• Newsletters
  • Sailboat Reviews
  • Boating Safety
  • Sails and Rigging
  • Maintenance
  • Sailing Totem
  • Sailor & Galley
  • Living Aboard
  • Destinations
  • Gear & Electronics
  • Charter Resources

Cruising World Logo

Companionway Design: Down the (Main) Hatch

  • By Alvah Simon
  • Updated: March 12, 2014

sailboat companionway ladder

Companionway Design

While most elements of yacht design have evolved with contemporary fashion, main hatches and companionways, until recently, have inexplicably lagged behind. Since they constitute the largest holes in the boat, it seems like a strange oversight. The heavily trafficked companionway is a critical area of transition from topside to below. If it’s poorly designed, the potential for accidents is high.

Let’s start with the offset companionway, often seen in older, classic-plastic production boats. This was a design response to ketch rigs, in which the mizzenmast is often stepped in the center of the bridgedeck. To limit crawling around the spar and rigging, these hatches were offset to port or to starboard. The advantage below was a larger contiguous area for the galley, but the clear disadvantage above was a vulnerability to downflooding in a knockdown. Reliable furling gear has reduced the need to manage sail area via split rigs. And as the ketch configuration waned, so did the offset hatch.

sailboat companionway ladder

| | The saloon-style washboards on this Bavaria Cruiser 50 are stout and transparent, and stow well against the side walls of the companionway entry. |

While it’s true that many modern cockpits with wide-open sterns are self-bailing, substantial amounts of water can be funneled forward with great force when a boat gets pooped, which can happen when it’s bow down on the face of a large wave. To prevent downflooding, a balance must be maintained among cockpit size, drainage capacity, bridgedeck height and companionway strength.

Thanks to their distance above the water and the open nature of their cockpits, multihulls were incrementally moving toward eliminating bridgedecks altogether, opting instead for a sliding-door runner between the level soles of the cockpit and saloon. But enter the latest catamaran trend — the forward recessed cockpit — and suddenly their design concerns have become more aligned with those of monohulls. Making a humble concession to the vagaries of the sea, the Leopard 48 boasts a 9-inch sill aft and a commendable 12-inch rise in the forward-cockpit entry.

In theory, the higher the bridgedeck, the better. But taken to extremes, they can become difficult to step over. The Dufour 36 addresses this with a simple flip-up acrylic panel that increases the bridgedeck from 9 inches to 13 inches.

sailboat companionway ladder

| | The ventilation holes on the Dufour 36 washboard slant downward to keep water from dripping down below. |

When it comes to sealing the vertical area of our “big hole,” a few removable washboards may suit a budget trailer-sailer, but such boards are too often found on very expensive and otherwise sophisticated vessels. To ascend into the cockpit from below, one must lift out one or even two boards (a difficult proposition in any weather, but especially in a gale); climb out into the cockpit, possibly on a heavy heel, with hands full; then place the boards back into their slots in exactly the right order and rotation. To make this slightly less inconvenient, designers changed from parallel to tapered companionway sides, which meant you had to lift the board up only a couple of inches to push it in or out. Of course, the disadvantage here is that a boarding sea can also lift the boards an inch or two and implode them. If such boards are stout enough for bluewater use, then by nature they’re bulky and heavy and take up substantial stowage area when not in use.

sailboat companionway ladder

| | Though increasingly rare, the offset hatch on this old Alden Malabar was employed to reduce the clutter and confusion caused by a mizzenmast stepped in the middle of the bridgedeck. |

Many designers have gone to saloon-style side-hinged boards. The boards remain in place, which is good. But unless they’re in a recessed passageway with sidewalls on which to fasten, it’s often difficult to leave them in an open position; they’re also prone to snagging sheets. And why some are louvered is a complete mystery.

To my thinking, the perfect system offers robust, fixed boards that swing out, fold down, or drop into a recess built into the bridgedeck. They may have ventilation holes, but these either are small or can be sealed off in extreme conditions. The boards are see-though and offer good visual communication between the cockpit and below.

