DIY swim ladder for an inflatable boat

DIY swim ladder for an inflatable boat 2

Let’s face it. Getting into an inflatable boat in deep water is hard.

If you’ve had trouble getting back to your boat after you went for a swim or after accidentally falling into the water, you should consider making/getting a boarding ladder, aka swim ladder

If you have a boarding ladder, you can hop into the water with confidence that you’ll be able to return to your boat safely.

Why Get a Swim Ladder?

Boat swim ladders or boarding ladders enable boaters to easily get in and out of the water.

These ladders typically extend below the water level for them to be useful. They can be used regularly when boarding and also during emergency situations, when a boater accidentally falls overboard.

Swimming, snorkeling or generally spending time in the water could really be exhausting. Just imagine how much of a hassle it is to climb up your boat without a swim ladder. Without it, getting back into a tender can make you look like a walrus stuck in a RIB.


Of course, if you are in good strength and agile, you could do this:

Not all people can flip into a boat without a ladder. And why go through all of that trouble when you can simply get yourself a ladder, right?

Why is it a good idea to DIY a swim ladder?

There are a few ready-made swim ladders available from various stores, but you can easily make a swim ladder yourself.

  • You’ll be able to save some bucks.
  • You’re free to adjust and modify its design according to what works best for you.
  • Most importantly, climbing up into your boat with your very own DIY swim ladder will certainly give you a sense of satisfaction and pride.

Types of Swim Ladders for Inflatable Boats

Before you start building your own ladder, it pays to take the following into consideration first.

  1. The ladder should extend deep enough below the water to allow easy boarding. It will be very difficult to leverage yourself up and out of the water when your ladder doesn’t go far enough.
  2. See to it that it stays vertical when under load. It’s not practical to have your ladder to extend under your boat when boarding.

There are many boat boarding ladders on the market, but considering the construction of an inflatable boat, there are two types that would work well.

Soft Ladders

Basically, soft ladders are self-rescue ladders or the ones used during emergency situations. This type of ladder includes rope ladders, which is the one we will be DIY-ing in this guide. These ladders can be easily folded up and occupy little space.

However, one challenge you’ll have to face when using this type of ladder is that they are impossible to keep vertical as you try to board the boat.

But otherwise, they make good boarding ladders.

Folding Ladders

These ladders have more solid steps and are designed to be away from the hull, so you can easily get your foot secure on the rung. Check out this folding swim ladder. It is made from lightweight folding aluminum and can support up to 100lbs.

folding swim ladder

Tools and Materials for your $7 DIY Swim Ladder

A DIY swim ladder can basically be constructed with a single PVC pipe and a piece of thick rope.

If you have the necessary supplies, you simply need to drill holes to the plastic tube, run the rope through, secure each with a tight knot and attach it to your boat’s grab line.

But if you prefer making a longer and more effective ladder, here’s a list of what you’ll need. In this example, we will be building a 3 step ladder, for which you’ll need the following supplies

Non-floating Dock Line: 12-15 feet of three-strand dock lines will do, as they are quite easy to splice and is also more affordable compared to others.

DIY swim ladder for an inflatable boat 3

Plumbing PVC Pipe: These PVC pipes will be used as the steps for your ladder so I’d recommend getting one at least three feet long, or 3 one foot pieces.

DIY swim ladder for an inflatable boat 4

PVC Fittings: In this DIY project, you will need four “T” shaped fittings and two 90-degree fittings as PVC pipe stoppers. The “T” shaped fittings will be used for the two upper steps and the 90-degree fittings will be placed on the bottom step.

DIY swim ladder for an inflatable boat 5

PVC Cutter: To cut your PVC pipes more easily, I would recommend using a PVC ratchet catcher. Make sure you use the right size. You can also use any saw/tool that can cut plastic.

DIY swim ladder for an inflatable boat 6

Drill Bit: Since PVC is a soft plastic, a wood or a metal drill bit will be fine.

Pretty basic tools and materials, right? After gathering these, you can start building your very own swim ladder.

Steps to Building a Swim Ladder

Let’s build a swim ladder that has 3 steps.

Step 1: Prepare the PVC pipes.

To start off, you will have to cut the PVC pipes. Using your PVC ratchet cutter, cut the pipe into three 12-inch lengths. These three pipes will be used as the steps of your boarding ladder.

Step 2: Attach the PVC fittings.

After cutting the PVC pipes, the next thing you’ll have to do is to attach the “T” fittings into the two pipes. Align these in such a way that the middle of the “T” sticks out. The middle part of the T will keep the rung away from the hull of the inflatable and will also serve as handholds.

Next, attach the 90-degree fittings to the last PVC pipe which will serve as the bottom-most step of the ladder.

Step 3: Drill holes through the fittings and the pipe

On each “T” shaped fitting, drill a hole in one side which is perpendicular to the middle part. This is where the lines will be running through, so make sure your rope fits into each hole.

Also, drill holes on both ends of the PVC pipe

Drill holes through the fittings

Step 4: Run the line through the fittings.

Put the PVC pipe into the fittings, aligning the holes.

Next, get the dock line and run it through the PVC pipes and fittings.

Secure each by tying figure-eight knots on both the upper and lower sides of the pipes.

At the end, get the last pipe with the 90-degree fittings. Run the rope through the fittings and tube, no need for drilling here.

To make the rungs level, tie the lines together.


Step 5: Install the ladder to the boat.

Congratulations! Now that you’ve made a three-step rope ladder for your boat, the most crucial step is how you will be attaching it to your boat.

  • Option 1: Transom – If you don’t have an outboard engine, you can pass the lines through the boat’s boarding strap and secure it to one of the pad-eyes on the boat’s transom. For easier boarding, you may also add grab handles on to the transom.
  • Option 2: Side tube – You can tie the ladder to a rope and hang off the side of a tube. Run the rope across the boat to secure to the opposite tube grab line. Using this method, you will have a rope line you can use to pull yourself up with.

And that’s about it, great job!

Now you can easily enter your boat, and not have to look like a stuck walrus when climbing back into your dinghy.

All jokes aside, leave a comment below on how your DIY ladder turned out, and please let me know if you have any question about this.

Are you new to the world of inflatable boats? Then my Getting Started Guide is for you. You’ll find tips, tricks, and how-to articles to start off right.

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