Tips for Buying a Boat Ladder

We wanted to go snorkeling … sailing out to a dive/snorkel site 5.5 miles out toward the reef sounds like a great daysail.  We’ll pick up a dive mooring, go snorkeling for as long as we can stand the 75 degree water temperature and then have a great daysail back.   Sounds like a perfect day.   Right?

When the boat rolls away from us, we really could have used a 5th step on our new ladder ... the bottom step was right at the waterline as David boarded the boat.

When the boat rolls away, we really could have used a 5th step on our new ladder … the bottom step was right at the waterline as David boarded the boat. (Yes, we know we desperately need bottom paint – coming in March!)

Except for one minor/major snag.   Our boat ladder broke last year and we didn’t see the need to replace it.  Usually when we’re snorkeling we have the dinghy in the water and we board the dinghy, which isn’t a problem as long as I have my dive fins on, and then remove our gear and climb back aboard the boat.  But we won’t be towing the dinghy for a daysail.

I hated this ladder, but in retrospect, it had a lot going for it.

I hated this ladder, but in retrospect, it had a lot going for it.

SO we need a ladder.  I hated our first ladder, it just always seemed flimsy to me – white plastic steps with an aluminum frame.  But after we’ve been doing the research, I found out that original ladder had a lot going for it ….

  • First, it fastened in to the caprail so there was little to no possibility of the ladder unattaching and floating away from the boat in a side to side swell.
  • Second, and maybe most importantly, the steps extended BELOW the water by at least a foot.  If you’ve ever tried to climb up a boat ladder from the water, you can appreciate how critical this one is!
  • Amazingly enough, it wasn’t the flimsy white plastic steps that finally failed, it was the aluminum side frame which had collapsing arches over the top – I think they call it a “walk through” ladder – and also collapsing supports behind the ladder that braced it against the boat.  After 10 years, the aluminum corroded to the point that neither could be forced into their proper position from the folded stowed position.   So into the trash it went.
Here's our new stainless ladder - we opted for 4 step for storage purposes - the ladder's stored much more than it's used, but we really could have used the 5 steps.

Our new stainless ladder – 4 step for storage purposes – the ladder’s stored much more than it’s used, but we really could have used the 5 steps.

Shopping for ladders, we found that most didn’t have the attachment to the cap rail that works best on our boat.  We were limited in choices.  West Marine here in Stock Island and Key West had the stainless ladder with the attachment points on top, but the other ladders were simply hook over the caprail.

While that style would work aboard s/v Winterlude, we were concerned that if there was any side to side roll while we were out snorkeling – either a passing boat wake from Hawk Channel or swell from the Straits of Florida, the ladder might go AWOL while we were gone.  That would make it extremely difficult even with our low freeboard to get back aboard.  We might be able to struggle to climb the Monitor Windvane on the stern.

Eventually with time running out to order something online – after all, calm snorkeling days are not the norm down here with the NE & Easterly trades blowing – we needed a ladder on Tuesday and it was already Sunday.  West Marine had the expensive stainless ladder in stock, ready to go.

The plastic white step ladder identical to our old ladder could have been ordered, but wouldn’t arrive for our weather opportunity.  SO we broke down, visited West Marine and bought their Gunwhale Mount Stainless 4 Step Ladder.  Now we don’t have to worry about not having a ladder anymore.  It’s only money, right?

When the boat rolled the other way, two steps were below water, making it easy for me to time my ascent.  No problem mon!

When the boat rolled the other way, two steps were below water, making it easy for me to time my ascent. No problem mon!

While snorkeling, we were super happy we made the decision to stick with the attached ladder (even though I suppose we could have tied the hook over version on the stanchions).  The swell from the south was fairly large, rolling the boat to the degree that David tied the stainless hooked in ladder on just as a precaution.

What kind of ladder do you have aboard?  Would you recommend it?  Please leave a comment and share why and which ladder you chose.  THANKS!  Cheers!  Jan

P.S.  Snorkeling was GREAT!  Can’t wait til the winds subside so we can go again!

 

Comments

  1. We reused/recycled a discarded boat ladder a few years ago just like the one you describe. It was filthy with growth but cleaned up nicely with the power washer. It has turned out to be quite serviceable. It’s a 5-step white plastic and aluminum hook-on type. I tie to the stanchions with parachute cord so it won’t disappear. The bottom step is usually in the water which, as you say, makes for much easier re-boarding. The hook ends and the little standoff legs fold inward for easy stowing after use. I would recommend a similar type to anyone!

  2. We bought a Dive-N-Dog 5-step ladder that has mounts on the side of the boat near the toe rail that it slides into. It’s very secure, has 2 steps below the waterline, and folds in half for easier storage. It was ot very expensive and it’s lasted really well the 3 years we’ve had it so far.

    Deb
    S/V Kintala
    http://www.theretirementproject.blogspot.com

  3. thanks for the post. The grade of stainless is definitely an important consideration as is the spacing of the rungs depending on the gear you have on when getting in and out of the water. Fixings must be durable against fatigue in my experience.

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