Boat Boarding Ladders

Boat Boarding ladders can be for day to day boarding and also for emergency situations. There are two times you will need to get back onto your boat from the water. First when you are swimming i.e. intentionally going into the water, and secondly when you fall overboard. The problem when you fall overboard, is that in most cases boats do not have a though out process, for getting you back onboard.

I have had two incidents of a MOB and both were in calm waters. I can tell you its much more difficult than you think to get a person back onboard. In one case the MOB was so tired by the time he got back to the boat, that he did not have the energy to pull himself up. We tried to help him but were having difficulty time in grabbing him as there was not much to grab onto.

Had we a boarding ladder or a plan, getting the MOB back aboard would have been much easier.

The RNLI says that people falling overboard (MOB or COB) is on the rise, with numbers almost doubling in the last year. In the US 2/3 of boating deaths are from drowning and 90% were not wearing a PFD.

Types of Boarding Ladder

  • Amidships ladders (self rescue)
  • Transom Boarding
  • Dinghy Boarding


Amidships ladders (self rescue)

Rescuing and boarding amidships is one of the safest places to board your boat or any boat. Transom boarding is fine in flat water but in seas the pitching is quite violent.

What I call a self rescue ladder is a boarding ladder which is fixed in place either temporary or permanently. If you find yourself in the water you can get yourself out of the water without assistance. There are 2 places to get back onboard unassisted, at the transom and amidships.

Warning; One problem with many amidships ladders is that they are too close to the hull. The reason this is a problem is twofold. first getting your foot onto a rung is hard of its next to the hull. You will need to pull it away from the hull to get space for your foot. Second, in trials with the MOB wearing an inflated lifejacket, they cannot see their foot and the lifejacket pushes them away from the hull.


Save A Soul Emergency Ladder

This rope style ladder is fixed amidships and a line is left to hang close to the waterline.

A MOB can pull the line to break the Velcro and 9ft of ladder falls out.

This type of ladder is difficult to use as you need to get your foot onto the ladder rung. This proves difficult when the ladder is laying against the hull.

  • Pros; cost, storage,
  • Cons; Steps not wide, hard to get your foot in

The typical amidships ladder works. As with the top three options it will only work for a fully functioning person. If a MOB is tired and wearing a lot of gear climbing this type of ladder will be hard. To help the MOB get a line around them so you can take some of the weight.


Foldaway Ladder

The mystic folding ladder is not meant as an emergency ladder, but there is no reason why not.

The strap that holds the ladder up can be modified. Make a Velcro strap with a line that drops down to the water. A swimmer can pull the line to break the Velcro, and then use the line to lower the ladder down.

  • Pros; The steps are solid and away from the hull, getting your foot secure on the rung is much easier
  • Cons; Cost, storage when not on rail.


Hook ladder

This portable ladder type hooks right over your boat’s gunwale. The ladder hangs vertically with the aid of standoffs for added safety.

Garelick make these type of ladders



Markusnet is a multiple featured device than can be used in self rescue and assisted rescue.

The device can be used as a throwable flotation device. It can also be hung from the toe rail amidships and with the line.

Markusnet is a flotation device and net. The net can be used as a ladder. Because it can be used in other ways the Markusnet is a valuable piece of safety equipment.

  • Pros, many rungs and straps to get your foot in.
  • Cons, still relatively expensive


Edson one step

Both the Edson One Step and Doyle Quickstep are supported by single lines at either side. If you make these long enough to reach the water the steps could be used to get back onboard.

  • Pros; DIY you can make your own
  • Cons; Still hard to find the first footing, when you cant see your foot


Doyle Quickstep

The quickstep is made from plastic and is lighter and easily stowed. By making the lower step below the waterline and the next step halfway up the topsides you have a improvised light ladder.

Mount the ladder on the toe rail and have a pull line drop down close to the water.

This would work like the save a soul ladder but the wide steps make boarding much easier.

  • Pros; DIY you can make your own
  • Cons; Still hard to find the first footing, when you cant see your foot


Assisted rescue

One way to board via the transom is with a dinghy. If you are cruising and towing a dinghy then boarding the dinghy is a safe bet. It is also possible to inflate a life raft or a MOB module so the MOB can get into that.

An important consideration with a MOB is to get them onboard something quickly, because the MOB soon gets exhausted. Getting the MOB into a dinghy allows them to relax.


Inflatable Lifesling

The lifesling can be thrown at the MOB and he/she pulls it over their head and under their arms.

The line still attached to the boat can be used to pull the victim to the boat and secured. Click on the link and see a video demonstration by the Sailing Foundation.

PBO video single strop


Bosuns Chair

Harkens Bosuns chair
Harkens Bosuns chair

One way to help a MOB get back onboard is with a bosons chair and a halyard. Simply clip the halyard to the bosuns chair and drop into the water near the MOB. Lock the halyard with the bosuns chair seat a foot below the water.

The MOB can step onto the flat part of the bosuns chair and stand up and hold onto the halyard. The halyard can be raised lifting the MOB to the rail.

