By Judy Hills, Roving ACBS reporter
Ladders and platforms on a boat serve a number of purposes. If you use your boat for swimming, wakeboarding, skiing, or tubing, you will undoubtedly need a way to retrieve the person from the water. If you or someone on the boat unexpectedly falls overboard, you need a way to get back on the boat. You may need to go into the water to unfoul a line from the propeller (anchor, dockline or crabpot). The most stable device for this purpose is a platform, however, some boats cannot support a platform. Also, a platform may detract from the look of certain boats. Here are examples of platforms that blend with the boat. Note the retractable ladder on Awesome and the pull-down ladder on Sea Deuce (pictured above- 1959 Century Coronado owned by Nick Armone))—good features to help with boarding.
Fixed boarding ladders are another way to provide for this need. Again, this may or may not work for your antique or classic boat. Here is an example of where it does work:
Still another option is the removable boarding ladder. These ladders will perform differently depending on the freeboard and hull configuration.
There are many types of ladders to choose from: an inexpensive emergency rope ladder with plastic steps (the worst to try to board with), to the 3 or 4 step portable ladder that hooks on the gunwale, to a small removable transom-mount platform. If you are agile, thin, and have upper body strength, these will work, but if you are not, it may be an uphill struggle (pun intended) to get back aboard especially with the ones that hook on the gunwale. The removable transom ladder works the best of those in this class.
Click here to access a BoatUS Foundation study on boarding ladders. This article provides valuable information. Takeaways from this report include: 1) practice using your ladder—know how it works and how to board using it (an emergency is no time to be testing usage for the first time); 2) rigid ladders work best as they provide better leverage and more stability; 3) handhold location is an important consideration when attempting to re-board the boat; 4) upper body strength is required to use a ladder; and 5) a grossly overweight person may not be able to board using certain ladders due to his or her bulk.
So here is an idea for an ACBS chapter event—review this article with the members. Plan an on-water experience when the water is warm. Test yourselves and your ladders. Can you and/or your significant other get aboard easily? Rate the various ladders and compare notes. This will also give you practice in a man-overboard drill and practical use of YOUR ladder.
While a period-correct ladder may be displayed at a show, it is advisable to have a better device to retrieve someone from the water. Having a practical ladder that will allow you or a passenger to get back aboard the boat safely and easily should you or they enter the water unexpectedly—or in case you are unexpectedly called upon to rescue someone from the water. Always be safe, not sorry.