The shape and height of the companionway entry impacts its safety. The most vulnerable time at sea is when sleepy crew rush from below to deal with confused and cacophonous situations, such as a pre-dawn squall line. Sailors then may be exposed to slapping sheets, bone-crushing booms, or the possibility of being pitched headlong into the sea before they can be properly tethered in. The new concept of a recessed companionway entry offers initial containment side to side and protection from above until one can get tethered and assess the wind and sea conditions. The loss of cockpit space that results from pushing the main bulkhead aft to make room for the recessed entry is a small price to pay for such a safety feature.

sailboat companionway ladder

| | On the Beneteau Sense 46, the walk-through hatches are similar to regular household doors. |

Finally, we seal the horizontal area of our big hole with the sliding hatch. It needs to slide easily with little play on its rails to prevent water from floating it and gushing below. Ideally, it should be protected by a forward sea hood and, arguably, by an overhead dodger. Whereas the strength of traditional building materials sensibly limits the size of the sliding hatch, modern materials such as Lexan are often stronger than the supporting hull structures themselves. This allows designers to increase hatch size for ease of access and increased light below.

And as for the old barrel bolt that secures the sliding hatch from the inside, it must finally and forever disappear from our modern fleet. Yes, it’s important to secure the hatch so that a boarding sea can’t force it open and no one can accidentally lean on it and fall in, but the hatch should have a dual-access latch that can be operated from above and below so no one is ever locked into or out of the interior of the boat.

We owed the initial progress on many of these sound concepts to such French builders as Jeanneau, Beneteau and Dufour, which employed the innovative Goiot line of deck hardware. Many other manufacturers, including Bavaria, have since followed suit. Passport Yachts also earns high honors for the overall integration of many of these features into its boats. Passport’s fixed, clear hatchboards slide down to several determined heights before ultimately resting in a bridgedeck well, creating a sill low enough to step over easily and wide enough to sit on comfortably.

sailboat companionway ladder

| | Aboard the Hallberg-Rassy 372, the traditional companionway treatment is compact and uses sliding hatchboards. Note the robust rails, which provide secure and welcome handholds. |

The Beneteau Sense series is pioneering new ground via a designed entry that’s more like a domestic doorway than a maritime hatch. On the Sense 55, this walk-though hatch is sealed with a horizontally hinged acrylic door that, with the touch of a button, rolls down under the cockpit sole, much like an escalator step. Only time will tell if the mechanism is reliable and if the unusually large hatch can resist the force of an angry ocean, which weighs 63 pounds per cubic foot.

The height, inclination and even shape of the companionway steps will determine if entry and exit will be safe at sea. The worst-case scenario is an almost vertical ladder of substantial height, with shallow steps, ineffective nonskid, no side containment for the feet and no ergonomically placed handholds. The best is a series of wide, scalloped steps possessing sufficient incline to walk up (as opposed to climb), enough depth to accept the whole foot on descent, and a short “hallway” enclosing the upper area of the steps. Stout handholds should be strategically placed on deck as well as below.

sailboat companionway ladder

| | Everything about this Oyster 625, including the wide steps and sturdy handholds, is just right. The hatchboards drop into a generous storage well; latches can be operated from above or below. |

Where designers were once reluctant to decrease the vertical angle of the steps, so as to avoid intruding upon precious interior space, the trend toward increased interior volume, and steps that are incorporated into the engine’s access hatch, have mitigated this concern. But the length of the sliding hatch must match the interior depth of the stairwell in order to create standing headroom at the level of each step.

A small but unfortunate feature to consider is the locking system. A tempered external padlock may be strong, but the hasp that fastens it is often a flimsy affair attached with a couple of short sheet-metal screws. Although no guarantee against a determined thief, the integral key latch offers some deterrence.

In the old days of massive crews, it was said that only admirals and idiots sat in the companionway, which is why I’m always careful to address my wife as Admiral when I find her there. But with the little foot traffic that’s inherent to shorthanded sailing, the companionway’s top step is a warm and dry area from which to keep a good watch.

In the simplest terms, the core mission of the main hatch and companionway is to let the people in and keep the water out. Whether you’re considering a new vessel or upgrading an old one, pay meticulous attention to the location, design and strength of the hatch and companionway to determine how well it serves these basic purposes.

