Seafarers rig an accommodation ladder upon arrival in port to provide access between the ship and shore personnel.
Though fixed in position, they are versatile enough to be used in harbors, anchorage areas, or even at sea while the vessel is underway.
Proper safety awareness and correct procedures in rigging an accommodation ladder make all that possible.
For beginners out there, I feel your frustrations when coming on board and being helpless when the rest of the crew assemble the accommodation ladder smoothly.
Rightly so because we can’t find training for this ashore or in our college days.
And besides, training centers may capitalize on this education if we continue having ladder failures and accidents.
This step-by-step guide will hopefully be of good use to you and further reduce accidents when rigging and using an accommodation ladder.
Familiarizing the Accommodation Ladder
The task of rigging accommodation ladders involves knowing specific parts. This is essential when giving instructions as well as receiving and executing them.
Since this job is a team effort, everyone must know what the team leader is talking about so everybody can follow the workflow.
I made a separate article about the basic parts of an accommodation ladder that you must check out and read.
If you familiarize them well, you will have an advantage over other deck crew who don’t know them, even those who have previous experience with this ladder.
How to Rig an Accommodation Ladder
As a long-time seafarer, I have come across varying “makes and models” of such ladders. Their construct may differ yet the methods of rigging them are similar.
Hence, if you can learn with the one on your ship, it becomes easier on your next assignment whatever type of vessel that may be.
So here is the first step.
1. Prepare your PPE.
Every job on deck requires you to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
From working on the mast to the deepest ballast tanks, and over the ship’s side as well as rigging different kinds of ladders, PPE is a must.
When you rig an accommodation ladder, it requires you to work over the side of the ship.
This scenario alone tells us that you must prepare lifejackets, life rings on standby, and safety harnesses on top of the default working PPE (coveralls, gloves, safety shoes, and helmets).
Even if this is your first time on that job, you can at least gather these safety equipment before delving into the task.
2. Prepare ladder parts.
Aside from PPE, we must also prepare a few ladder parts.
An accommodation ladder consists of fixed and portable components. The fixed parts are always secured with the ladder while the portable ones are placed somewhere else.
They include portable stanchions, manropes, safety nets, a winch control device, and the motor.
It would be best if you familiarized them on your ship since there are variations depending on the maker and design. But most are the ones mentioned above.
3. Remove the winch canvas and ladder lashings.
Now we are slowly getting into motion.
Most accommodation ladders have their winches covered with canvas to prevent salt from eroding the grease of the wires and eventually corroding them.
Some motors and a few connections may also have canvas covers to protect them from the elements.
Aside from removing them, take out the lashings that secure the ladder to the ship as well. They can be securing bars or butterfly wing nuts installed across their length.
Double-check if they are clear before you start to rig the accommodation ladder.
4. Connect the air hoses
But first, bleed the air line to clear the water out of it. Just open it until it spews out the condensation inside the line. Close and open it again until you can see no water coming out.
After that, connect the motor to the airline using an air hose.
Using a controller, compressed air drives the motor so your ladder can move up or down.
Some ladders are electric-driven so better check yours during familiarization.
5. Swing out and lower to deck level.
Once the lashings are out, the motor is clear and connected to the air line, you can swing out the ladder to deck level.
To do this, use the motor to control the movement of the winch. Slack the winch and let the ladder swing out by itself.
Sometimes, the davit post could get stuck especially after a very long voyage. You can solve this by pushing it manually or using a plank of wood as a lever.
The davit post acts as a crane where wires run around them and the ladders. It is where the ladder hangs when rigged above the water level.
Once it’s out, lower the accommodation ladder to deck level, or just enough for a crewmember to walk to the bottom platform without hitting his head on the davit.
6. Install portable stanchions.
Normally, you can secure the portable stanchion posts on the lower and top platforms. There are securing points where these stanchions rest as well as a twist-lock mechanism.
