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How to find the best ladder for your boat

by Boat Accessories Australia 18 Apr 15:05 UTC
How to find the best boat ladder for your boat © Boat Accessories Australia

It can be tricky to get back in the boat after a swim or dive. Without a ladder, there's a chance you could hurt yourself or dent your dignity struggling to get back into the boat.

Boat ladders come in all shapes and sizes, and finding the right ladder that suits your boat and passengers' needs can be difficult with so many options on the market. That's why we put this guide together, to help you find out what the options are and make the right choice.

Portable Vs fixed boat ladders

One of the first decisions to make is whether you use a portable ladder that attaches to the boat when you need it or a permanent ladder that is mounted to your boat at all times.

Portable boat ladders

If you don't swim or dive from your boat often, you may not want a fixed ladder. For infrequent use, a portable alloy ladder is a good option.

There are two types of portable boat ladders:

  • rigid aluminium and alloy ladders
  • flexible rollable rope ladders
Light-weight metal ladders fit over the gunwales and fold down flat for easy storage. Your swimmers can use a removable aluminium ladder to safely enter the water if your boat doesn't have a swim platform. Choose between three or four-step options.

Flexible ladders swing with the boat's movement and the passengers' climbing movements. It takes more skill and strength to climb a flexible ladder than a rigid one. Flexible ladders are also ideal for boats that have a very curved hull that can't take a metal ladder.

A folding rope ladder is a compact, lightweight portable option. The polypropylene steps have a dimpled finish for grip and attaches by looping the rope over a cleat on the boat.

Fixed boat ladder

If you frequently dive and swim from your boat, a mounted ladder may be a better choice. There are plenty of fixed ladders to choose from. The type of vessel will determine the ladder you need. A yacht ladder is a different shape to a powerboat ladder.

Mounted boat ladder materials

Aluminium and stainless steel are the most common materials because they are rust and corrosion-resistant.

They can cope with being exposed to salt water and sun in harsh conditions, while staying strong enough to hold a lot of weight year after year. Mounting fixtures should be made of the same marine-grade material. Fixtures made from lower quality metals could corrode, causing the ladder to collapse or come loose from the boat, potentially causing serious injury.

Do you have room for a boat ladder?

Not all boats have the space needed for a standard-sized ladder. If transom space is at a premium, a thinner ladder is ideal. This compact style ladder is only 255mm wide compared to a standard width of around 300mm. Larger ladders over 300mm wide are also available.

How many steps do you need on a boat ladder?

Much of the ease of using a boarding ladder comes down to the number of rungs. The minimum number of steps on a boat ladder is three; any less means you need to place your foot high in the water and pull yourself out of the water on to the ladder using your upper-body strength.

Buying a boat ladder with three steps might be fine if it is only used by fit six-year-olds. Climbing a ladder immersed in water is a difficult feat for most adults. For older passengers, consider a ladder with over three steps. The ideal situation is that a swimmer has at least two rungs underwater so they can climb near where their feet are in the water. The only disadvantage of using a long ladder is that it needs retracting for storage once everyone is in the boat and you want to move off.

Telescopic ladders are fully extended while swimming in the ocean and retracted to a smaller length out of the water when not in use. A folding ladder is pulled out to use and folded back up to store. These features allow the ladders to be up to six rungs long. Folded ladders are also ideal for passengers transferring from a dinghy to the boat.

To help decide how long your ladder needs to be, measure the height of the freeboard to the water then add two rungs underwater to find the ideal length. If you haven't used the ladder in the water before, it may be best to test it in the calm, shallow water. You don't want to struggle to get back into the boat in the middle of a rough ocean.

Specialty ladders

Some boat ladders are designed for a specific purpose.

If you use your boat for diving, you may need a heavy-duty dive ladder with wide open steps suitable for divers wearing flippers and heavy dive tanks.

You and your passengers may not intend to go for a swim but that doesn't mean you won't ever end up in the drink. Accidents can happen when you are pulling up anchor or reeling in a big catch. Without a ladder it's impossible to get back in to some boats. The safe-up safety ladder is a five-step lightweight ladder for a 'person overboard' situation. When zipped up the ladder is the size of a small handbag. After unzipping it is tied on to any rail on board using the three adjustable fixing straps.

Boat ladder safety

While the ladder's length is an important consideration, so is its location and rungs. Some ladders use skinny stainless tubing for rungs. They're good for compact storage but they can be painful on some people's bare feet. A more comfortable and safe option is to buy a ladder that has broad, non-skid treads.

Existing boat ladders can be made safer with the addition of non-skip pads or tread tape.The vinyl non-skid pads are cut to size to fit the placement area. The 3M tread tape comes in multiple sizes and materials to prevent slips and falls.

Before mounting your ladder check you are using the best location. On many powerboats there is limited choice but sailboats have more options. The motion of the boat is greatest at the stern so placing a ladder here can make it more difficult to climb than at other locations. Also consider the fingers and toes of people climbing the ladder. Those ladders that aren't fixed away from the side of the boat can jam a finger or toe between the moving ladder and boat.

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