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Ten Tips for choosing the right boarding ladder

by Sail-World Cruising on 15 Aug 2012
Boarding Ladders - photo by West Marine SW
Every boat of a certain size needs a boarding ladder. But choosing the right boarding ladder for your boat could make a critical difference to your life on the water some time in the future.

Here are ten tips to help you make the right decisions:



1. Firstly it's only the very strong-armed who can pull themselves up the side of a boat of any size without some assistance, either from above, or from a boarding ladder. So when choosing a boarding ladder it's an excellent idea to work out a way of releasing it from in the water. While it may be useless in a stormy sea, it can nevertheless be useful in calm or enclosed waters, especially if you are on your own. One good method of doing this is to have the boarding ladder set into a swim board, but this involves stern mounting, which raises another issue.

2. Boat ladders must extend below the level of the water to be effective. Ladders with at least 2-3 rungs below the surface are the best, but this means they must either fold or be removed when underway.

3. Ladders should be mounted so that the steps extend far enough into the water to make climbing aboard as easy as possible and at a spot that's convenient for boarding. For example, stern ladders are quite common on sailboats, but this is frequently where the motion of the boat is the greatest. On sailboats with a fixed pushpit, a better place may be on the side, near the cockpit, where the lifeline gate is located.

4. Comfort and security is important, particularly for those less athletic. Broad, nonskid treads are better than 1' stainless tubing, which can be remarkably painful under bare feet for some people.

5. Finger and toe security is also important, so the best ladders are those that stand off away from the side of the hull, because that provides clearance for small digits.

6. Side rails that extend above deck level provide a handy place to grab.

7. Construction is another decision. You'll probably have to decide between stainless-steel, aluminum or plastic. Aluminum is lighter and less expensive, while stainless-steel looks better and is stronger. Plastic treads are fine and are quite comfortable.

8. Whether you decide on a removable or fixed ladder depends greatly on the type of sailing boat:
Swim step ladders hang down from swim steps and usually fold up on top of the step. Since the swim step is so much lower than the side of the boat, these ladders generally need only 1-3 steps.
Transom ladders hinge up and down and generally match the appearance of the pushpit.
Removable ladders fit in brackets bolted to the hull or deck. The brackets have keyhole slots that hold the ladder securely, yet allow it to be removed quickly for storage.
Many ladders fold in half so they can be left in place without dragging in the water. They can be used while folded when boarding from a dinghy and extended when swimming. They are also easier to stow.

9. Rope ladders are flexible, collapsible and lightweight, but they're not ideal as a primary ladder because their flexibility makes them difficult to climb. Try in calm water before you rely on them as your sole reboarding method.

10. Finally, how to choose the right sized ladder:
First measure the height of the freeboard to the water, you then should plan to have 2 rungs / steps beyond this distance. Depending on where it is placed, this could be a long ladder and so most are designed to fold or be easily storable.

There is another issue to consider - can you get back into your dinghy unaided? If you can't then maybe you need to consider a some kind of ladder for that too!

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