From this step onwards, you must also wear lifejackets and a safety harness since you will now work on the ship’s side.
The bosun and an experienced AB usually perform these tasks as well as the proceeding ones.
7. Raise the folding handrails and stanchions.
The folding handrails rest on the sides of the accommodation ladder. Stanchions support these handrails which have joints that make them movable or foldable.
The best way to pull them up is one at a time.
You need two deckhands to prepare these parts- one near the lower platform and another near the upper platform. They must raise one handrail first and do it together.
Once the handrails and stanchions are standing in the right position, you have to secure them so they won’t fall again.
To do this, look for a securing pin on the upper end of the handrail. Connect it with the nearest portable stanchion on the top platform. Do this step with the second handrail.
8. Insert Manropes.
Now, your handrails are secured. Anyone using the ladder can hold on to them without worrying about falling down.
To add more strength to these handrails, insert manropes in the rings of the stanchion posts. All stanchion posts have this kind of arrangement built specifically for that purpose.
In some designs, manropes are pre-installed together with the ladder itself. But this is not advisable since they are exposed to the weather.
The manropes must start from the top platform going through the stanchions on the lower platform. Do this for both handrails.
Though we are almost finished rigging our accommodation ladder, keep these ropes slack. You can secure the bottom end but not the one on top.
9. Lower the accommodation ladder.
Lower the accommodation ladder to the desired height after securing the ropes on one end while keeping the line slack.
While doing so, notice how the manropes tighten while the ladder is lowered. The slack on step 8 is for that purpose.
If the slack is not enough, feed more to it until it reaches the desired ladder height.
Lowering the ladder while the ropes are tight (and getting tighter) may destroy some of its parts.
Upon reaching the desired height, tighten the manropes and secure them both on the bottom and top platforms.
10. Pad eyes or Magnets.
The accommodation ladder is not complete without securing them to pad eyes or magnets.
This arrangement prevents the accommodation ladder from hammering on the ship’s side when the vessel rolls.
While pad eyes may be fixed, securing magnets are portable and may come in handy when adjusting the ladder’s height.
These securing arrangements are useful and may prevent accidents especially if a combination ladder is rigged and there is a slight swell.
A combination ladder is an accommodation ladder rigged with a pilot ladder.
Rigging the accommodation ladder on shore.
Rigging the accommodation ladder ashore is different than when the ship is at sea primarily because the quay roller supports the weight of the ladder on the bottom platform.
Shore arrangements may require the ladder to be adjusted closer to the dock. This is made possible with a turntable top platform.
Meanwhile, the operating wires are slacked and don’t take any weight at all.
A safety net is added that goes under the ladder like in the image below. It prevents people from falling into the water.
Dos, Don’ts, and Limitations
When you rig an accommodation ladder, always check that its angle to the horizontal does not exceed 50 degrees.
Doing otherwise may compromise the integrity of the ladder and pose a danger to the person climbing on it.
Do not use a safety net on a combination ladder setup. The net could entangle with the pilot adding a risk of falling or injury.
Always wear a lifejacket and a safety harness when rigging accommodation ladders or any work over the ship’s side.
When lowering or heaving up the ladder, check for abnormal sounds as well as visual damage on the wires, sheaves, and fittings.
When in port and the ship’s accommodation ladder is used, always keep a watchman near the entrance.
Additionally, watch out for obstructions at the bottom platform where the ladder could get stuck when the ship moves. This had led to many ladders literally getting destroyed unnoticed.
You must remove grease dropped from the wires and sticking on the ladder steps and handrails. It poses a slipping injury which is a common cause for injury on board.
Adhere to the ladder’s max load capacity, especially when climbing with other people or taking provisions.
When climbing the ladder, use both hands to hold the handrails.
Do not be in a hurry when rigging the accommodation ladder. Haste makes waste. Rules are bent when people are doing things quickly and this may lead to accidents.
May the winds be in your favor.