So today, we are going to discuss the types and features of popular pontoon boat ladders and give some advice on picking the best boat ladder for you and your boat.
But before we discuss which ladders you should buy, let us look at some other essential aspects you should know.
Do you Need Ladder on Your Boat
There are three reasons why everyone should have a boat ladder on their boat:
- Safety – Should your family members fall into the water, you need a quick way to get them back on board, especially during cold months.
- Legality – Many states mandate a boat ladder. My state of Massachusetts has a boating law in place.
- Convenience – If you go swimming, you need a way to get back into the boat. The boat ladder is especially necessary for elderly or overweight individuals, or individuals with health problems.
Types of Pontoon Boat Ladders
There are two main categories on boat ladders. They are as follows.
- On-deck boat ladders
- Under-deck boat ladders
Now, you could also say that the removable boat ladder deserved its category, but for this article, I will include those into the on-deck category.
You will see why later.
Each of these ladders has its pros and cons, so let’s discuss that next.
On-Deck Boat Ladders
As the name says, on-deck boat ladders are mounted on top of the deck or the platform.
There are three main benefits of the on-deck boat ladders:
- Easy to mount
- Easy to use
- Last longer
Mounting of the on-deck boat ladders is a breeze as you can reach the mounting location easily. And the sage goes for using the ladder, simply bend down and deploy it without a need to reach under the deck.
On-deck ladders also last longer because they are not exposed to the water as much, especially if you are using it in saltwater. Saltwater can corrode the steel easily. Even if it’s marine grade steel, it won’t last as long.
There is also one significant negative of using the on-deck boat ladders.
It takes up space on your boat.
Some people will probably not find that troubling, but just wait until you hit your toe on it, you will change your mind quickly.
Under-Deck Boat Ladders
The under-deck boat ladder is entirely the opposite of the on-deck ladder in terms of pros and cons.
Under-deck boat ladder is:
- Harder to mount
- Harder to use
- Does not last as long
- Does not take up space
The reason why it’s harder to install and use it because it is under the deck. To install the ladder, you have to get in the water. Depending on the waves, it might be challenging to pull off the installation quickly and without running into any issues.
Mounting might not be as big of an issue with pontoon boats because they sit on top of the water, but it’s not as convenient as on-deck mounting either.
The same goes for using the under-deck pontoon boat ladder. You have to reach under the boat to get to it. It could be an uncomfortable thing to do for some people.
Because they are under the deck, they will not last as long. Being exposes to water all the time increases the rate of corrosion significantly.
On the other hand, under-deck ladders will not take any space on your boat, and your toes will be safe.
Permanent or Removable Ladders
The reason why I did not include removable ladders in one of the main categories is that I wanted to touch on the mounting options quickly.
So as the heading says, you can either install the ladder permanently or use removable ladders. There are benefits to both, but also some negatives.
I don’t feel like I should discuss this subject in dept as it is pretty obvious, but I will quickly mention the following:
Permanent ladder – sturdy, longer-lasting ladder, easy to deploy, and always available for when you need them.
Removable ladders – not as sturdy or long-lasting. They are easy to deploy but may not be available for you if you forgot to deploy them before entering the water. Removable ladders also take up your storage as you don’t want to leave them on the railing.
I would recommend that you use both. Have a permanent ladder installed at your preferred location and use a removable ladder as your spare ladder. It does not hurt to have both.
Top 10 Pontoon Boat Ladders
Now that we have discussed the types of ladders and some of their benefits let’s look at what I think are the best ladders on the market in 2020.
Do keep in mind that the list is not made in any particular order; you can make up your mind. I’m just listing what are think are ladders worth mentioning.
RecPro Marine Pontoon Boat 4 Step Ladder
Starting off the list are RecPro Marine Pontoon Boat 4 Step ladders. Designed with durable plastic steps, offer a maximum capacity of a 300-pounds that can support people of various sizes.
It includes soft rubber bumpers to guard the exterior of your boat against dents and scratches. RecPro comes with sturdy, anodized aluminum tubing and mounting cups. The tubing gives this ladder that extra support, which most other ladders do not have.
