The long history of the “buddy system” in Scouting has shown that it is always best to have at
least one other person with you and aware at all times of your circumstances and what you are doing in any outdoor or strenuous activity – Guide to Safe Scouting
“Where’s your buddy?” is a pretty common question when we are out camping. (more likely to be directed at a patrol leader or senior patrol leader -“where is that Scout’s buddy?”). Buddies are pretty important and the whole concept is one of those elegantly simple habits that help us keep Scouts safe.
We risk devaluing the intent elegantly simple habits if we stubbornly attempt to apply them without thinking practically, if we make them rules rather than good habits.
Some folks talk about ‘the blood circle’ when instructing safe handling of a pocketknife (it’s not in the Scout handbook and I think it’s a load of hooey). In thirty plus years I have never had a Scout accidentally (or intentionally) cut another Scout with a pocketknife, hatchet, or saw. (The only time they have come close was wielding their open pocket knife spinning around telling other people to get out of their blood circle.) While I’m on the subject I find the rule “I will hold on to my knife until you say ‘thank you'” and cutting the corners off of Totn’chip cards (more things you won’t find in the Scout Handbook) aggravating too.
Boys have limited ability to asses risk. Peer pressure and bravado can lead them to making some very poor choices. Our job is helping them develop the ability to choose wisely. If we make safety (or anything else for that matter) into mindless rules Scouts devalue them. If we teach them to develop a sense of being safe we will have helped them form a good habit.
Here’s every reference to the Buddy system in the Scout Handbook:
For many outdoor activities, Scouting uses the buddy system to help ensure everyone’s safety. You and a buddy can watch out for each other during a campout by checking in now and then to be sure everything is all right.
Scouts never swim alone. Each Scout must stay close to a buddy who always knows where he is and what he is doing.
Hiking with a buddy helps you stay alert to each other’s safety. Your buddy can watch out for you while you keep track of him.
Tenderfoot Requirement- Explain the importance of the buddy system as it relates to your personal safety on outings and in your neighborhood. Describe what a bully is and how you should respond to one.
There are four references in simple language – not big complicated systems – just common sense. Does a buddy need to remain in direct sight? In some instances like swimming and hiking it can be important. In some instances, like camping or any outdoor strenuous activity, a buddy should be alert to where his fellow Scout is and what he’s doing and check in now and then.
It’s always better, we calculate, to be safe than sorry. I think what’s even more important is developing a sense of safety in Scouts where things like the buddy system are not so much unquestioningly imposed on them as reasonable to them. Scouts who learn to actually be alert to each other’s safety, who internalize the idea, are likely to be safer than those who feel as though they are being policed by a set of rules.
No, I am not saying throw away the rules or suggesting we should allow Scouts to learn only from making mistakes. We do need to teach safe practices and see that they are followed but when we do let’s emphasize the development of good habits rather than just policing the bad ones.