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BSA Caving: Guide to Safe Scouting Section on Caving

General Policy

Caving can be a hazardous activity when the proper equipment, skills, and judgment are not used. Trips that are led by adults inexperienced in caving and trips containing large numbers of persons compound the hazards already inherent in the activity and create a potentially dangerous situation.

1. All caving, other than simple novice activities, should be limited to adults and young people 14 and older—members of Venturing crews and older Scouts in troops, and teams. "Simple novice activities" means commercially operated cave excursions.

2. Units (teams, troops, crews) that include cave visits in their program, whether for one trip or many, must adhere to the two-deep leadership policy of the Boy Scouts of America (two registered adult leaders, or one adult and a parent of a youth member, one of whom must be 21 or older). These leaders must be responsible, mature adults who are constantly present with the group. One cave trip leader must be highly qualified through caving experience and must be thoroughly versed in all established safety practices, conservation measures, and courtesy to cave owners.

3. In conformity with the BSA policy on the use of wilderness areas, all caving groups should be limited to 8 to 10 persons and two-deep leadership as required by the Boy Scouts of America for all trips or outings. Caving activities for larger groups should not be conducted. Each group should be organized to function independently, i.e., plan its own trips on different dates, provide its own transportation and food, and function as a separate and distinct group. The only exception to these rules may be trips to certain commercial caves where special provisions are made to furnish proper supervision by professional guides.
Note: Caving trips have been incorporated in the BSA "Policy on Use of Wilderness Areas by Personnel of the BSA," with a cross reference to these guidelines. Copies of the wilderness area policy statement are available from High Adventure Programs, Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, Irving, Texas 75015-2079.

4. Any Venturing crew wishing to learn about cave rescue work or pursue that activity as a specialty must do so under the sponsorship and supervision of an adult cave rescue group affiliated with the National Speleological Society.

5. All Scout groups are required to have an approved tour permit for trips of all kinds. Cave activities are included under that plan. National tour permits are required for a trip of 500 miles or more; local permits are issued to cover shorter trips.

6. The leaders and the individual members of the group must understand these basic practices and policies of caving, which are approved by the Boy Scouts of America and the National Speleological Society. In addition to understanding these tenets, every participant in a caving trip must agree, without reservation, to follow all of the specific guidelines contained in BSA's Caving publication, No. 19-102B.

Cave Safety

7. Any cave trip must include a fully qualified leader or adult assistants qualified to handle all problems that might arise. These leaders should have had experience as active participants in a competent caving group. They must realistically evaluate their own knowledge and experience and must never attempt to lead their group into a situation that is beyond their capability or the capability of any member of the group. The overall capability and pace of a caving group is always that of the least able member of that group, and no member of the group should ever be encouraged or permitted to attempt a potentially dangerous act that is beyond their ability solely because the remainder of the group has the necessary ability.
The leaders must thoroughly comprehend that overwhelming difficulties may easily result from the problems of fatigue, improper or faulty equipment, emotional problems, physical limitations, or excessive eagerness or exuberance in members of the group. Additionally, they must realize that all of these individual problems are often interrelated and that the occurrence of any one of them can easily create a situation that will lead to or accentuate any or all of the others.
The leaders must constantly remember that any obstacle overcome on the way into the cave will also have to be overcome on the way out, when the group is tired, when the initial enthusiasm of some of the group may have decreased, and when their alertness and physical abilities, as well of those of their group, is at the lowest.
The leaders must have adequate first aid training and ability, and a comprehensive knowledge of the practices to follow in the event of an accident.
The leaders must keep their group together at all times.

8. All basic equipment such as clothing, shoes, lights, and spare parts for the lights, hard hats, and food should be appropriate for the cave being visited. It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that all equipment is adequate and in good condition.
The equipment and spares must never be makeshift or of questionable dependability. The highest standards developed by experienced cavers are to be met in all categories of equipment.
The use and repair of each item must be understood and demonstrated by all of the party before entering the cave.
Under no conditions should any member of the group be permitted to enter the cave if they do not have all of the required equipment in their possession. The sharing of any equipment, such as lights, between individuals must be prohibited.

