What is an Accommodation Ladder? Regulations, Parts, Maintenance

by | Last updated Nov 24, 2023 | Equipment, Vessel Information | 0 comments

One of the safest means of accessing a ship is through the use of an accommodation ladder. It is also the most convenient and the most preferred method of many sea folks.

Whether at the anchorage or at sea, these ladders had proven their usefulness on board. 

They fit perfectly in harbors with flat and concrete jetties where they can play along with the ship’s movements.

What is an Accommodation Ladder?

An accommodation ladder is a movable ladder that you can use in harbors, at sea, or in anchorage areas so people can embark and disembark the ship safely.

It is one of the ship’s means of access and has been very effective when bridging the ship and the shore.

Yes, it is a bridge albeit a movable one. I don’t want to call it a portable bridge for the reasons I’ll be stating below.

The accommodation ladder uses wires to control its movements. The same wire supports it from falling and moves in two directions only- up or down. 

An air-driven motor powers the wire, reeling and unreeling them on a drum.

Some people suggest that an accommodation ladder is also called a portable ladder. But I digress. It may move up or down and a little sideways but it fixes in the same position.

Why is it called an Accommodation Ladder?

Like many marine terminologies, we owe these names to our old swabbies. They did a good job giving straightforward tags to many of our equipment and even ship parts.

And it’s the same with this one.

We call it an accommodation ladder because we install it under or near the accommodation area of the ship. Furthermore, it leads to the living quarters or the crew’s accommodation.

Crew preparing to rig the accommodation ladder. The ladder is located near the ship's accommodation block.
Preparing the accommodation ladder.

On some occasions, a few sailors also call them fixed gangways while the normal gangways as portable gangways.

If you look closely, both of them are similar in the sense that they are ladders used on the ship’s side, made of the same materials, and used as means of access on board

To get a good glimpse of the two, let’s discuss their contrasts more.

What is the difference between an Accommodation Ladder and a Gangway?

I often get this question a lot, especially from students, beginners, and first-time cadets. It may be a simple subject but answering them puts an “aha!” expression on their faces.

More importantly, these two terms are sometimes used wrongly even by some experienced sailors. So let’s put them to rest here.


The main difference between an accommodation ladder and a gangway is its portability. 

As I mentioned above, an accommodation ladder is attached to the deck. They have fixed positions but are still movable due to their joints, wires, and bearings.

Meanwhile, gangways are very portable, much like a portable bridge but with laddered steps. 

They are not fixed, welded, or bolted to any parts on board. You can carry them anywhere on deck with a crane and rig them on the port or starboard side.

A portable gangway rigged perpendicular to the ship's fore-and-aft centerline and a fixed gangway (accommodation ladder) rigged as parallel as possible to the ship's fore-and-aft centerline. Both have nets under them.
See the visual differences between an accommodation ladder and a ship’s gangway.

Rigging and Construction

Another glaring contrast between the two is their mode of deployment or rigging. 

Most accommodation ladders are rigged along the fore-and-aft direction of the ship facing the stern. 

Gangways are rigged as perpendicular (90 degrees) to the ship’s fore-and-aft direction as possible.

Because of their construction, it is possible to rig accommodation ladders at sea or at anchor. Gangways may be portable, but you can only use them in harbors.

This is because they can not be suspended since they are not connected to wires or winches. 

The former have wires that take the load in addition to the upper platform being connected to the deck.

In addition, you can rig an accommodation ladder together with the pilot ladder

This is what we call a combination ladder and ships with high freeboards often use this. But gangways are rigged alone and can’t be used in combination with the pilot ladder.

Despite their differences, they also have similarities apart from them being means of access. 

Gangways and accommodation ladders are both made of aluminum alloy. This material makes them resistant to corrosion.

Rules, Regulations, and Requirements

Under the ISO standards (International Organization for Standardization), the ladder shall be constructed from carbon steel and/ or aluminum alloy. 

Furthermore, it must conform to the measurements and specifications laid out in ISO 5488:2015 and ISO 7061:1993.

The installation of the accommodation ladder should be clear from the working area

Before rigging, always check if the area is free from suspended loads that may pass overhead.

This ladder is the bridge between the ship and the shore. Always provide a lifebuoy near its position. It must have a self-igniting light and a buoyant lifeline.

During nighttime or in times of darkness, the ladder must have adequate illumination including its control arrangements.

Each accommodation ladder should have clear markings at each end using a plate. 

The mark must show restrictions on the safe operation, load limit, and the maximum and minimum permitted design angles.

Do not use accommodation ladders at an angle greater than 55° from the horizontal, unless specified.

A schematic diagram showing the parts of an accommodation ladder as well as its maximum angle when rigging which is not greater than 55 degrees according to ISO regulations.
Accommodation ladder maximum angle to the horizontal is 55 degrees.

Any type of ship of over 120 meters in length must have an approved accommodation ladder. 

Tankers, dredgers, bulk carriers, and other types meeting the length requirements must have them on deck.

Where applicable, wrap a safety net under and on the sides of the ladder. This setup prevents any person from falling overboard or onto the jetty.

Before using, check for signs of damage to the stanchions, handrails, hand ropes, wires, davit structures, and the upper and lower platforms. 

If you find any, you must fix them first before rigging the accommodation ladder. Otherwise, avoid using it.

Lastly, conduct a scheduled inspection of the ladder to detect problems, and remedy them.

Main Parts of an Accommodation Ladder

An accommodation ladder has many different parts due to its movability. 

