NAt last year's Trawlerfest, we attended a "Safety at Sea" seminar, given by Mark Bunzel of Waggoner guides. He told a harrowing tale of a PNW cruising couple. The husband fell into the water. He was able to make it to the boat's swim step. But he wasn't able to crawl out. (You would have to be like a college athlete to accomplish this.) His wife wasn't able to do anything to get him out of the water. Eventually hypothermia took over and he succumbed.
I decided when I had a boat I would make sure this would not happen to anyone on our boat. We would have to have a swim ladder that can be deployed by someone that wasn't expecting to go swimming.
Hampton boats have built in swim ladders. This is the first one I saw. To deploy, you twist that lock, lift up that hatch, then lift-pull the ladder and put it in the water.
I judged the success of doing this from an in the water position as less than zero.
We wrote it in our contract that the factory had to provide "a swim ladder deployable by a person in the water." Factory owner Jeff Chen said we would review the options and design our ladder while at the factory.
This was the first iteration, and is how they used to build them before the "hatch" version.
There are two small hooks which slide over posts. Then you put your fingers in that recess to pull out. Another owner had already told me he lost one of the hooks. The whole thing looked a little too delicate to me. Keep in mind this is constantly being splashed with salt water when underway.
So all of us put our heads together. Of course I'm the only one that doesn't speak Chinese so there were lots of drawing and motioning. We looked at all the other latches on the boat. We decided that anything with a spring just wasn't going to work as it would rust and become fixed.
After about 3 or 4 tries we had a design I thought was pretty good (was actually my idea). Also, I wasn't happy with the process of pulling the ladder out. Inside the frame you see is a box. There were two nylon blocks to kind of keep the ladder in place, but it was clunky. I asked them to add a long nylon blocks the entire length of the box, so that the ladder would slide better. I left them to go to work.
A short while later Jeff Chen caught up with me and said "that one is not good enough, I have something better in mind." He showed me his idea and sure enough, much more simple and foolproof.
A while later we visited the stainless shop to see the progress.
They decided to take the idea of nylon blocks a couple of steps further and built channels with blocks into the box so that the ladder would remain perfectly oriented when sliding. Check it out in the video.
Finished implementation. That teardrop shaped piece holds the ladder in. No springs, just gravity keeps it in place.
To deploy from the water, you would get your hand on that big handle. With a finger, you swing the teardrop clockwise until it hits the stop. Pull out that ladder and climb on out. That's the idea anyway. I plan to try this out so I can see what it would be like should the unthinkable happen.
Factory owner Jeff Chen has engineering degrees from USC and Stanford. He loves to problem solve and make every boat better. I appreciate his commitment to building the boat the owners want. And in this case, a life may depend on it.