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Combined water and rock activities guidance FS120630

(Published January 2017)


Combined water and rock activities is a term which refers to any activity where a multi-discipline approach needs to be adopted to provide appropriate management and safety cover, this will often include rules for a variety of activities to be followed or permits to be held.

This generally includes activities referred to as; gorge walking, coasteering, canyoning. These activities will vary depending on location, time of year, weather conditions and experience of the group.

The diversity of these types of activity led to specific guidance notes being issued by the Adventurous Activities Industry Advisory Committee (AAIAC).  These notes assist the Adventurous Activities Licensing Service (AALS) in their assessment of providers who come within scope of legislation, typically commercial providers, and are a useful guide to best practice. The guidance notes can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/etis13.pdf. The document helps the activity organiser to identify the hazards and put suitable control measures in place.

This guidance is written for the purpose of running combined water and rock activities as a scout-led activity. The rules on running these activities using an external provider can be found at www.scouts.org.uk/a-z.


Many young people have little exposure to the challenges of combined water and rock activities. The diverse nature of the activities means that there will be unique considerations for leaders to take account of.

Within Scouting these activities are managed using the rules for the elements of the activity. So for example, if the activity involves swimming and climbing then both sets of rules must be followed at appropriate points within the activity. In the majority of cases this kind of activity will be led by one person with both sets of skills, however there may be occasions where the activity is delivered by a team of people who between them have the skills and qualifications for the elements of the activity. In these cases there must be one single designated leader who will oversee the whole activity, this follows the leader in charge principle which must be applied to all activities. The designated leader has responsibility for co-ordinating all adults and young people. Recent experience has shown that accidents can happen when there isn't a leader clearly designated as being in charge overall, or when that person makes an assumption that other people are looking after safety issues. Responses to accidents are also impaired in such circumstances.

The designated leader should have really good knowledge of the location that the activity is taking place. This includes knowledge of rescue points, tidal information and potential impact the weather could have on this location.

The supervision ratios for the individual activity elements must be followed. These can be found in the factsheets of each activity. It is recommended that the group size does not exceed 10 with a single leader (not including the leader) or 16 with two leaders. Groups exceeding 16 participants may be better managed as two or more separate groups. The ratios may vary depending on the participant’s ability, local conditions, participant’s expectations or leaders experience and other factors.

All activities require the approval of the relevant Commissioner as outlined in POR rule 9.1, the Commissioner will consider the planning and management of the activity prior to approval.


Combined water/rock activities are activities where hazards associated with a rock environment may at times combine or alternate with those of a water environment. There are a number of different names and definitions used to describe the range of combined water and rock activities including:

Sea-level traversing, (primarily a dry rock climbing activity and sometimes requiring the use of ropes and other rock-climbing equipment);

Coasteering (usually a wet activity often involving swimming and/or jumping from a height into water as an integral part);

Canyoning (usually wet. It traditionally involves the descent of a steep water course and sometimes involves technical rope work);

Adventure swimming (another name for coasteering or a non-technical variation of canyoning);

Gorge walks, Gorge Scrambling or Ghyll Scrambles, (can be wet, dry or alternating) – generally accepted as the ascent of a steep water course.

Specific factors to consider

There are different elements to these activities which may not arise from, for example, swimming or climbing, but which need to be well managed.  The points below are factors which should be considered when providing combined water and rock activities.  This list does not replace the need to do a risk assessment involving the whole leadership team for the activity.

               - Helmets
               - Wetsuits
               - Climbing equipment
               - Ropes
               - Buoyancy aids
               - Throw lines

Leaders should consider the following before the activity:

Leaders should consider the following during the journey:

The following should be considered.

For more detail on the specific rules and guidance to follow for these activities please refer to the a-z pages for the activity elements (www.scouts.org.uk/a-z).

Risk Assessment

As there are so many different factors to consider each time an activity takes place, providers will need to determine what the site specific hazards are at any one time including the hazards associated with the route to and from the venue where the activity is taking place. However, when producing a general risk assessment for combined water/rock activities, providers may find it useful to assure themselves that the following issues have been considered:

Impact with a solid object



Water Safety

An awareness of the possible dangers associated with water activities is essential for these activities. Proper training in the background to the dangers and self-help techniques of survival can help to eliminate or minimise the dangers. FS120629- Water Safety (Waterborne Diseases and Immersion) contains Information and guidance about waterborne diseases and the issues which may arise from immersion during water activities.

The Group Safety at Water Margins leaflet lists a number of things to take into account which will help to plan and lead a safe and enjoyable visit to areas that are near or in water.

Equipment should be stored and monitored in alignment with FS120603 Buoyancy aids and Lifejackets. The activity leader is responsible for choosing an appropriate personal floatation device for the participants taking part in the session.

Suitable Locations

The below links provide information on where these activities are possible.


Some suitable locations are:


This is not an exhaustive list but before doing this activity the designated leader should have really good knowledge of the location that the activity is taking place. This includes knowledge of rescue points, tidal information and potential impact the weather could have on this location.

More Information


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