Climb Aboard With the Right Boat Ladder for You
Boarding ladders make it possible to get back on to your boat after a swim, a fall overboard or when boarding from a dinghy. Our selection of boat ladders includes over-the-gunwale ladders, swim step ladders, platform ladders, transom-mount ladders, permanent/removable ladders and sport-diver ladders.
Runabouts and small keelboats often use this simplest type of ladder, which has J-shaped tubes that hang over the gunwale. They stow easily because the J-tubes fold together and they have non-skid plastic rungs.
Swim Step Ladders
Used mainly on powerboats, these short models fold or telescope under or on top of swim step platforms on the stern. They can be improved with the addition of a boarding handle above the swim step, on the transom of the boat.
These include a small teak or fiberglass platform for boats with outboards or stern drives. They have a one-step ladder that descends into the water and struts that keep the platform rigid.
These use the vertical or reverse transom of a sailboat as a permanent mounting location. They swing up or telescope when underway and are always available when needed, except if you fall overboard with them in the up position.
These include stainless steel transom- and gunwale-mount ladders for sailboats and powerboats. They generally fold in half to get out of the water. In general, permanent-mount boat ladders cost less than removable ladders and are not as versatile. Removable boat ladders use mounting sockets attached to the deck with keyhole slots that fit stainless buttons on the head of the ladder. Pairs of sockets are often installed on the port and starboard sides of the boat to enable the ladder to be used in either location.
Designed for use on small open runabouts, bass boats and center console boats, these ladders are distinguished by an open-sided design with one, stout center rail that angles away from the hull. The open-sided design of sport/dive ladders allows users wearing swim fins to climb aboard easily.
Make sure the ladder you select will be easy to use
Using your boarding ladder should not be a painful experience, so look for ladders with wide step pads. It is amazing how much one-inch diameter stainless steel rungs can hurt your feet, especially in cold water.
To be effective for boarding from the water, the ladder must extend well into the water so that the swimmer’s legs can be used. We recommend that the third step be at the waterline—in other words, two steps must be submerged.
A common cause of drowning where boats are kept on moorings is that a person falls into the water when attempting to board from a dinghy. For this reason, it is a good idea that hinged ladders have a pull cord so that they can be deployed from the water.
For more information about boat ladders, see our West Advisor article Choosing a Boarding Ladder. Of course, West Marine associates are always ready to help at a store near you.