Pontoon laws change from state to state, but there are a few stipulations that are common between jurisdictions. One of those is the need for a ladder. Many local governments require pontoon owners to install an accessible ladder to guarantee the safety of everyone whether on or off board.
Ladders make it easier to get on board from the water, and provide emergency access to the water should the situation call for it. So it’s not really a question of whether you need one as it is about what kind of ladder you should get. In this guide, we’re telling you all about the different types of ladders on the market and which one comes out as the best pontoon boat ladder for your needs and preferences.
The 5 Best Pontoon Boat Ladders
Made from 304 stainless steel, this boat ladder provides durable performance that works against extended exposure to moisture. The marine-grade tubes feature a telescopic design that stretches out to 44.48 inches, providing four steps for easy, effortless access in and out of the water.
Each step uses a molded black vinyl tread that gives your foot maximum grip and traction to prevent accidents and slips. The ladder itself uses a hinged bracket so that the design folds back on itself for easy storage and concealment. When not in use, the design takes up a mere 15 and a half inches of space against the edge of your boat.
This ladder features a removable design that lets you completely take the ladder out of the mount when not in use. The ladder’s frame folds down into a flat, compact unit that tucks away easily for effortless storage. To put it back in place, all you need to do is fold it out and slip the mounts into place through the designated holes in the mounting hardware.
The steps are made from reinforced plastic with textured step surfaces to maximize traction. The spacious ladder also touts a width of 16 inches to accommodate users of all shapes and sizes. And with a weight capacity of up to 300 lbs, this ladder also touts a reach of up to 45 inches distributed over four steps.
With a stellar weight capacity of up to 400 lbs, this boat ladder uses extra durable 316 stainless steel tubing that telescopes for easy storage and set up. The design mounts to your boat by way of several bolts that fix it against your dock. Folding it up keeps the ladder neatly seated as a compact unit at the edge of your boat, taking up limited space so you don’t have to navigate around it.
When not in use, the ladder’s steps flip up and secure to the mounted handles via quick release brackets that hold it in its folded position. And for safer use, each extra wide step uses a rubberized overlay that helps prevent accidents by giving you stable footing every step of the way.
If you don’t want your ladder taking up any space on the platform, then this choice might be right for you. The design’s under-platform mount design keeps the ladder out of sight and out of the way as it folds neatly underneath your boat. The ladder features an intuitive mounting system that lets the tubes slip out of the bracket when needed.
Sleek and space saving, this choice features sturdy construction that uses rubber covered steps for maximum safety. For added safety, the ladder also incorporates nylon bushings between sections to prevent the tubes from slipping out when the ladder is deployed into the water. When stowing away, the ladder’s self locking system holds the steps securely as you push them into the bracket.
Simple yet rugged, this telescoping boat ladder features four steps with a maximum weight capacity of 400 lbs. The telescoping tubes fold over flat on the platform, taking up a small amount of space to stay out of your way when not in use. Deploying the ladder is as easy as tucking it into the brackets, letting you set up the ladder with just a pull here and a push there.
Every step on the ladder features flat poly treads for extra traction and sturdy handrails to give you even more stability and safety as you get on and off the boat. Sleek, simplified, and straightforward, this choice promises efficient performance minus all the fancy bells and whistles.
Different Types of Pontoon Boat Ladders
While every pontoon boat ladder aims to provide you the same thing, they don’t all work the same way. Various factors make each ladder distinct from the next, and that also means that not every choice will satisfy what you’re looking for.
Permanent vs Removable Ladders
There are lots of different kinds of mounts, but the main consideration really boils down to whether you should get a permanent or a removable ladder. As the names suggest, a permanent pontoon ladder can’t be removed without dismantling the mounting hardware. These ladders usually incorporate a telescopic structure that lets you fold the design and tuck it into itself when not in use.
Then there are removable ladders that you can take down completely when not in use. The main benefit of a removable ladder is that it won’t take up space on your deck or platform when it isn’t needed, and you get the chance to simply clear away the clutter for a neater, sleeker look.
On the downside, removable ladders require slightly more time to deploy, which can be a hazard especially during emergency situations. In the same light, permanent ladders can also be a hazard since they can get in the way, especially if they’re placed in high traffic areas on your boat.
Folding vs Telescopic
Storage is a big factor when it comes to boat ladders. For one thing, most jurisdictions require that the ladder be out of the water when the boat is underway. This just prevents the hardware from getting caught in anything while your pontoon moves across the water’s surface.
So to make it possible for owners to keep their ladder out of the water while the boat is moving, manufacturers have come up with two main methods of pontoon boat ladder storage. The first is by way of a telescopic design.
A telescoping boat ladder retracts into a much shorter length, taking the end of the ladder out of the water all together albeit still being attached to the boat itself. Some telescopic designs also fold back on themselves once retracted to stay safely out of the water and out of your way.
Folding boat ladders on the other hand, compress and fold into a much smaller size for storage. Most removeable boat ladders are foldable, using folding boat ladder hinges that let you tuck the design into a small, typically flat shape ideal for storage underneath your pontoon seats.
