What Is The Embarkation Ladder on Ships?



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An embarkation ladder is one of the deck equipment, often used by the crew to board a lifeboat or used as access to the life rafts. It is made of wood and manila rope.

This occurs when the Master of the vessel declares to abandon the ship because the crew is unable to control a fire, the ship is sinking or there is a danger of explosion.

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At times, it is also used by the crew and stevedores during bunkering operations, hauling of provisions, and ship stores. On some rare occasions, it is used for draft reading, and hull and cargo hold maintenance.

Why Embarkation Ladder Has No Spreader?

As much as spreaders are important on a pilot ladder, it is not necessary on an embarkation ladder. In fact, it may even pose a risk and danger if the crew would install a spreader on embarkation ladders onboard.

Though spreaders help the ladders from twisting, it is not needed on an embarkation ladder as it is directly rigged on the water or can be held by persons inside the lifeboat or liferafts.

Embarkation ladders are used during emergencies. It is required to be prepared and installed with a minimum crew and as quickly as possible. Spreaders would add more weight to the ladder if it is installed and might trip or injure assigned persons since this is being done in an emergency situation.

Embarkation ladders must be installed in 5-10 minutes. With spreaders on them, it would take twice the time needed to rig the ladder.

It would also take so much time to prepare and is difficult to retrieve when it is being used even just on drills.

Abandon ship drills are done twice a month and that would bring much wear and tear on the ladder if a spreader is installed. Hence, there is no need for spreaders in an embarkation ladder.

The Difference Between The Pilot And The Embarkation Ladder?

At first glance, the pilot ladder and embarkation ladder may look the same but they actually differ from each other. Both, however, are made of very similar materials.

Pilot ladders are being used by pilots to board the ship for docking maneuvers and for disembarking the vessel as well. The embarkation ladder on the other hand is being used to board lifeboats and life rafts during emergencies.

Storage of pilot ladders is normally at the midship store while embarkation ladders are stored at the embarkation deck near the lifeboat and life raft. It requires three to four crew members to prepare the pilot ladder while the embarkation ladder can be easily set up by two crew members.

The setup and rigging of the pilot ladder are quite different as well. Pilot ladders are rigged differently when the vessel is in laden or ballast condition.

When the ship is loaded with cargo, a freeboard tends to be less than nine meters. In this case, the pilot ladder can be directly rigged on the side of the ship.

However, if she is in ballast condition, the freeboard will most likely be more than nine meters. This would require a combination arrangement in order for the pilot to board. The crew would attach the pilot ladder to an aluminum ladder which is normally secured at the midship part of the vessel.

The embarkation ladder on the other hand will have the same rigging arrangement for either condition of the vessel. It is simply connected to a strong point at the embarkation deck, close to the lifeboat, and lowered down in the water close to the lifeboat or rafts.

Lastly, the pilot ladder is arranged so that the bottom steps are above the waterline and this would depend on the pilot’s requirement while the embarkation ladder is rigged directly in the water.

For the checking and inspection of the ladders, the embarkation ladder must be thoroughly checked by a competent person since it is normally exposed to bad weather. It is immediately repaired or replaced as this can cause a violation during a port inspection.

The pilot ladder on the other hand is safely stored in the store room but still subject to periodic checks and surveys.

What Are Embarkation Ladder Requirements?

Requirements for embarkation ladders are defined by the SOLAS convention chapter III in Part B “Requirements for ships and life-saving appliances” in Sections I, II, and III depending on the type of the ship.

  • Passenger ships:
    • Regulation 11 Survival craft muster and embarkation arrangements
    • Regulation 23 Survival craft and rescue boat embarkation arrangements
  • Cargo ships:
    • Regulation 11 Survival craft muster and embarkation arrangements
    • Regulation 33 Survival craft embarkation and launching arrangements

It is made of waterproof materials to withstand exposure to extreme weather. The standard length of the embarkation ladder is 12 meters which consists of 36 steps. Some ships may require longer ladders because of their high freeboard and smaller vessels may have a shorter lengths.

Embarkation ladders are rigged close to the survival crafts, port, and starboard, for easy access during an emergency. It must be of a single length from the embarkation deck to the waterline.

Though some have resorted to covering the ladders with easy-to-remove tarpaulin, some ships opted to store it in nearby lockers. This would protect the ladder from exposure to heat, rain, and saltwater, thereby preserving the equipment.

embarkation ladder near liferaft covered with tarpaulin scaled e1652123094144 1024x770 1

Manila ropes must be mold-resistant and should have a diameter of 18mm. The steps are made of grooved hardwood and are put together with aluminum clamps or ropes as well as secured wedges.

Wedges can be made of wood, plastic, or rubber. The dimensions for a 12meter embarkation ladder are 12000mm x 500mm x 120mm. The last four steps can have the option to be either wood or rubber. Though it is recommended to be of rubber material since it is designed to be immersed in water during an emergency.

A designated strong point in the embarkation deck must be properly labeled to attach the ladder indicating a safe working load. Each ladder must be properly marked with the manufacturer’s information and approved by the authority. There must be no kinks or knots in the ropes that may affect the strength and durability of the ladder.

Embarkation ladders should be rigged, tested, and inspected during drills. Approval tests include strength tests, step friction, and flexibility tests. It must be set up as if in the actual situation. All crew must be familiar with and be able to rig the ladder during drills.

Officer in charge must make sure that the crew can go down the ladder safely leading to the lifeboat or liferaft. Upon retrieval from the water, the ladder is properly cleaned or washed and safely secured with a tarpaulin cover.


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