Make and Make Do
More than just an easy way to go swimming, a reboarding ladder is essential safety equipment. Even fairly warm water will kill you through hypothermia if you can’t get out of it. And it saps the strength you need to be able to get out of it. And I’m a lousy swimmer, so I take this piece of gear seriously.
There are good and bad ways to do this. Here’s a bad way.
I thought this would be an improvement over the Reed Smith type plywood ladder. Being bolted in place when in use keeps it from moving around, so it’s nice and quiet. The “ribs” make it very stiff and make a nice handhold on the sides. The hinged transom standoff works brilliantly, and you can really put an awful lot of weight on it. So it works perfectly well to get you on the boat … once it’s set up. The trouble is that you can’t get it unfastened from the chocks when you’re in the water! I think it was Max Wawrzyniak who noticed this at Rend Lake. I tested it later and he was right. I was thinking of a way to improve this by holding it down with lines and cleats. But then I found a better way.
Kilburn Adams designed into his SkiffAmerica20 what is probably the best boarding ladder I have ever seen. It folds up out of the way, is easy to release from the boat or the water, and provides ergonomic steps that won’t waste any of the energy of a cold and exhausted person. I realized there was no way to beat this design, so I joined him!
I don’t have plans for the SA20 yet, so I can’t tell you how Kilburn gets around the trickiness in the hinges. It looks to me like you need two sets of hinges and no space for any bolt heads anywhere. I got around it by simply using rope.
Here are the parts, simple framing sticks on 1/4” plywood:
It’s true that I had to rip an angle to get the lowest step right. But that’s about the hardest thing in it. To tie it on I first ran some 1/4” Dacron through a couple eye bolts I added at the bottom of the transom.
Then this rope goes through the front (when set up) holes of the upper step and the top holes of the lower step, and is held there with stopper knots. This takes maybe 1.5 feet of line.
Then the rest of the line (maybe 7-8 feet) runs in, then out the holes at the top of my transom. After getting both “legs” the same length, each side goes through its respective aft hole in the upper step, and a stopper knot holds the upper step level. Then the “legs” go through the holes in the lower step, again with stopper knots to hold it vertically in line with the upper step.
To hold it in place when not in use Kilburn uses a simple snap, but that doesn’t work for my system because I didn’t need the PVC pipe handle Kilburn has. My transom is lower. Also, Kilburn has hinges, so the ladder stays above the transom when not being used. My ropes let it sag below the transom and drag in the water. So I had to find a way to lift it. I added a cleat inside the top of the transom and I used some light line to form bowline through the two eyebolts underneath the ladder. The standing end then comes under both parts of the ladder, supporting them, through the step hole in the lower step, and over the transom to the cleat. After taking a couple turns on the cleat, I usually run the end around the entire ladder at the top of the transom then cleat it securely. This last turn keeps the ladder from banging annoyingly against the transom in waves.
Here it is in “deployed position” with the boat hanging off the end of the trailer.
…and being modeled by my brother’s (now
Nice! (The ladder, the LADDER! Can’t take you anywhere…)
One minor annoyance is that the lower part of the ladder floats, so you have to push it down to get your foot on it. It would be easy to pour a slug of lead into it, but I’m still deciding if the floating bothers me. No sense in adding any weight that’s not truly needed.
Overall, it’s not quite as nice as Kilburn’s ladder, but I think any adult could use it from the water. For now that’s good enough for me!
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