I have access to a 23ft Sonar sailboat that isn't mine. It's pretty difficult to get back into after going for a swim.

Can anyone recommend a type of portable ladder I could bring with me when I use this boat? How would I secure it to the boat?

Priorities are, in this order:

  1. must not damage the boat
  2. portable (I take public transit to the boat, not a car)
  3. makes getting back on the boat easier

enter image description here enter image description here

  • 1
    Why can't you arrange with the owner to buy a proper ladder and install it? Sep 20, 2016 at 6:00
  • @whatsisname are you suggesting the owner should modify his boat so that it will be more attractive for someone else to borrow? Sep 20, 2016 at 10:15
  • @JamesJenkins "you arrange" clearly means get permission to install a ladder the owner approves of.
    – paparazzo
    Sep 20, 2016 at 10:33
  • 1
    A swim platform would be the way to go if your guy was open to modifying his craft: yachtsofstuff.com/Browse.asp?Level=111&Needed=SHOP
    – ShemSeger
    Sep 20, 2016 at 21:44
  • 1
    @JamesJenkins: not necessarily that they should welcome it, but a swim ladder is a very common accessory for boats, and it is also the obvious and straightforward solution to the OPs problem. If the obvious answer isn't an option, the OP should specify why. Sep 21, 2016 at 20:14

3 Answers 3


Simplest thing I think would be to buy a climbing aider/etrier:

enter image description here

It's light, it packs up small in your bag, and they're pretty easy to come by, you can just order one from a climbing shop.

All you'd need to do is loop it over the mooring cleat and drop the other end in the water.

The economical version would be a piece of old rope with a loop in either end. Loop one end around the cleat, drop the other in the water, then just put your foot in the loop, tug on the rope, and step up to get into the boat.

Or you could buy an actual rope ladder from a yacht supply store:enter image description here

  • 1
    Problem with side is rope ladder is least effective in an overhang as it will swing under you. And you are putting all the weight on a single cleat and those are relatively lightweight cleats.
    – paparazzo
    Sep 20, 2016 at 20:51

OP added picture and it appears to have mooring cleats.

Looks like there are three lift rings and some people put a mooring cleats over the top. In the picture that webbing is probably to assist getting in the boat.
enter image description here

I would just string a rope (or better webbing) across the two lift rings / mooring cleats. Have it hang just below the stern for something to step on. If you cannot reach the gunwale then also a short loop like in the picture to boost.

Why two over one cleat

  • two cleats spreads the load - that is a relatively light weight cleat
  • one cleat side of boat is curved it puts you in bad mechanical position

side ladder

  • side gunwale is wider - harder to reach
  • side when you go to step over the ladder will swing behind the boat and be of basically no help at all
  • with split you are at where the boat extends out so there is very little webbing to swing
  • nice spot to swing either leg
  • if you need multiple rungs I am just not sure
    but if you can get in now with difficulty then most like one is all you need

For a rope ladder you are going to need to inspect the cockpit of the boat for a place to anchor. Problem is they try and keep the cockpit clear of that type of stuff as it catches rope, toes ...

You could fabricate one from rope or webbing with a couple loops. Tie it to the main and hang it off the stern.

You may be able to use a sheet cleat but when you put weight straight down it may pop the cleat and it is hard on the cleat.

Since it is a racing level is is not really designed mooring cleats or a fixed ladder.

A portable solid ladder you hang on the stern and store in the hatch may be the way to go. Steal the rigging is lot more money then steal a ladder.

  1. must not damage the boat

    • Damage to the boat is somewhat subjective, you are best able to tell what the owner will consider damage. Anything that rubs against a surface will cause wear. I belong to a community sailing program, multiple boats (sunfish) share multiple accessories, I think every boat has a wear mark from where a couple of the tillers tend to rub.
    • Cleats on the side of the boat are generally not designed to hold the weight of a full grown human hanging from them. If you do choose to use a rope ladder I would attach it around the base of the mast. That is the strongest attachment point on any sailing boat.
    • If you select a solid ladder, keep in mind that less expensive models are going to be made of less expensive materials. The rubber protective parts on a cheap ladder are less likely to prevent damage (all things being equal).
  2. portable (I take public transit to the boat, not a car)

    • There are both rope ladders and folding aluminum ladders available starting at $30. Each can be carried easily, with the rope ladder being the easiest.
  3. makes getting back on the boat easier

    • A rope ladder attached to the mast is going to be the least helpful of all the options. As pointed out in the answer by @Paparazzi it will tend to shift under the boat. It is probably better then nothing, but it will help
    • A folding aluminum ladder, over the stern (back) of the boat will make getting in easiest but as it is not going to a custom fit is going to more likely to move around and potentially mar or wear on the boat.

In all cases anything that works as a barrier between the boat and the ladder will help prevent damage. A scrap piece of carpet can be used to protect a rope from stone when rock climbing and by the same principal it would protect the boat from the rope or aluminum ladder.

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