This article first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Cruising World. Click here to read more in our Design Trends series.

  • More: design trends , Sailboats , yacht style
  • More Sailboats

Hinckley 51 on the water

For Sale: 1998 Hinckley 51

HH44-SC Titan

Sailboat Review: HH Catamarans HH44

Astus trimaran

Sailboat Preview: 2 Sportboats We Love

Windelo 50 on the water

Sailboat Preview: Windelo 50 Yachting

Cap'n Fatty Goodlander

Fatty Goodlander: Where I Fall Short as Skipper

Outdoor furniture

For Yachts or Home, Teak Stands the Test of Time

Shaft wear pattern

Shaft Bearing Maintenance Tips

Astus trimaran

  • Digital Edition
  • Customer Service
  • Privacy Policy
  • Email Newsletters
  • Cruising World
  • Sailing World
  • Salt Water Sportsman
  • Sport Fishing
  • Wakeboarding

YBW Forum

  • Search forums
  • Practical Boat Owner's Reader to Reader

Companion way ladder.

  • Thread starter EASLOOP
  • Start date 25 Jan 2006
  • 25 Jan 2006


I am (trying to) build a companionway ladder for my sloop. It is about 5 feet long (the ladder, not the sloop) with treads about 18" wide. Does anyone know how thick the timber (hardwood) should be. I don't want to get too heavy timber nor so thin that it bounces. Your thoughts would be most appreciated. John p.s. How deep should the treads be?  


depends on the type of wood, and the absence of any knots etc. Best cut the steps from an old hardwood tabletop or something, as new wood is pretty crap - or very expensive. thickness, 25mm would be a good starting point. you are likely to get a 20stone man jumping on them sooner or later. you can strengthen steps considerably by gluing and screwing a 25x25 fillet along underneath, or better still if you can fill in completely with a riser, like on proper stairs.  


I'd go a tad thicker, not to look too mean. Ours are beach I think and about 28mm.  

On my Moody33 they are about 20mm thick, about 18" long and about 4" wide. The sides are about 25mm thick and about 5" wide. Seems pretty strong to me - made of Mahogany.  


Well-known member

I've done a few ladders for canal boats and bunk beds - the easiest way to add a lot of strength is to add a couple of stainless steel reinforcements; lengths of stainless threaded bar accross the ladder underneath a couple of steps with recessed self-locking nuts at each side. Cut slots in the vertical pieces to take the steps and you can get away with thinner wood. I would say 25 is absolute min - other option is use 25mm but put vertical strengthener under each step just behind front of step, sort of like a ¬ shaped step.  


18'' wide is wide.By reducing this dimensiion to 12'' i would be happy with22-25mm planed Mahogany,which is readily available from any reasonable timber yard.Use a sharp knife,angled set square and arouter to notch each step into the uprightsand long screws too.The sides, should be- for simplicity- the same thicknes and depth as the treads.Nonslip trackmark or tape is useful,as are good catches to secure the ladder including at the bottom  

  • 26 Jan 2006



Active member.

I've just built a domestic staircase with treads around 33" wide. The material I used for the treads was 9 x 1 PAR, i.e. softwood which, after planing, is only around 20mm thick. The fact that they feel completely rigid is down to the fact that the riser (9mm ply) stiffens them. The last wooden set I built for a boat were 25 mm hardwood and that seemed more than adequate. On my present boat the steps from bridgedeck to hull are tapered alternate ways so you get more space to step when going down without having to turn round and go down backwards. The sequence of treads is arranged so that on either ladder, whether you're going up or down the rule is 'always start with the left foot'. It works pretty well.  

Members online

  • KompetentKrew
  • Sailing newbie selsey
  • Misterbreeze

Share this page

SailNet Community banner

  • Forum Listing
  • Marketplace
  • Advanced Search
  • About The Boat
  • Boat Builders Row
  • Pacific Seacraft
  • SailNet is a forum community dedicated to Sailing enthusiasts. Come join the discussion about sailing, modifications, classifieds, troubleshooting, repairs, reviews, maintenance, and more!