Under Mount vs Top Mount
Under mount ladders attach to your boat by hardware that secures beneath the platform or transom. They’re ideal for pontoon owners who don’t want their ladders to take up any space on the platform at all. If the design is non-removable, it will usually tuck into its mounting hardware underneath the boat and store parallel to the platform.
The main benefit of an under mount boat ladder is that there’s no need to worry about having to step around and over the design when it isn’t in use. Of course, there’s the added benefit of not having to worry about the ladder messing up your boat’s aesthetic.
If you don’t mind having a ladder fixed to your platform however, top mount boat ladders provide excellent stability. Because they connect to the surface of your boat’s deck, it becomes easier to step on board since they usually come with handrails that let you pull your body weight up with less effort. This becomes especially helpful if you usually have kids, older adults, or larger guests on your boat.
Choosing the Right Pontoon Boat Ladder
If you’re not exactly sure what you need, then you might be at risk of buying a ladder that won’t work to your preferences. That’s why it’s important to look into the different factors that make a ladder a good choice for your specific situation.
The length of a ladder’s service will depend on how sturdy it’s built. Most boat ladders use 304 stainless steel to provide you lasting performance in even the toughest conditions. But if you really want to extend your ladder’s lifespan, then you might want to consider a design that’s built with 316 stainless steel.
The main difference between 304 and 316 stainless steel is that 316 is much stronger against corrosive chemicals and chlorides including salt. So if you expect to bring your boat out into saltwater, then 316 stainless steel boat ladders can be much better equipped to handle those unique conditions.
If you want something that won’t add too much weight to your boat, aluminum might be a good pick. Much lighter than stainless steel, they’re equally durable but also come with much lighter weight limits.
Then of course, there’s the length of the ladder itself. Most ladders will extend up to 44 inches or more, reaching from your platform all the way into the water. Then there are others that reach a little farther, inching closer towards the 50 inch mark.
Other than the length of the ladder itself, it’s also important to consider how many steps the design has. The less steps that a ladder has relative to its overall length, the more effort it should take to climb back into the boat or to get into the water. Not to mention the risks and hazards that come with steps that are spaced much farther from one another.
Pontoon boat ladders are designed for durability and safety - there’s no question about that. But there are limits to the amount of weight that a design can sustain. The average weight limit for a pontoon boat ladder is 400 lbs, which is far more than the average person.
Keep in mind though that even with that kind of weight limit, there should never be more than one person on the ladder at a given time. There are risks to having several users climbing up and down the ladder at any one moment, so the weight limit shouldn’t be taken as a go signal to put a cumulative weight on the design.
Step Width and Traction
Wider steps provide more room for individuals to get a stable footing while using the ladder. The average width for a step is roughly 12 inches, but there are some choices that extend to up to 16 inches per step. This can be particularly helpful for larger users who need the extra space to step with stability.
Then of course, there’s the covering material for each step. Stainless steel on its own can be slippery especially when wet, so manufacturers often add a layer of rubber material over the step to serve as traction.
Can Dogs Use Pontoon Boat Ladders?
While you could probably train old Fido to use your pontoon boat ladder, it’s important to keep in mind that these designs aren’t intended for animals to use. So if you have a pet on board, you should consider investing in a dog ladder or ramp to help them get in and out of the water safely.
Tips for Mounting a Pontoon Boat Ladder
1. Measure, Measure, Measure
From the moment you scout for a viable ladder, to the time you’re installing your new ladder, make sure you’ve got a tape measure with you. The most important measurement you need to make is to determine whether the ladder will reach far enough from your pontoon and into the water.
2. Think Twice About Placement
This is particularly important for non-removable pontoon boat ladders. Before you drill those holes, try to picture out how the ladder would work in a practical sense. Is it in the way? Does it pose a hazard? Is it easy to access? Should it mount as a front ladder or at the rear? Don’t just put it anywhere - think about how it might impact the way you navigate your boat’s platform.
3. Check The Hardware
It’s not rare for buyers to encounter ladders with faulty or bent mounting hardware that doesn’t sit flush against the platform. Before you mount, make sure you lay it over the intended space and find out if the mounting hardware makes full contact with the mounting surface. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to reach out to the manufacturer.
Other Accessories For Pontoon Boat Ladders
Great for boats that always have pets or kids. These keep the hardware of the hinge and sharp edges from accidentally cutting unassuming hands and paws.
There are lots of different kinds of extra mounts you can buy so you can set up your ladder in different locations depending on your need. There are various types of extra mounts, like keyhole mounts, or cup mounts, to name a few.
We recommend the RecPro Marine Flush Mounts as well as the SeaLux Marine Extra Cup Mount Set For Removable Folding Pontoon Ladders.
If you’ve got an under mount ladder, then a set of handrails might help make the process of getting in and out much easier and safer.
A Safe Way Out - And Back In Again
The best pontoon boat ladder doesn’t just make it easier to get in and out of your boat, it makes sure your watercraft complies with local laws and regulations. Offering an extra facet of safety, a ladder makes sure you can get in and out of your boat easy and quick especially in the face of an emergency. So treat it like an investment, get the best ladder for pontoon boats that you can find, and make getting in and out of your boat a breeze.