Identifying them enables proper description when reporting if something goes wrong with it. It is also useful for the Chief Officer when ordering specific parts from the manufacturers.

Here are the most common parts of an accommodation ladder setup.

1. Main Ladder – this is the main body of the ladder where all the other supporting parts are installed. It spans from the top platform to the bottom platform. This is also the heaviest part.

2. Curved Steps or Tread Pitches – these are the anti-slip steps of the ladder that start from the bottom platform and end on the upper platform.

An image showing the main parts of an accommodation ladder while it is deployed on the ship's jetty.
Parts of an accommodation ladder. How many do you know?

3. Removable Stanchions – poles with rings around so ropes can pass through them. These stanchions are installed on the bottom and top platforms and secured with ropes.

4. Folding Stanchions – supporting rods that connect the handrails to the main ladder. They have joints that are foldable which are perfect for securing.

5. Folding Handrails – the railings supported by folding stanchions. This is the part where pilots, crew, agents, and other visitors hold on to keep their balance.

    6. Bottom Platform – this is a stepping platform at the bottom of the ladder. You can find it stenciled with the SWL and the number of persons the ladder can safely handle.

    7. Turntable Top Platform – opposite the location of the bottom platform is a circular stage on the topmost part of the ladder. It can rotate the ladder swing away from the ship’s side. Useful when there are obstructions (like a bollard) directly below the ladder.

    8. Quay Roller – a roller or wheel at the bottom of the ladder that touches the quay.

    9. Understay – a bar installed below the turntable top platform that acts as support. Also called a wishbone in some arrangements.

    10. Stowage Posts Assembly – vertical bars installed on the deck that support the accommodation ladder when stowed or secured.

    Schematic Diagram on the Main Parts of an Accommodation Ladder
    Accommodation ladder parts and maximum angle to the horizontal is at 55 degrees.

    11. Winch – the motor that heaves or slacks the wire and controls the height of the ladder.

    12. Operating Wire – connects the ladder to the davit and the winch. The wire runs through a series of rollers or sheaves that act as guides.

    13. Davit Structure – a bar that supports the accommodation ladder using the wire. The davit can be swung out when rigging the ladder or swung back in when securing. It is where the ladder suspends when rigged to the ship’s side. Aside from that, it “embraces” the ladder when stowed using the wire.

    14. Manrope – A long rope with a specified diameter that runs from the deck railings near the upper platform to the bottom stanchions through the rings of the different stanchions. Ladder users can use these ropes to hold on. The ropes also support the whole stanchions and handrails making them more stable.

    15. Control Box or (simply the) Controls – The lever that the responsible person uses to drive the winch. It has three positions- up, down, and neutral.

    Accommodation Ladder Maintenance

    Because of the complexity of accommodation ladders compared to gangways, they need proper maintenance on a scheduled basis.

    Your gangway’s method for upkeep is through visual inspections and frequent checks of its manropes. Accommodation Ladders need to keep the moving parts smooth and moveable.

    This involves greasing the wires and cleaning the excess grease afterward. At the same time, check them for corrosion or damage.

    Here’s a more comprehensive way to do it together with the bosun and the deck crew.

    1. Assuming that you already have the tools for this kind of maintenance, start by visually inspecting the ladder and its components. Pay careful attention to the wires, sheaves, and rollers.

    2. Connect the winch to its power source be it pneumatic, hydraulic, or electric. Make sure you have enough power to exercise the ladder.

    3. Remove all of the lashings and start pumping grease into the grease nipples, rotating shafts, and sheaves. You must apply grease on these parts and make sure that the old grease comes out.

    4. Swing out the accommodation ladder to deck level. Apply grease again on those nipples to ensure it has enough grease inside. Grease also the wires especially the exposed parts.

    5. Once on deck level, exercise the folding handrails and stanchions. Look for greasing points on the stanchion box and handrails. Keep in mind that there must be greasing points in those movable parts so check them out carefully.

    6. Grease and exercise. Make sure they are soft, easy to move, and secure. Then rig these handrails securely.

    Crew changing the wires of the accommodation ladder as part of its maintenance schedule
    Crew changing the wires of an accommodation ladder.

    7. Check also the bottom and top platforms. They have greasing points and grease nipples for maintenance.

    Exercise more

    8. Lower the ladder one meter below sea level. While doing so, check the winch, wires, and other fittings for signs of damage. Also, verify that the sheaves are rolling while the wires pass through them. Grease the wires along the way.

    9. Grease more on the parts where it’s not moving much. Apply penetrating oil. A little hammer could jig the stuck grease inside.

    10. If you see that everything is moving and functioning normally, pick up the ladder to deck level. Once again, check the sheaves and other movable parts if they are moving. And be mindful of the winches’ sound. Some winches play abnormal noises as forerunners for underlying problems.

    11. Wipe off the excess grease and make everything spick and span. Remember that grease is slippery on deck and handrails when left uncleaned. Removing them off saves your ship from unconformity reports.

    12. If there is too much rust and corrosion on the ladder fittings, especially on the davits, you can schedule chipping and painting maintenance to get them back into shape.

    13. Wires on these ladders also undergo renewal. You have to check them in your planned maintenance system.

    Now you know what an accommodation ladder is and how to maintain it, it’s up to you to apply what you learned here. 

    There are many accidents involving these ladders that could have been prevented in the first place.

    The most common causes are poor maintenance and lack of knowledge regarding the current rules and regulations.

    We can prevent that with the right knowledge and a well-maintained ladder.

    May the winds be in your favor.



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