PCS 34 Companionway Drop board guides

  • Add to quote

The teak drop board guides our boat were split when I purchased her. A few weeks ago I grabbed the sliding hatch cover to regain my balance and split the starboard guide past the top mounting screw. To replace them I: Unscrewed and pried off the old guides using putty knives. Even with care some of the fiberglass came up with the old guide. Noted that there were two sets of screw holes so this was at least the third repair/replacement of the guides. The old guides were slightly less than 3/4 of an inch thick. I started with 1 inch rough teak. After finishing, the stock was just over 7/8 inch. Used the old parts as a rough guide for shape, the length and profile were the same but the new parts were 1/2 inch wider. The inset cut was just 1/16 wider than the table saw blade with a 3° bevel to match the back of the coach roof. Using the same holes the new guides were bedded in fast set 4200. I used a heavy weather drop board, which is a shade thicker than the regular boards, to ensure spacing while the 4200 set. After sanding the plugs off yesterday I noted that the sliding hatch did not meet both sides of the guides. I may shave the top of the starboard side down some so that the hatch meets them evenly. Or since the replacements are very robust I may just let be. Cost of the teak was 35$, bedding compound, screws and bungs about 20$. All in all I am satisfied with the fit and finish. It was an easy job to complete. regards charlie  


Workbench Wood Furniture Table Hardwood

Looks great. Thanks for sharing. That's an interesting companionway hatch board. Seems like it might be difficult to find a convenient place to stow it.  

We have two single piece hatch boards like that. One is teak trimmed clear plastic, and it goes between the companionway ladder and the the interior cover for the engine. I made it fit there by moving the handle on the cover up a little bit. A few felt cushions on the hatch board keep it from scratching the engine cover. The other is the vertical mosquito screen for the companionway. It, the horizontal screen for the companionway, and the screens for the two larger overhead hatches are all held to the overhead near the foot of the vee berth by a pair of bungee cords arranged in an "X". Bill Murdoch 1988 PSC 34 Irish Eyes  

Great ideas Bill!! Thanks for the suggestions.  

Thanks for the idea of a storage place for the one piece board. It was part of the PO's gear left aboard when we purchased the boat. It has been stored in our shed at home. It is definitely a sturdy well fit piece of gear worthy of keeping around. regards charlie  

sailboat companionway ladder

My boat came with four not-very-tall hatch boards. I didn't want to handle four of them every time I was opening or closing the boat. I purchased four marine-grade hinges and now have two hatch boards that fold in the middle for easy storage.  

  • ?            
  • 175.1K members

Top Contributors this Month

sailboat companionway ladder

Log in or Sign up

You are using an out of date browser. It may not display this or other websites correctly. You should upgrade or use an alternative browser .

companionway ladder dimensions?? please help!!

Discussion in ' Boat Design ' started by Guest , Sep 16, 2002 .


Guest Guest

We are rebuilding the interior of our boat, redesigning the galley/nav area. In trying to make the best use of space, the thing that keeps frustrating me is the companionway ladder. I do not want it to be too difficult to use (especially since we have a 6-yr-old.) But I don't want it to be too big and waste precious space. I know that regular house architects can consult a big book of Architectural Standards for dimension help. Is there anything similar for sailboat interior design???? Anyone know what the minumum step depth should be for an open ladder , and for a step with a sold back? Best space between steps? Minimum step width? Best ladder pitch (esp to be able to descend without turning around...) Any advice much appreciated. THANK YOU!  


james_r Junior Member

The following is paraphrased from Skene's Elements of Yacht Design and is a method that has worked for me: 1.Divide the vertical distance between deck and cabin sole into equal spaces less than 12 ". From 9" to 11" is fine. A steeper ladder should be at the top of this range, a sloping ladder at the bottom. It's important that there be nothing unexpected in a ladder. All steps should be equally spaced. 2.The top step should project forward 9", each one therafter 5". Each step should be at least 6"deep so that it projects 1" under the previous step. 3. The width of the ladder can be as narrow as 15" but 18" is better. Don't forget to put hand holes in the side pieces near the top of the ladder. If you work in metric multiply the above dimensions by 2.54 to get cm.  