9. Except for groups composed entirely of experienced cavers, the cave to be visited must not require the use of ropes, ladders, or other climbing devices. The safe use of these aids requires extensive initial training and practice under controlled conditions above ground, never in a cave.

10. Natural and fabricated hazards such as mud slopes, loose rocks, pits, deep water, complex routes, old ropes, wooden ladders, and the possibility of flooding are all dangers to some degree and must be approached with care and judgment. If it appears that an accident may still occur in spite of preventive measures, that area must be avoided entirely.

11. The strength, endurance, and specific abilities of every member of the group must be evaluated in advance and nothing attempted that exceeds anyone's limitations. Climbing, crawling, and route finding are not necessarily inborn skills, and should be taught and tested before a cave trip is undertaken.

12. Not only the leaders, but every person on a cave trip should be aware of the necessity to constantly observe the whereabouts and potential problems of other members of the group and be ready to provide any assistance necessary.

13. Running, jumping, horseplay, and solo exploration must be prohibited—such foolhardy actions jeopardize not only the individual but also the entire group.

14. Caves are often cold and damp, and hypothermia is a danger, especially on long trips or trips requiring wading or crawling in water. Try to dress for conditions to be met, stay as dry as possible. Leave the cave immediately if any member of the group shows signs of hypothermia such as uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech, or loss of coordination.

15. Specific information about the caving trip must be left with a responsible person back home at time of departure. This should include location and length of time of trip, expected time of return, list of participants, and whom to contact for each trip member in case of emergency.

16. A record of every cave trip will provide valuable assistance to new leaders and cavers alike. Full records of all caving accidents will provide the basis for a guide to the development of a safe caving program. A complete report of any accident, regardless of severity, should be sent to the Safety Committee of the National Speleological Society, Cave Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35810. Serious accidents should also be reported to the director of Health and Safety Service of the Boy Scouts of America.

Resource: Caving, No. 19-102B

Part 3, The Program – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Learning About Caves and Caving.

One of the easiest ways to start looking at developing a program for a caving focused Venturing Crew is to look at the Caving Elective for the Venturing Ranger Award. It’s broken down into several sections. Doing this will help you develop your knowledge of caves and caving. Not just the geology, but the biology and history as well. It will help you understand what is safe and unsafe to do while caving. It will help you understand the need to be a steward to caves and karsts environments and all that live in around them.

If you’ve done what was described in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, and you sent me an email abut your Crew or potential Crew, and you asked for help and/or information, you have already done the first requirement. If you haven’t, send an email to I also recommend going to the NSS brochures web page ( and download the available brochures and order a few of the ones that there are hard copies for. Get enough to share with your friends and future Crew members. These can also be used for the teaching portion of the Caving Elective.

The second and third requirement can be done together by reading a good book on beginner caving. The one I would recommend, as the first book to read is “Caving Basics” edited by G. Thomas Rea. It can be found at the NSS on line book store or on This book touches on a lot of topics about caves and caving. It doesn’t go into all the details. There are other books that do that well. But your just looking for a general overview on topics associated with caves and caving. That’s why this is a good book to start with.
If your more into DVDs there are some good videos on caves you can watch. “Journey Into Amazing Caves” is a good choice for seeing what different types of caves there are. Another good video to watch is “Planet Earth, Vol. 2: Caves/Deserts/Ice Worlds”. There are other good beginner caving books and videos about caves, cave exploration, and cave biology and geology. Look around and see if there are any in your local library. If you’ve gone and joined a local NSS Grotto, they may have a library you can borrow from as well.

If you’ve gone to any NSS Grotto meetings and talked to the members, you should be able to find one who will come and talk to your Crew about caves and caving. This “cave talk” is a good opportunity to complete a few of the other requirements, but it's also a good opportuity to talk and ask questions of your visiting expert. It's a good time to show him or her your intentions to be good and contributing members of the caving community. It's a good time to ask for them to help you on a continuing basis, and if the fit is good, join your Venturing Crew as an Associate Advisor.