Space-saving slim design allows the ladders to be stored away quickly, or you can use the built-in clips to install them on your railing, so it is out of your way.
The one negative of these pontoon boat ladders is that it’s not compatible with all platforms. In my opinion, these are the most compact boat ladders you can buy because when folded, they are entirely flat.
Extreme Max Undermount Pontoon Ladder
Made from aluminum, Extreme Max attaches to your pontoon boat under its front deck. It stows easily with a rubber strap when not in use.
When you are ready to use it, you simply deploy it by unhooking the strap and sliding the rungs out into the water. These grooved rungs have excellent traction, which makes it especially easy to grab onto for both kids and adults.
Because they are angled and located in front of the boat, make sure you retract the ladder before approaching the shore. If you don’t fold them, you can do a lot of damage to your pontoon boat in case you hit the beach or the dock.
RecPro Marine 4 Step Heavy Duty Pontoon Ladders
This one is a popular model, and you probably already have a good idea of why.
Its large and slightly angled stairs offer maximum convenience as far as steps go. Thanks to this slight incline, swimmers have a much easier time climbing up onto the deck.
Extra tall handrails help as well.
If you are looking for a heavy-duty ladder, this is your best choice. These ladders have all-welded 316 Stainless Steel construction, and the built material was chosen because of its proven resistance to corrosion.
These ladders are so sturdy that they do not even require tube support.
Amarine Made 4-Step Stainless Steel Telescoping Pontoon Ladder
The thick brackets securing the ladder to the floor of your boat are rigid, so you won’t have to worry about any sliding or wobbling.
Even though it an under platform ladder, it mounts quickly and easily. The telescopic steps easily fold in and out.
When folded, it fits nicely under your deck and leaves your swim grid completely unobstructed. The ladder is equipped with a velcro strap to keep it in place for security reasons.
Amarine Made 3 Step Stainless Steel Telescoping Boat Ladder
The Amarine-Made 3 Step ladder is made from a mix of stainless steel and resilient black vinyl that will last for ages of regular use.
Its hinged bracket enables it to fold down over a platform quickly and swing back up whenever required.
Because it only has three steps and no top handle, it might be a bit harder to get out of the water, so keep that in mind if you are thinking of buying this item.
One of the reasons why I like these ladders is that they are made right here in the USA. Call me a homer; I don’t care.
JIF Marine EQB4 On-Deck Ladder
Moving on, Jif Marine EQB4 makes entering and exiting the water an effortless process thanks to 4 steps.
Its rungs fold-over flat onto the pontoon deck for compact storage when done using. This is important because these are on-deck pontoon boat ladders.
It comes with heavy-duty brackets for stability and a 400-pound maximum capacity.
Be careful when ordering these ladder as they do not come with installation hardware or instructions. People who are not handy might have a hard time mounting these ladders correctly.
RecPro 5 Step Removable Boarding Pontoon Boat Ladder
If you are older, this is probably your best choice. RecPro 5 extends a full five feet below the surface of the water, helping a smooth boarding process for people of all ages and physical abilities.
A nifty quick-release mounting system makes it easy to detach when it’s time to head home.
The main feature of RecPro 5 is the handrails and steps that are very wide and deep.
It’s lightweight for easy maneuverability and can be used on both docks and boats.
Dive Ladders for Pontoon Boats
Dive steps are easily recognizable by their unique designs. They typically feature one single central rod with rungs on either side protruding outward, as opposed to the rungs placed in the middle, framed by the left and right braces.
If you are someone who tends to do a lot of diving in a lake or have shallow ocean waters nearby where you go swimming, snorkeling or diving, this choice is ideal for you.
The steps are specifically placed to offer maximum convenience and support in climbing while wearing finned feet.
Boat Ladders for Pets
Full disclosure, I do not have any pets. I’ve had a dog back when I was a kid, but these days pets are too much work.
However, if you have pets you probably should make their life easier. So get them their ladder, so they don’t crowd yours.
