Boarding Ladders and Other Boarding Devices


December 27, 2001

In the Caribbean a boarding ladder is the most important piece of equipment on the boat. I am on the verge of buying one of those very expensive ladders that mount on the toe rail amidships. If anyone has a design that would work on the transom and not interfere with the mizzen sheet, he would be my friend for life.


Dec 28, 2001 11:48am

I have 3 swim ladders, including the original one that folds laterally, and hooks on special fittings on the port toe rail. It broke in a couple of places from sun damage, and is no longer made. I repair it by replacing the broken plastic structurals with bolted stainless braces.

Another was bought cheaply at the Fishing Coop on Lanzarote, Canary in 1999. It is the conventional aluminum ladder with plastic steps and arching (1 foot diameter) half circles hooking over the toe nail. These two arches fold against each other by turning the aluminum side posts, so that the ladder may be stored flat against the lifelines. Like the preceding ladder, it has folding legs that lean against the curve of the hull, and are a bit too short for total comfort.

A third one is a simple rope ladder with orange plastic stems made of half pipe so that they can snug on top of each other in a small bundle, also very cheap from Defender 4 years ago. It is used some times hanging from the pulpit when I am bow to dock, if it is safer or more comfy than the other two. But its main use is ready on the aft deck, with a pendant hanging out close to the sea level, so I may grab it, unroll the ladder, and climb aboard. This is rigged before casting off whenever I sail off solo. The alternative is a simple loop long enough to put a knee or a foot and climb on board, also half hanging out so it can be deployed by pulling from the water.

None of these may be as comfortable as the ladder built in (or ready to unfold on) most transoms these days (the reason why most of these transoms are of reverse slope), but they work, and provide good flexibility when docking "Med" way, bow in. I may change my mind in a few years if my left hip ("Lady Hip") keeps acting up (I am 67). But I would reserve the center of the transom for a windvane, Cape Horn or other, as that is an overarching need vs. comfort.


Dec 28, 2001 0:54pm

There is no need for a stern boarding ladder to be on the centerline. The mizzen sheet should not foul an off-center ladder. The stock mizzen sheet overhangs the pushpit, but that is not necessary as the mizzen sheet can be rigged inboard of the pushpit where it will not foul a ladder or a steering vane.


Dec 29, 2001 5:58pm

Voyager came with a stern ladder as on the enclosed pictures. I don't know if it was original equipment.

We're very happy with this arrangement. When I added the wind vane I added braces to it, so it's strong enough to be a hand-hold for people climbing the ladder.

The only downside is that with the cockpit awning up one must duck between the awning and the rail to climb aboard.



I use a boarding ladder along the starboard side. For most purposes,we use no ladder at all to enter the boat from the dinghy. The ladder is a collapsable aluminum one, it collapses to a size of about 16" x 6" x 8". We carry it in a cockpit locker at sea. A side mounted ladder is easier to board in rough weather than a stern mounted one, due to the pitching of the boat. I think the manufacturer has gone out of business. I have a collapsable rope and plastic ladder, that I lash collapsed to the steering vane mount, as insurance when I sail alone. I hope I would be able to get myself aboard if I fell in, something I have never done yet.


Dec 30, 2001 11:47am

I totally agree! I am thankful Jack survived against all odds, and curious as to how he did it if he "found it impossible to climb back on deck"... (Jack, can you enlighten us? It may serve us later)

Not having a foldable ladder (quick release from overboard as described by Jack), I use either the line loop arrangement or the folded rope ladder, as described before. Solo or even duo handlers should make this a safe habit before leaving port. It is not always possible to swim up to the bobstay, and not very comfortable to climb back that way, especially in cold waters with heavy weather gear and boots on... Try it anyway for fun and good practice... in swimsuit first!

Now that I have grandchildren visiting in summer, I shall reconsider the foldable stern ladder if it can fit besides the Cape Horn windvane. It will definitely be quick release from the waterline.


Sun Dec 30, 2001 2:23pm

Mounting a stern ladder off center would work, as would moving the mizzen sheet inboard, although don't know if leaving that much of the boom unsupported would be OK.


Dec 30, 2001 2:25pm

Dick brought up an interesting point about falling overboard. This terrifies me because I fell overboard while singlehanding my old 35 footer from England to the USA in the 1992 OSTAR. Being alone made the process rather awful, and being at 50 north meant the water was very cold. It's a long story, fortunately the mast was broken so the boat was stopped, but I found it impossible to climb back on deck from the water. Heavy seas and the cold sapped all of my energy.

So, Voyager came with the folding stern ladder shown on the pictures I uploaded yesterday. While at sea I keep it folded up by a piece of shock cord wrapped around the ladder and the pushpit. That is "armed" using a cotter pin; remove the pin and the shock cord falls away. The cotter pin has a line attached to it that goes to the lowest rung. The plan is that from the water I should be able to pull the line, pop the pin, and pull the ladder down. It works fine in tests made in warm, calm water; hopefully it'll never see real use, but it's best to be prepared.


December 30, 2001

Regarding those who fall overboard reminds me of a situation where my wife was commanding a ship down the New Zealand coast one very foggy morning, she was working a mayday which as it turned out was a women sailor who said her husband had fallen overboard and was lost, however as daylight came on, she found him being dragged by his lifeharness behind the vessel, of course in these bergy bit waters he had already succumbed. She was off watch and sleeping and did not hear his calls for help and with the jib still pulling he likely could not get close to the vessel or aboard by himself.

This is a lesson here for eveyone, remember the 50/50 rule? In 50 degree water, one can only survive 50 minutes without some type of hypothermia protection. (Dry Suit)

Even Florida waters get that cold this time of year.


Dec 31, 2001 8:51am

Regarding ladders and falling overboard, one advantage the SW's have if they are not moving is one can climb aboard alongside at the lowest point of the decks. Simply grab the lifeline, pull yourself up slipping your legs under the lifeline and slip aboard. I've done it with full winter clothing on and soaking wet and it only takes a few seconds.


January 01, 2002 11:11 PM

Well, it is a long story. The long version is on-line at - click on the Go West link. But that's about 100 pages covering the whole OSTAR experience.

The short version is that after 8 days of beating into gales at 50 north the mast came down; while trying to get it back aboard I was thrown into the sea. The cold sapped my energy before I understood what was going on. Don mentioned that we/he can climb aboard our SWII's no problem - I could do that on my Cheoy Lee as well, and did often, but the cold made it quite impossible. It's astonishing how fast one loses one's abilitities in the cold. There was so much rigging in the water, though, that I managed to tie bowlines in some of it and make a ladder.

But not my idea of a good time...


Jan 2, 2002 6:28pm

Jack, I just wanted to thank you for the pictures, it's always alot easier that way. The recent boarding ladder pictures also gave me a stern view of the propane tank arrangement you had talked about earlier. Thanks, and keep them coming


Jan 3, 2002 11:49am

The mizzen sheet can be rigged vertically from the aft cockpit coaming . The mizzen boom is plenty strong for this, as proven by 20 years experience and plenty of storms.

I envy those talking about re-boarding after falling overboard. I am 75 years, never was physically strong, 6'1" high 220 lb. out of shape. I could never climb the bobstay, and only climb amidships if the boat were heeled far. I always use jackstay and harness when out of the cockpit at night or in heavy weather.

Dick Weaver, 75K


Jan 3, 2002 3:48pm

Jackstay and harness offshore are key*, I also use them in the Sound when water temp goes down. But I still have the loop or the rope ladder geared on...

Bert dF 80K