  • Pros; DIY again You can make a simple bosuns chair with a plank of wood and some line. This you can very simply drop into the water and winch the victim aboard. I have seen this method referred to as the trapeze method of recovery. If you have a conscious MOB then this may be the easiest.
  • Cons; You need a halyard or if on a powerboat you may have davits or some high point where you can attach a line or tackle.


Man Overboard Module

MOB 9 module
MOB 9 module

The MOB unit is normally stowed on the transom. If a person falls overboard the MOB is launched and it self inflates.

By launching the inflatable MOB and getting it near the MOB person in the water, it will help them getting out of the water as the inflated Liferaft is very close to the water. A crew member can also get into the water and assist the MOB into the Liferaft. The MOM 9 is a completely self-contained system consisting of a rugged molded container and a complete universal mounting hardware assembly. Packed within the container is a one-man ballasted rescue raft, a ballasted locator pylon and two anti-drift sea anchors.

The complete MOM unit can be lifted with the webbing strops. A similar claim can be made with a Liferaft. Liferafts are round however a pulling someone over the edge of a round Liferaft is much more difficult.


Jonbuoy Recovery Module

The Jonbuoy is a similar concept to the MOM and available in the UK.



The Markus net we saw above used as an amidships ladder, can also be configured here as a chair and as horizontal lift. One device multiple applications.

It is fairly complex, so some training is needed to understand all the applications, but is a worthwhile piece of kit.


MOB recovery of an unconscious victim.

Parbuckle is the term used for a lift of a Man Overboard.


Hypohoist (pictured) is an example of a Parbuckle. Rescue authorities use Parbuckle devices, and they can be easily used with an inflatable dinghy. Quick rescues can be made with a Coast Guard Inflatable with Parbuckle.

It is possible to construct a Parbuckle from a sail. Check to see if you have an old Dacron jib and look at the hanks. It may be possible to use the jib or have it modified into a Parbuckle.

This device is used in the North Sea for MOB recovery. Floating safety device for the rescue and recovery of persons from water.



Transom Boarding

Boarding from the transom is very popular with swimmers and many manufacturers make ladders for this purpose, companies like Garelick , Windline and TNT lifts

We assume that if we fall overboard, a transom boarding ladder will be our way back aboard. However bear in mind that in a foul sea state the boat is pitching up and down and it can be more difficult to step on a ladder which is moving up and down.

Transom boarding ladder

We assume that if we fall overboard, a transom boarding ladder will be our way back aboard. However bear in mind that in a foul sea state the boat is pitching up and down and it can be more difficult to step on a ladder which is moving up and down.

Flush mount ladder

This flush mount rope ladder from Plastimo is new. What is novel about this Boarding ladder or rope ladder is its storage. The problem with boarding ladders for emergency use is where do you keep them. This ladder in a tube answers that question.

The tube can be fitted into a transom or the side of the boat. The plug is pulled out to get to the ladder. If you added a short tether to the plug so it reached the water you could self rescue. I have not seen or the product, but the concept is great. I do wonder how much load the tube will take as it needs to hold a person and a wet person at that. Now you can have a rope ladder at hand without baggage on the rail or transom

Doggy Boat Ladder

Its not just you who needs to get onboard.

This ladder is designed for dogs to board at the transom. The ladder has buoyancy and floats on the surface. As you apply weight the ladder sinks making the ladder take a more vertical slope.

Dinghy Boarding

One way to board via the transom is via a dinghy or inflatable dinghy, and then over the transom.

If you are cruising and towing a dinghy then boarding the dinghy is a safe bet. Getting into a dinghy allows you to relax. You can partially deflate one tube to assist in boarding.

Boat US findings boarding for small inflatable and Dory and Jon style boats

BOAT US findings video review


Inflatable boat ladder

Garelick Inflatable Boat ladder

having this type of boarding ladder enables someone in the water to step out of the water easily.

It also enables a second person to get into the water and help a MOB to get into the boat by helping them find the steps.

Similar idea as the Garelick ladder is the St. Croix stainless Folding Ladder


inflatable boat Step Strap

C level
C level

This simple and cheap and space saving strap is an easy addition and does work. Its a bit harder to climb up into the boat with a strap rather than a step as the strap moves around.




Have a plan for getting back onboard,

both for yourselves and your crew members.

Whether you are a powerboat or sailboat you should think through how you will get a person back aboard. Decide if you are going to use a ladder, dinghy, hoist and check to see if the equipment you have is up to the job. I am not suggesting your need to rehearse this, but make sure you as skipper know what to do if a MOB occurs.

2005_Crew_Overboard_Symposium – Copy

This symposium carried out in part by John Rousmaniere with 20 others covers many aspects of loosing a person overboard. The MOB as they are more traditionally called and now we see the term COB due to political correctness, needs to be located, gotten to and then retrieved. Each of these maneuvers are tested in this report.

Used Boat Equipment resource