Choosing and fitting a boarding ladder
Having a decent boarding ladder is handy for convenience but is also a very useful safety device. David Parker shows how to fit a compact design under a swim platform
David Parker fits a telescopic ladder to his motorboat
If you’ve ever been on a sea survival course in open water your instructor might have played a trick on you – it’s called the crisp packet test. They like doing this for some reason and it involves allowing you to freeze in the water for a while before you’re invited back on board.
‘You look hungry,’ they caringly say as they throw you a packet of crisps. They then seem to find it very amusing as you try to open the packet.
You can’t, of course, because your hands are cold and you have the apparent dexterity of a seal wearing mittens.
This seemingly trivial trick serves a serious and highly useful purpose, of course, in demonstrating beyond doubt how quickly you can become victim to the effects of cold-water immersion. You might be in the water by choice – you might not – but you won’t need much convincing after the crisp packet test about the need to be able to get yourself back on board with an easily deployed ladder.
Boarding ladders are obviously fitted for convenience too, for stepping out of a tender or getting back on board after a snorkel round the rocks or when checking the prop.
However they should also be considered for safety reasons, particularly with the high freeboard on many modern yachts.
Even if you weren’t wet and weak from being in the water it would be pretty tricky to haul yourself back on board without some aid. In fact they made a whole film about it called Adrift. A group of friends goes for a weekend cruise on a new yacht. They jump in the water for a swim... but nobody thought to lower the ladder to re-board the ship. I won't spoil the ending, but did you ever imagine a boarding ladder could be a Hollywood villain?
Even if you already have a decent, permanently installed boarding ladder, consider this: perceived wisdom is that when boarding from the water the bottom rung of the ladder should be at least a foot below water level – but in reality this is not enough. If you’re cold and weakened, hauling yourself up onto this first rung can be very difficult. I reckon there should be at least two or three rungs below the surface: that way if the boat rolls away or the transom suddenly pitches you can still get on the ladder. My previous ladder was fitted on top of the swim platform on my motorboat and swivelled down into the water. The swim platform itself is great and if you have a keel-hung rudder and transom space a short platform can also be very handy – particularly when boarding from a tender, or for use as a tool shelf if you’ve gone over the side to give the hull a scrub.
Although this ladder looked fine, when you came to use it, it was too short and you needed a rope to haul yourself out.
So I decided to fit a different one altogether, which fits under the platform and can be deployed easily from the water when needed. Ideally this fold-away type would be fitted with the boat out of the water. But a haul-out just for that would be expensive and where’s the fun in it anyway? In the end I fitted it with the boat afloat and fortunately all went according to plan. Here’s how I did it.
Telescopic fold-away ladder fitted to swim platform My old boarding ladder was a swivel down arrangement but only had two steps: when deployed it was too short and you had to rig a rope to help pull yourself out of the water