.4 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 of expertise.

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.

7.0.1.5 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 the following:

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

7.0.1.6 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.

7.0.2.0 Merit Badge Counselor Lists

7.0.2.1 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.

7.0.2.2 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.

7.0.2.3 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.

7.0.3.0 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.

7.0.3.1 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.

7.0.3.2 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.

7.0.3.3 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.

7.0.4.0 Merit Badge Miscellany

7.0.4.1 New Merit Badges

Suggestions for new merit badges may be sent to the Innovation Team at the National Council, merit.badge@scouting.org. 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.

7.0.4.2 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 merit.badge@scouting.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.

7.0.4.3 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.

7.0.4.4 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.

7.0.4.5 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.

7.0.4.6 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.