I’m a fan of small boats because I find them nimbler and easier to navigate in crowded anchorages. Plus, sailing small is quite a lot more thrilling than a big boat on a beautiful late-summer afternoon.
Unfortunately, these boats don’t have the space to fit a standard-sized ladder when you want to upgrade the factory-installed ladder. This brings us to the topic of the day: boarding ladders for small boats.
Now, since space is at a premium in these boats, most boat ladder manufacturers make thinner ladders that are ideal for your tiny canoe, kayak, Dinghy, fishing boat, etc. Read on to find out what the best options are and how to make the right choice.
Best boarding ladders for small boats
While there are tons of quality boarding ladder for small boats on the market, we decided on these three popular models from Amarine Made and Garelick after carefully researching the 10 bestselling ladders.
1. Garelick/Eez-In Compact Transom Ladder (2 or 3 steps)
This compact ladder from Garelick- with a tested maximum weight capacity of up to 300lbs- is made from anodized aluminum.
It’s designed with small boats in mind so the package includes a set of mounting brackets with a narrow profile- the brackets are themselves made sturdy. Either design- you can choose the 2 step or 3 step model-folds down easily for quick and safe boarding.
Installation is fairly quick and easy on small sailboat transoms – it mounts in an 8” x 12” area- although you need to buy bolts/screws for fastening it to the transom. A velcro has been included to help you keep the ladder in a stowed position.
- Fits most curved or angled transoms.
- Durable, rust-resistant construction.
- Comfortable, non-slip steps.
- The securing strap feels not strong enough.
2. Amarine Made 3-Step Stainless Steel Boat Ladder Telescoping Swim Step
Constructed from stainless steel with fine powder-coating for enhanced durability and rust-protection, this ladder from Amarine Made bolts directly onto the boat floor and holds quite a lot of weight without issue (about 300 lbs).
The wonderful steps- featuring non-slip rubber for extra safety – telescope easily making exiting the water a breeze. The design is outstanding- it folds, collapses, extends, and unfolds in seconds.
There is a Velcro strap to help you secure the ladder in a non-extended position as well. Don’t lose sleep over the mounting process – simply bolt it to the platform and voila! You’re ready to dive off your boat!
Please be aware that it’s compatible with boats with a platform off the transom. The manufacturer advises that the design also makes it easy to use on a compact pontoon boat.
- Folds up out of the way easily when not in use.
- Installs easily.
- Stainless steel constructed -holds up great to the saltwater.
- No top handle.
3. Amarine Made 4-Steps Folding Rear-Entry Boat Ladder (Extra Wide Step)
This heavy-duty ladder got you covered if you’ve been looking for a premium 4-steps ladder for your small boat. It’s made from high-quality stainless steel and can, staggeringly, hold up to a 400 lbs person, despite its small footprint.
This ladder is telescoping too and has the ability to extend out four steps to reach deep into the water (if that’s what you want). Most crucially, it stays put even if you jump up/down the thing when fully extended.
It is much easier to use than the competitors- the wider steps and the tall handrails are really convenient. Plus, the handles make pulling yourself out of the water and back into the boat a piece of cake.
Installation is effortless whether on pontoon or deck boats or even on the transom of your small bay boat as long as you have purchased the correct hardware (bolts, washers, nuts, etc).
And oh, it’s a pretty sight on many boats.
- Steps stow compactly.
- Rear entry.
- Comfortable 2” wide steps
- No instructions manual!
Boarding ladder for small boats – buying guide
Now that you know what ladders dominate the market, you may get over-excited and hit the marketplace immediately.
Well, you shouldn’t be carried away because it’s easy to make a huge mistake while buying one if you have no previous experience with boarding ladders for small boats.
In short, don’t click the order now button before considering these factors:
a) Choose the correct type
The first thing to check is the type.
Let’s take a quick look at the common types of ladders for small boats:
Portable boat ladders
Now, you attach these ladders only when you require it so it’s best to go the portable boat ladder
way if you’re an infrequent sea goer. There’s a variety of mounting styles to choose from.
Fixed boat ladders
On the other hand, fixed boat ladders are perfect for full-time sailers. It mounts permanently to the boat.
b) Look at the construction
Higher-rated ladders for small boats are typically welded from marine-grade stainless steel, rather than bolted together with non-metal brackets.
The other material that copes well with the salt water and harsh sun is aluminum so it’s an option particularly if you’re tight on cash.
c) Select a telescoping step design
A telescoping ladder, is definitely, the way to go because you’re short on space in this case, though you may have to pay more.
Other compact style ladders are available but none beats the compactness and efficiency of telescoping style models.
d) Consider the ergonomics
While functionality is key, a comparison between the ergonomics of the ladders is also important.
For unmatched comfort and ease of use, look for features such as wide steps, perfectly positioned rungs, and ergonomically placed handles.
Non-slip treads provide a safer and softer stepping surface and can also be game-changing.
Make sure the boarding ladder is fully compatible with your boat as you hunt around.
Some ladders need a platform for installation and we’ve mentioned this requirement, where necessary, in the reviews while others are technically universal.
In most cases, a transom boat ladder is recommended for boats lacking a platform.
f) Other Considerations
Select a ladder that is able to handle your weight and that of your buddy/partner comfortably.
The maximum weight capacity is usually listed in the ladder’s specifications.
The ladder’s lowering/stowing mechanism
You want a ladder whose lowering/stowing mechanism works smoothly.
Is the setup friendly?
Another factor that might make you change your choice is the installation. Check whether the boarding ladder you’ve selected comes with the
mounting brackets and whether the instructions have been provided.
Once you’ve gotten your boarding ladder, you must practice using it. Grab your boat and drag it out on a sunny day and practice safe boarding and re-boarding with your newly-purchased ladder until you have mastered how to use and store it.
This is important, no matter how much experience you have. I know because I didn’t bother about it when I bought my recent one and I was almost left at sea the first time I tried to exit the water and back into the boat with it.
References and Citations:
Sail World Australia: Ten Tips for choosing the right boarding ladder www.sail-world.com/100966
Department of Commerce; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – General Provisions for Domestic Fisheries; Specifications for Boarding Ladders https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2008-11-17/html/E8-27221.htm