Last year, we ran a review of a Union 36, and the opening photo of the boat featured a unique folding ladder that I hadnt seen before. The ladder, instead of hanging vertically, folded out at a comfortable angle in a way that seemed-at least in the photo-pretty practical for routine boarding. I was curious how it worked in bouncy weather, and the owner of the boat, PS contributor Frank Lanier, assured me that the ladder, which came with the boat, was as good as any other hed tried. One potential concern: the way it stands off the hull might complicate a man-overboard recovery in choppy water, although I know of no ladder that handles that situation perfectly. Another problem: the maker-the American Ladder Corp., based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-appeared to be out of business, and as far as I can tell, nothing currently on the market looks or works like Franks ladder.
The trend toward sugar-scoop transoms on sailboats has reduced the need for boarding ladders, but owners of older boats like the Union 36 will likely need to retro-fit one. Our last boarding ladder test was in December 2002. The test was carried out in partnership with our now defunct powerboat magazine Powerboat Reports, so several of the ladders were the type that hook over a gunwale-an installation that wont work on many sailboats.
The boat I cruised on for many years, Tosca, was a double-ender with the same sort boarding of complications as the Union 36. A stern boarding ladder didnt work. For a couple of ladder-less months after we bought the boat, we just shimmied up the bobstay when we went swimming. Id wind up in the hospital if I tried that today. (Getting old isnt for wimps.)
Shocked at the prices for a stainless-steel ladder and wanting a permanent means of climbing aboard that a person in the water could use without assistance, we settled on a modification that you see on many catboats-folding steps drilled into the rudder (look for our Marshall 22 catboat review in November). In practice, this is a terrible solution for most modern boats (effectively ensuring water will get into your rudder) and a bad idea for most others. It worked for our wood-and-epoxy laminated, barn-door rudder, but it isnt something Id recommend-or do again.
Well be revisiting portable ladders in a future issue and are looking for suggestions of new products to review. If you have a ladder to recommend or a have criteria you think we should include when we look at ladders, let us know by posting a comment below and well try to include it in our review. And if you know where we might find a company who makes a ladder like Franks folding stairway, please post the contact info-or contact us here.