how to choose a dock ladder, How to Choose the Right Dock Ladder

How to Choose the Right Dock Ladder

One of the most important dock accessories you can invest in is a ladder. Even if you don’t use your dock for swimming, a ladder provides a way to get back up onto the dock if someone falls into the water.

This accessory will drastically improve the safety of your dock, but only if you know how to choose the right one. Dock ladders come in a variety of sizes, materials, and styles – in this guide, you’ll find all of the information you need and learn how to choose a dock ladder.

how to choose a dock ladder, How to Choose the Right Dock Ladder

What Size Dock Ladder Do I Need?

As you start to look for a ladder for your dock, one of the first things you’ll notice is that their height is measured in steps. They can be as short as 3 steps or as long as 8 steps.

The height you choose will depend on the distance between your dock and the water and the depth of the water. It will also depend on the type that you own – a stationary dock will have different height requirements than a floating dock.

In either case, the ladder should not touch the lake or ocean bottom. Ideally, it should hover between 4 and 14 inches above.

how to choose a dock ladder, How to Choose the Right Dock Ladder How to Choose a Dock Ladder: Ladders for Floating Docks

The general rule for floating docks is that you should have at least 2 or 3 steps below the water. Measure the distance from the water to the top of your dock, then divide that by the step height of the ladder – this is typically around 12”.

For example, if there are 20” between the water and the top of your floating dock and each ladder step is 10”, you’ll need at least 2 steps above water in addition to the 3 steps below, making a 5-step ladder the ideal choice.

How to Choose a Dock Ladder: Ladders for Stationary Docks

To determine the best number of steps for your stationary dock, add the distance between the water surface and the top of your dock with the surrounding water depth. Divide this total by the step height of the ladder you’re looking to add.

For example, if the dock height and water depth add up to 36” and the ladder step height is 12”, a 3-step ladder is recommended.

Types of Dock Ladders – Pros & Cons

Once you’ve determined the size you need, it’s time to decide which type will best suit your needs.


Solid and simple, straight ladders are the most popular and cost-effective option. The only downside is that straight ladders aren’t as attractive or compact as other options. But if all you need is something that’s easy to install and withstands the test of time, a sturdy straight ladder is the perfect fit.

Standard Lift

Lift ladders can be lifted or dropped to accommodate a variety of docks, vessels, and guests. When not in use, it can be lifted up and out of the way to save space. They have the same tall, looped handrails as the straight ladder, which some may consider an eyesore.

Finger Pier

With its more compact design, a finger pier ladder is ideal for smaller docks and narrow walkways.

Finger Pier Lift

Similar to a standard lift ladder, the finger pier lift ladder’s height can be adjusted with ease. But unlike a standard straight ladder, the finger pier lift maintains its compact and attractive design.


One of the most advanced ladder styles available is the FloatStep. It automatically adjusts to changing water levels, keeping the ladder above the water when not in use. No matter how high or low the tide, you’ll be able to safely enter and exit the water thanks to this style’s unique buoyancy controls.

Wide Step

Both straight and lift ladders can be made with extra wide steps for additional support. They are slightly more expensive but can enhance your dock’s safety.

Custom Options

Everyone’s situation is different, so you may find that a custom ladder suits your needs best. A contractor will come out to your home or marina and assess your dock to come up with a safe and accessible solution.

How to Choose a Dock Ladder: Materials

Whether your dock is on freshwater or saltwater, you need something made from strong, water-resistant materials. At Decks & Docks, we carry aluminum ladders. We find that aluminum is the most affordable marine-grade material. It will get the job done and is long-wearing, though it may become discolored after time.

How to Attach a Dock Ladder

Ideally, you should mount the ladder into joists with 2-4 stainless steel bolts on either side. If your dock is made from composite materials, you’ll need to use some sort of backing, such as a wooden 2×4, underneath to provide additional support. Without it, the bolts will tear right through.

If you want to be able to remove the ladder easily, you might opt to attach it using a quick-release kit instead. These kits come with two bars, made from aluminum or steel, that are attached to the dock. The ladder is placed on top of the bars and locked in place with a pin that can be taken out quickly and without tools. This is a good option on lakes that are prone to freezing in the winter.

Where to Find Dock Ladders & Hardware

When you buy any accessory for your dock, you want to be sure that it’s made from marine-grade materials that can withstand harsh conditions. As marine construction specialists, Decks & Docks Lumber Co. supplies high-quality marina products throughout the Southeastern US.

From ladders to the bolts and joists needed to mount them, we have everything you need to enhance the look, function, and safety of your dock – call us today to learn more!