Build a Boarding Step - Sail Magazine

Build a Boarding Step

As you get older, you usually discover it’s a little harder to climb on and off a boat. At least, that’s what’s happened to me. Attempting to improve my lot, I tried out several commercially available boarding steps. Some had good features, but I wasn’t really happy with any of them. Then one day Vince and Dianne Purcell stopped by aboard Finn MacCool, their classic Bill Tripp–designed
Author:
Publish date:

As you get older, you usually discover it’s a little harder to climb on and off a boat. At least, that’s what’s happened to me. Attempting to improve my lot, I tried out several commercially available boarding steps. Some had good features, but I wasn’t really happy with any of them. Then one day Vince and Dianne Purcell stopped by aboard Finn MacCool, their classic Bill Tripp–designed Columbia 34 Mk II, on their way to Florida. When they came alongside for a visit, they were carrying exactly the steps I’d been searching for. The problem was that it couldn’t be bought; Vince had designed and made it himself. I was so impressed that I asked whether I could take down the dimensions so I could build one myself and also write an article about his step.

Vince used 3/4-inch marine plywood to make his step, but it could just as easily be built from a non-wood material like StarBoard polymer. Although this would make the final product slightly heavier, there wouldn’t be any need to seal or paint it, as you’d have to with marine plywood.
No matter what material you decide to use, your first step is to make a pattern for the step’s two side pieces. I like to use foam board for making patterns because it is stiff enough to hold its shape and can be cut easily with a hobby knife. Making the pattern fit the hull shape of your boat is a process of cutting and shaping until the foam board lies snugly against the side of the hull. The pattern should go over the toerail and be configured so the two side pieces lock securely in place over the rail and also let you pick up the step without having it bind up. Vince’s step had to be shaped so that the toes of the step extended over both the toerail and the jib track (Photo 1).

Be sure to make the upper ends of the side pieces, particularly the toe area, thick enough; do not make them any smaller than the general dimensions shown in the figure below. This is important because the step can be heavily loaded when it’s in use, and the design places a great deal of loading on the hooked section.

When you’ve finalized the pattern for the side pieces, use it to make an outline on the material you will use. Making the steps, braces, and toe licks is simple because they are all rectangles. It is important to make a groove, or dado, in the side pieces; allow plenty of space below the groove. The first step Vince made didn’t have enough space, and the material under the dado broke out. For 3/4-inch stock make the dado 1/4-inch deep.

If you don’t have a router or table saw that can cut the dados, you can use aluminum angle brackets to hold the step in position, but you must through-bolt the brackets. Do not just screw them in place. Use stainless-steel self-tapping screws to assemble the step if it’s made from polymer. Use epoxy and stainless screws to assemble the side pieces and step(s) if you’re using plywood. Always pilot-drill the material before inserting a screw. The bottom brace area under the step is particularly important if you use StarBoard because it isn’t as stiff as marine ply. Make it at least 3 inches wide.

The toe-kick panel above the steps acts as both a brace and a protector for the side of the boat. Attach standard rubber furniture bumpers
—the kind you screw onto the bottom of your furniture to protect the floor—on each side of the top brace and bottom toe-kick panel to keep the step from rubbing against the hull. Placing a piece of antiskid material on the surface of the step, or steps, will produce a more secure tread (Photo 2).

If you make your step from polymer, you won’t have to do any more finishing. If you decide to use marine plywood, you should seal it with several coats of clear epoxy, being particularly careful to cover the end grain. When the epoxy is dry, wash the surfaces thoroughly with water to remove any amine blush, then finish the job by applying two coats of a good polyurethane paint.The paint will also provide necessary UV protection for the epoxy.

One improvement that isn’t shown in the photos is a lanyard that is attached to the step. When the lanyard is tied to a secure part of the boat, like a winch or cleat, clumsy people like me can be confident that they can’t accidentally knock the step overboard and lose it.

When he is not writing about boat projects, Paul Esterle maintains and sails his collection of boats. His latest acquisition is a 1978 Columbia 35.

Related

daviscards

Davis Instruments: Quick Reference Cards

CHECK THESEIf you’re sailing with new crew this summer or your kids have suddenly and inexplicably started to look up from their phones and take an interest in the finer points of cruising, these Quick Reference Cards from Davis are a great way to further their boating education. ...read more

01-rbir18-596

Another Epic Round Britain Race

There are basically two kinds of offshore sailboat races out there: those that take place annually, like the Fastnet and Chicago-to-Mackinac races; and those that take place every other year, like the Transpac and Newport-Bermuda race, in part so the competitors have sufficient ...read more

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more