Caving Specific Venturing Crews: Part 2 Creating a Caving Venturing Crew

Part 1 of this series was an intro to caving focused Venturing Crews and how to join one in your BSA Council. But what if there is not one one in your Council. Are you just out of luck?
Those who can't find a Venturing Crew with a specialty registration 1020 Spelunking / Caving still can form one with a little Internet research and the desire and passion to get underground.

How do you go about forming a caving specialty Venturing Crew? There is no one single good way. You have a few options. I’ll try to outline a few different directions you can try.

But first you need to talk to your friends. See if there is an interest among them to form a Crew to do this type of adventure on a regular basis. You’ll need at least five youth members to form your Crew. You may have to go outside your current circle of frineds to find people interested. Check with your Council's Venturing volunteer. It could be a Venturing District Commissioner, VOA (Venturing Officers Association) Advisor, or other volunteer position. They may have leads of other people interested in joining your Crew or have resources to find people. This is what they do. They are there to help with these things.
Next you will need a few adults to help out and cover all the aspects of Venturing and caving that the youth members can not. Look to your family, adult friends, and community. Even if they are not experienced cavers you should have someone comfortable with high adventure type activities and willing to learn caving skills. Find at least two and your on your way.
You need to understand what you will need to know and have to develop a safe and fun caving program. A good place to start is on the National Speleological Society Youth Group Liaison BSA caving web page There are several links there with specific information regarding BSA, Venturing, and caving. Read through them and understand them. This is going to seem overwhelming. It’s not all that tough. If you need help understanding any of it, please send me an email and I’ll help with that. I'll go into some of these documents in a later article.
You and the adult leaders should go out and visit as local chapters (grottos) of the National Speleological Society. You can find them on the NSS web site at Not all grottos are the same. Go to their meetings. Talk to the members. Go visit as many different grottos as you can to find the best fit and interest. When you find one you like, join it. Become part of the caving community. Let them know what you are trying to do and ask for help. There are a lot of people in the caving communities that use to be Scouts. A few had their first caving experience through Scouting. When they see you are serious about the caver’s creed, they are more likely to help you. You may get a caver to sign on as an adult leader in your Venturing Crew.
Get all your adult leaders through BSA training. It’s not really all that hard or time consuming. All introductory training is on-line at

If you want you can send me an email at I would be happy to help you through the maze of information. I can also help you network with other Venturing Crews that are going through the same process to exchange ideas and information. I have done this. I am the Advisor for Dragon Breath Grotto Venturing Crew 9 in Pennsylvania (

Next well look at what equipment you will need, your program planing, and the “do's and don'ts” of BSA and caving.

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but well placed footprints, kill nothing but time.” Caver's Creed.

Encore: Tempel University Geology Club Caving Trip 11-22-08

Since Geocities is closing down, I have to move all my trip reports. They are in a sort of blog form, so I'll be moving them over here, one at a time.
This is another trip that's been months in the making. The original idea of taking the Temple University Geology Club was Allison Deratzian's. Allison is a member of Philly Grotto and teaches geology at Temple University. We coordinated with Dr. Laura Toran and between all of us came up with a plan to get the geology students underground. There were some administrative challenges, but you'll have this with any organization, but it was all very worth while.
We finally met up with Dr. Toran and the students Saturday morning about 11:00 AM at a rest stop along I-81. It was very cold and windy that morning. Wind chills felt like in the 20's. But we made introductions and played follow the leader to the cave.
When we arrived we got ready for caving as fast as we could to get inside and out of the cold and wind. Steve got them all in up the big breakdown room and we all sat there for a while to get eyes adjusted. While we had everyone together and had a little time we did a lights out. There were a few who were amazed at just how dark is really is in a cave. While we where there we decided to do the Wint-0-Green LifeSaver thing and set off some sparks.
There were 12 of them and 5 of us. They divided themselves into 3 groups. Amos and Marcy lead one group, Steve another, and Ken and I lead the third group. This made

