What to Look For
When buying a boat, most boaters probably view the boarding ladder as an afterthought, if they notice it at all. Most probably don’t pay attention to it until the first time they’re trying to get back into the boat from the water. Maybe it’s not such a big deal if you struggle to climb back in after a swim, but if someone’s fallen overboard — particularly when operating the boat solo — and can’t get back into the boat, it could be life and death. There are a few different styles to choose from, and not every style is ideal for every boat. Here are a few general rules about ladders. —Pete McDonald
PROP-PROTECTED The American Boat and Yacht Council guidelines state that stern ladders should be mounted as far away from the propeller as possible. Many builders who place it on the transom or extended swim platform mount the ladder so that it’s angled away from the engine.
GET A GRIP The steps or rungs of boarding ladders should be slip-resistant. Look for ladder rungs that are grooved or have a strip of nonskid tape. Some have grooved or slotted plastic inserts that serve as a nonslip surface while boarding. This is especially helpful when trying to board in rougher seas.
IN DEPTH ABYC guidelines state that the top surface of the lowermost rung or step
of a boarding ladder must be at least 22 inches below the waterline while the boat is at rest. The farther down the ladder goes, the easier it is to use while in the water. Look for at least a three-step telescoping ladder on the swim platform and bow platform of any boat you’re considering.
DEPLOYABLE Boarding ladders should be able to be accessed and deployed by someone swimming in the
water next to the boat. A lot of installations are designed to be hidden under hatches, which helps with dockside appeal due to cleaner lines. But have you ever tried to lift up one of the heavier hatches from the water while bobbing? Look for recessed installations that slide out from underneath the transom or extended swim platform, or from a molded-in recess, where it is still easy to grab and pull into the water.
HANDLE THIS Another important element of reboarding is to have a handhold within reach of the ladder, which will help you pull yourself out of the water.
DIY Don’t have a ladder? Companies such as Garelick and West Marine make stowable swim ladders that hang off the gunwale. Or you can install one. To follow our instructions on how to install one, go to boatingmag.com/installingboarding-ladder.
STEP ON UP The more steps a ladder has going below the waterline, the better it is.
Look for boarding ladders that angle away from the prop, have a grab handle nearby, and are accessible from the water.