"A fall into the water can turn into a life-threatening situation very quickly," said BoatU.S. Foundation President Ruth Wood, "It doesn't take long for exhaustion or hypothermia to drain the life out of you. Boaters and anglers need to be prepared, especially if you are alone. It can happen to you."
What follows are five important tips that will help ensure a fall overboard doesn't become tragic. To see a complete report on the tests as well as video of the ladders in action that will help you select the right one for your boat, go to http://www.BoatUS.com/Foundation.
1. Wear your life jacket. All of the BoatU.S. volunteers participating in the testing program wore a life jacket - before they voluntarily went over the side. All agreed that a fully clothed adult with no buoyancy would have difficulties attempting to get back aboard using any type of ladder.
2. You don't need to spend lots of money for a functional boarding ladder. Testers found an affordable model fashioned from four-inch wide yellow webbing proved best. Simplicity also ruled the day as the highest-ranked ladders all had fewer than three steps. The ideal ladder length, measured from the water's surface to the bottom rung, averaged 20 inches.
3. Some ladders work better with certain types of boats. Hard sides or soft? Low or high freeboard? Depending on a boat's construction or deck layout, most ladders performed well with one particular kind of vessel, and did poorly with others. It's important to match the ladder to the boat.
4. Before you head out, your boarding ladder needs to be positioned so it can be reached from the water. Also, attaching the ladder to the wrong spot on a narrow, lightweight boat can increase the chance of capsizing, especially if there is wave action.
5. Practice is a must. Many ladders were difficult to use on the first try. Take the time on a warm, sunny day to fine tune any adjustments, get in the water and use the ladder. Some ladders threw testers off-balance when weight was placed on them, causing the device to swing underneath the boat. Only practice solved this problem.