Asleep Helmsman

The Ultimate Companionway Door and Hatch Design

Anthony Appleyard

Exhaust pipes, diving ladders, propellers

  • No, create an account now.
  • Yes, my password is:
  • Forgot your password?

Boat Design Net

Post comment

or continue as guest

Sailboat Owners Forums

  • Forums New posts Unanswered threads Register Top Posts Email
  • What's new New posts New Posts (legacy) Latest activity New media
  • Media New media New comments
  • Boat Info Downloads Weekly Quiz Topic FAQ 10000boatnames.com
  • Classifieds Sell Your Boat Used Gear for Sale
  • Parts General Marine Parts Hunter Beneteau Catalina MacGregor Oday
  • Help Terms of Use Monday Mail Subscribe Monday Mail Unsubscribe

Companionway Ladder

  • Thread starter EnginesForward
  • Start date Sep 18, 2015
  • Macgregor Owner Forums
  • Ask A Macgregor Owner



I have a 1972 V-22. Does anyone have a drawing or photo of a companionway ladder that can be fabricated to permit easy access to the cockpit from the cabin that will fold in or out of the way when seating at the table or access to the winch. I have both woodworking equipment and metal fabrication equipment and skills. I have a bad knee and climbing in and out is a PITA. Any ideads are welcome.  

vwjon Mac25

vwjon Mac25

step This half step works well for me. '85 Mac 24  



  • This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register. By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies. Accept Learn more…


  1. Secure the companionway ladder

    Been fine for 18 years we've owned this 30 year old boat. SG. Feb 11, 2017 1,670 J/Boat J/160 Annapolis Feb 22, 2017 #5 Secure is relative. ... I can slide the bolt out and lock it in place just above where the latch on the ladder rests against the companionway. Thanks. SG. Feb 11, 2017 1,670 J/Boat J/160 Annapolis Feb 22, 2017 ...

  2. Sailboat Companionway Design

    The heavily trafficked companionway is a critical area of transition from topside to below. If it's poorly designed, the potential for accidents is high. Let's start with the offset companionway, often seen in older, classic-plastic production boats. This was a design response to ketch rigs, in which the mizzenmast is often stepped in the ...

  3. getting the dog up and down companionway stairs

    Location: Frederick, MD. Boat: Beneteau Oceanis 40. Posts: 252. getting the dog up and down companionway stairs. Picture a 40 foot monohull, a 50 pound dog and us in our 60s. Our companionway stairs are steep, typical of monohulls. I've added huge, no-slip treads to the steps. Still our dog needs a boost going up and to be carried down.

  4. Companionway ladder refinished

    I currently sanded down my companionway ladder and applied teak oil. Two applications. Can and should I apply a sealer.? sail sfbay. Feb 21, 2013 ... Well maintained teak woodwork is highly prized and boat owners want to do everything they can to keep it looking great. www.bottompaintstore.com Cat36Amoore. Aug 10, 2013 52

  5. Companionway

    Companionway. In the architecture of a ship, a companion or companionway is a raised and windowed hatchway in the ship's deck, with a ladder leading below and the hooded entrance-hatch to the main cabins. [1] A companionway may be secured by doors or, commonly in sailboats, hatch boards which fit in grooves in the companionway frame.

  6. The Companionway Ladder & A Big Update

    Visit here if you think you can help with our rigging hardware: https://www.acorntoarabella.com/rigging-hardware New Tiers on Patreon! https://patreon.com/ac...

  7. Companionway Steps / Ladders

    Re: Companionway Steps / Ladders. Your terms are a bit different than what I am accustomed to, however...the steps should be 24 inches wide for optimum or 18 inches bare minimum, 10 inches from the front of the step to the back, and 10 inches vertically between the steps. The sides of the companionway should be a minimum of 1 inch stock, steps ...

  8. Restoring companionway steps

    Restoring companionway steps. Thread starter IH82BL8; Start date Jan 29, 2015; Forums. Forums for All Owners. Ask All Sailors. I. IH82BL8. Feb 6, 2013 437 Hunter 31 Deale, MD Jan 29, 2015 #1 ... Note that on a boat it's a "ladder", not "steps", and you should go up and down facing the ladder as you would on a ladder going up the side of a ...