ours a group of six, which moved well in this cave.
Ken and I went to the "chimney" first and down to the "catacombs". We crawled out of there and through "hanging rock hall" and let the students lead for a while and followed along and advised when asked. We did get turned around a couple times and we didn't get to every single crack in this cave, but we were in there for three and half-hours and had fun.
Unfortunately they did have to be back earlier than we usually do get back, so we did cut it a little short and didn't have a chance to have dinner with the students. But their enthusiasm for geology was infectious and I learned a few things about rocks and cave formation from them. Now I'm inspired to learn more.
I'm hoping that we inspired them as well. I'm hoping to see some of them at Philly Grotto meetings and join us for more caving adventures.
See more pictures of this trip.

Caving Specific Venturing Crews: Part 1

In my opinion, Venturing and caving are a good fit. Caving involves a good bit of crawling, climbing, and squeezing. Put on top of that a cave is an absolutely dark environment. There are spaces that are just big enough to squeeze your helmet through and rooms so large your light doesn’t shine on the walls or ceiling. There are is mud so sticky it pulls your boots off, yet so slippery it’s a challenge to stay on you feet. There are pits so deep and black you can’t see the bottom. There are caves with rivers running through them and waterfalls. Caving is physically and mentally a challenging adventure.
There is a lot of beauty in the natural formation in a cave. Stalactites, stalagmites, helectites, rimstone dams, and crystals form on every surface. If you look close you can find fossils that have been embedded for millions of years. There can be standing pools of water so clear you have to look twice to make them out, or so murky you can’t see past the surface.

Caving is a team sport. You depend on the rest of your Crew, as they depend on you, to be safe. Everybody has a job to do. Everybody is responsible for everyone else. It’s an activity to be shared with others, as friendships grow strong when you face challenges together.

Caving is one of those activities that, with the proper guidance, you can go and do as a once in a life time activity with your Crew and have stories to tell for a long time. But if the caving bug bites you can never get enough. You look for any reason to put on your helmet and headlamp and poke around in the dark and the mud.

Those Venturers who are looking to do more than just a single tour can join or form a caving specific Venturing Crew. Those who have one in your Council are lucky. A little bit of paperwork and you're on board for a great adventure.
How do you find out if there’s a Caving specific Venturing Crew in your Council? Contact your Council’s Venturing Commissioner. Go to and punch in your Zip Code. Look for the phone numbers it gives you and give them a call. If you don’t get the answer your looking for right away, keep asking who’s in charge of Venturing in your Council. They’ll get you pointed in the right direction.

If you find one, go to a meeting and see who they are. Do they go caving often? Where do they go caving? Do they do other activities? Do they have equipment you can borrow before you make the plunge and buy your own gear? What is the cost of joining and what is expected of you after you join?

So now your part of a caving specific Venturing Crew, what else do you need to know? One good place to look is the National Speleological Society’s Youth Group Liaison web page at There is a link to a page that is specifically for BSA Troops and Venturing Crews at From that page there are links to other important documents like the “Guide to Safe Scouting” caving section and the latest revision of “Caving: A Policy Statement and Guidelines on Caving Prepared by the Youth Groups Liaison Committee of the National Speleological Society and the Boy Scouts of America”. I’d like to go into a little more detail what in these documents and their importance, but I’m going to save that for another time.

And now that you are part of a caving Venturing Crew I’d like to know more about your Crew. Where are you located and what caving you have and are planning on doing? If you’ve run into a snag in you plans or you are going along smoothly, I’d like to hear from you. Please contact me, Allen Maddox, at

But you don’t have a caving Venturing Crew in your Council? Well, let’s put one together. The next article in this series will be on just that. Putting together a caving Venturing Crew.

Cave Softly, Cave Safely, Cave Often,


Brandywine Red Clay Summer Camp Caving Trip 2019

Every year I take kids from the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance Summer Camp Program on a cave exploring trip. I look forward to this trips ever...