Tips for Installing Dock Ladders

A dock ladder.

Dock ladders are an important safety feature to help people get in and out of your boat or to climb up out of the water after a refreshing swim. Many styles are available, so choose the ladder that will meet your needs, and refer to these tips during installation.

When to Install

Attach your dock ladder to the dock when you open your cottage or launch your boat for the vacation season.

Which Type of Dock Ladder Should You Use

Choose a dock ladder that is the length you need. For a dock that sits just 12 inches above the water, a 36-inch ladder will be long enough. You will need to outfit a dock on higher pilings with a 48-inch or 60-inch ladder. If your dock is anchored into shallow water with a sand or pebble beach, install a sloped ladder. This stairway-like ladder will enable people with balance issues to get into and out of the water comfortably.

Also keep in mind your dock design and the material your dock is made of when choosing a dock ladder. A dock made of aluminum may need a different type of ladder than a wooden or fiberglass/resin dock. If you take your boat out of the water for the winter, or close your cottage, choose a ladder with a removable lower section, that either detaches completely, or flips up out of the water but remains attached.

Like other dock accessories, your dock ladder should be made of materials that are strong and weather-resistant. The rungs of a dock ladder should support 300 lbs (136 kg). Most dock ladders are made of galvanized aluminum, tubular powder-coated steel, or a combination of aluminum or steel sides with solid cedar steps or rungs. The rungs of the ladder can either be cylindrical, or wide flat steps like a stepladder, for better traction.

How to Attach the Ladder

The dock ladder will have 4 bolt holes, two per side on the flat base of the handles, to attach it to the dock. Attach it permanently to an aluminum dock by welding it to the metal. On a resin or wooden dock, drill four bolt holes through the dock and fasten the lag bolts with washers on the underside. Put all four bolts in and tighten by hand only, until you are satisfied that the ladder is straight and level. Then tighten all the bolts with a socket wrench.

Where to Attach

Fasten the dock ladder on your side of the dock if you share it with another boater. Affix it to the narrow end of the dock if swimmers use the dock most, or to the side where you dock your boat if it is used most frequently by boaters and passengers.

Consider strength, durability, weather resistance, ease, and effectiveness of installation when purchasing and installing a dock ladder. It will be among the hardest-working of your dock accessories and is an important safety feature for any waterfront vacation spot.