  9. Companionway Ladder Non-skid

    476 posts · Joined 2015. #1 · Feb 28, 2016. I'm in the process of refinishing the companionway ladder. The current non-skid on the treads appears to be the Vetus Non-skid Deck Covering. After 20 plus years of use, it's no longer very non-skid, it's quite dirty, and prevents me from doing a good job of sanding and varnishing the adjacent teak ...

  10. Companion way ladder.

    I am (trying to) build a companionway ladder for my sloop. It is about 5 feet long (the ladder, not the sloop) with treads about 18" wide. Does anyone know how thick the timber (hardwood) should be. ... On my present boat the steps from bridgedeck to hull are tapered alternate ways so you get more space to step when going down without having to ...

  11. PCS 34 Companionway Drop board guides

    One is teak trimmed clear plastic, and it goes between the companionway ladder and the the interior cover for the engine. I made it fit there by moving the handle on the cover up a little bit. A few felt cushions on the hatch board keep it from scratching the engine cover. The other is the vertical mosquito screen for the companionway.

  12. companionway ladder dimensions?? please help!!

    2.The top step should project forward 9", each one therafter 5". Each step should be at least 6"deep so that it projects 1" under the previous step. 3. The width of the ladder can be as narrow as 15" but 18" is better. Don't forget to put hand holes in the side pieces near the top of the ladder.

  13. Ladder

    Anyone have any ideas for a companionway steps or ladder? What I have now is after you step through the companionway and step onto the galley all there is is one step between you and the cabin sole. That might be alright for spring chickens but not the best for aging boomers. I'm thinking of a ladder with two steps. Rich

  14. The Rise and Fall of companionway stairs help.

    03-14-2013, 08:43 PM. Re: The Rise and Fall of companionway stairs help. Keyhole-shape fixtures ( mounted on the bulkhead the width of the ladder) and slightly protruding carriage bolt heads at the top of the ladder/steps stringer would be secure, as well as quick and easy to deploy and no moving parts.

  15. Flag of Elektrostal, Moscow Oblast, Russia : r/vexillology

    596K subscribers in the vexillology community. A subreddit for those who enjoy learning about flags, their place in society past and present, and…

  16. Installing companionway ladder

    Purchased companionway ladder from Blue Water Yacht for 96' Mac26X. Seems to be 4" too short to set on the bottom cabin deck step. Only thing to make bottom ladder set flat on cabin deck step would be to install ladder brackets on the vertical surface of sole rather than underside of...

  17. Elektrostal

    In 1938, it was granted town status. [citation needed]Administrative and municipal status. Within the framework of administrative divisions, it is incorporated as Elektrostal City Under Oblast Jurisdiction—an administrative unit with the status equal to that of the districts. As a municipal division, Elektrostal City Under Oblast Jurisdiction is incorporated as Elektrostal Urban Okrug.

  18. Elektrostal Map

    Elektrostal is a city in Moscow Oblast, Russia, located 58 kilometers east of Moscow. Elektrostal has about 158,000 residents. Mapcarta, the open map.

  19. Companion Way Ladder

    Hello:\u000BI have owned my Mac since June of 2002. It has many good points but as we all know, some agravating ones too. I have never liked the Companion Way ladder because it always seems to be in the way, and one can never get the Head Door all the way open.\u000B\u000BI took an Electricians Pipe bender and...

  20. Kapotnya District

    A residential and industrial region in the south-east of Mocsow. It was founded on the spot of two villages: Chagino (what is now the Moscow Oil Refinery) and Ryazantsevo (demolished in 1979). in 1960 the town was incorporated into the City of Moscow as a district. Population - 45,000 people (2002). The district is one of the most polluted residential areas in Moscow, due to the Moscow Oil ...

  21. Companionway Ladder

    Sell Your Boat Used Gear for Sale. ... Companionway Ladder. Thread starter EnginesForward; Start date Sep 18, 2015; Forums. Macgregor Owner Forums. Ask A Macgregor Owner. EnginesForward. Apr 21, 2014 80 MacGregor Venture 22 Launched, San Diego,CA ...