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Safe at Sea: 2020: How to re-board when alone?

By PAT SCHMIDT - | May 4, 2021

Recently, I read an article about boat standards, and I learned a great deal — more than I need, quite honestly — about ABYC standards and how ABYC is the U.S. representative of the ISO. The following stemmed from an article I had read entitled, “How To Re-Board When Alone,” a subject I thought might interest to Safe at Sea readers.

Here’s what I learned: ABYC stands for the American Boat and Yacht Council. The ABYC is the authoritative reference for evaluating issues of design, maintenance and product performance for boats. ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization. (I know, should be IOS, right?)

According to the ABYC Website, 90-plus percent of boats on the water are built to ABYC standards. Annually, the council’s standards are reviewed to be inclusive of modern boat manufacturing.

As I discovered, one of the ABYC standards which must be met for certification addresses the means by which a boat has a way for a person to board/re-board from the water unassisted. On most boats the “re-boarding device” is a folding ladder located at the stern. It must be accessible to a person in the water, who by him/herself, can deploy it unaided.

The exact ABYC standard for this reads:

– Re-boarding ladders mounted on the stern of a boat should be positioned as far as practicable from the propellers.

– The top surface of the lowest step of the re-boarding ladder should reach at least 22 inches below the waterline.

– The ladder steps or rungs should have slip-resistant surfaces.

– The ladder should be sturdy enough as installed that each step can withstand a vertical downward static load of 400 pounds without permanent damage.

– The means of unassisted re-boarding should also be described in the owner’s manual.

All of the above piqued my curiosity about the ladder on the stern of our boat. So down I went to the dock, measuring tape in hand:

– Ladder (stern mount) is as far as practicable from propeller? Check.

– Lowest rung should reach 22 inches below waterline? Check.

– Slip-resistant surfaces? Check.

– Sturdy enough to withstand 400 pounds downward thrust. Check and double check.

But here was my own personal “ah-hah!” The hinge by which the ladder would swing into the water would absolutely not budge without actually using something to “pop it” with. That hinge needs some WD-40.

No, I did not get in the canal — the very thought of which curls my stomach — and try to re-board our boat unassisted. However, the next time we’re at Picnic Island or along the beach at Cayo Costa, I guarantee I’ll be trying to do this.

The moral of this tale: Nowhere in the article was the process of how one accomplishes re-boarding alone discussed. I am positive that it is far harder than one thinks. The challenge is on: Check your ladder’s hinges and try to re-board totally unassisted. (I think it may be easier to never boat alone!)

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and its boating education courses, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125. To schedule a free Vessel Safety Check with the club, email vsc@sanibelcaptivasps.org.