There are different variations of pets ladder, but they all lean toward dogs. I don’t think your cat will like water anyway.
The prices range from $50 to almost $500, but I will recommend Paws Aboard Doggy Boat Ladder and Ramp, which falls in the middle of the two price points.
Pontoon Boat Ladder Materials
Now that we have looked at some ladder examples let’s look at the material that they are built from. And ladder material should be one of the aspects you need to look at when buying a pontoon boat ladder.
Aluminum is the most common and popular ladder type. This is because it is the less expensive option of the two available materials.
Furthermore, it is a lighter load to carry on board, as well as lift both to and from the mounting location on your platform.
Nevertheless, due to the weight, they can and do still flex and bow under significant pressure.
What you will notice immediately with the stainless steel ladder variant is that they are typically more expensive.
Unlike the lightweight aluminum ladders, they are much sturdier and can handle the weight of a heavier swimmer.
Another benefit is that they also have higher corrosion resistance.
How to Mount your new Pontoon Ladders
As a pontoon boat owner, you should eventually decide where to mount and attach the ladder. The most common places are either the bow or stern of the boat.
On the Bow of the Boat
When you go with the bow route, you have an additional two choices. You can either install:
- A removable hook ladder
- A center under-mount in between the pontoons
At the Stern Entry
You can also place an under-mount ladder at the stern on either side of the engine. This is typically the better place for your ladder if you find yourself loving to ski or go tubing. It makes it much easier for any exhausted passengers to climb on board.
On the Gunwale
Gunwale pontoon boat ladder, also known as side mount ladder, are the more common ladder type. You will recognize these sorts most easily by their hook-like shape.
Using this advantage of shape, they latch to the side of the pontoon boat over the gunwale, where the pontoon boat usually has at least on side gate entrance.
Some owners find side mounts helpful when coming out of the water. Others fit a detachable system for the side mount ladders because they conveniently raise off the gunwale when anchored.
Boat Ladders Hardware and Accessories
Here are a few accessories that could be helpful in terms of easy mounting capabilities or overall safety.
If you have kids or even a pet, you already know that this is a great additional accessory. This particular guard covers the hinges of the ladder, giving any parents or pet owners some peace of mind.
These guards usually also have a rounded top that prevents any passenger from being cut by the sharp edges of metal. More importantly, the hinge guard prevents the fingers of small children—but let us be real; we adults would love this feature just as much—from being caught and pinched.
These were not invented around the time when I was a kid. If they were, I probably would not have all these memories of so many countless awful pinches today.
These guards are also typically made out of a marine-grade composite. That means that they will have no problem withstanding freshwater, saltwater, and anything in between.
There may be a spot where you decide to place the ladders. However, that may not have a way for your passengers to lift or guide themselves out of the water.
In this case, I would highly recommend a boarding handrail—especially so if some extra upper-body strength sounds real good right about now.
Mounting cups make for really nice additions for quick mounting and removal of your gunwale ladders. The basic idea is that your removable pontoon ladder hook ends drop back into the cups.
Some pontoon owners, when out on the water, have a hard time mounting their ladders to the boat. They are just not sure what the right spot is. I say, forget about such worries!
You can place these keyhole mounting sockets in various places on your pontoon. This way, you can guarantee the option of placing ladders at the safest spot on the pontoon.
Stainless Quick Release Hardware
This accessory is for quickly mounting and unmounting your steps. Even more important than that, however, is that this means you can install your ladders in multiple locations. Say you want one at the gunwale and another at the bow’s platform. Similar to the keyhole mounts, you can get this additional piece of hardware for the sake of flexibility.
If you are thinking of purchasing a pontoon boat shortly, remember that the price range for ladders can run you anywhere between $100 and $500. It is essential to factor this into your pontoon boat’s overall cost.
However, the price does not determine the best pontoon boat ladder you can buy. Do the research, see what fits your needs, and go with the pontoon boat ladders that you think will work best.
But regardless of that price, the pontoon boat ladder is something you cannot “toon without! It is undoubtedly a question of convenience and safety.