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.

1953 Shephard Runabout owned by Lars Bergersen

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: 

1981 Streblow Straight Drive owned by Ed Cox

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.

Thank you, Judy Hills, for this article. Photos taken at the ACBS International Boat Show, Sept. 8, 2017 at ReefPoint Marina, Racine, Wisconsin.


  1. Our ’69 Cavalier Ski Boat has aluminum “trim tabs” mounted at the aft transom corners. These actually serve two purposes: 1- they do help to lower the bow at cruising speeds. 2- they work great as a step that is roughly 4″ below waterline at rest, combined with stainless steel grab bar installed on the gunnel top it makes for two easy reentry points.

    I got to really test this setup during a club event in 2011 when we came upon a capsized 8 man crew shell. The rowers had already been in the cold (early May) PNW waters and they were entering hypothermia so mobility was becoming a concern. With a little assistance all 8 rowers were able to get onto our boat and we took them back to their crew house.

    It may not be your own crew you have to rescue and having an reentry system available that can be used by anyone is vital to maintaining a safe boating community.

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for that affirmation. I think some ACBS boat owners are not as conscious as they should be that first and foremost we are boaters and need to be safety conscious.

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