How To Climb Up a Boat Ladder After a Dive – Beginners

Getting back on a dive boat may not be so easy if you’re new to scuba diving. In this post, I’ll give you tips on how to climb up a boat ladder after a dive. It’s easy if you don’t have a tank on your back, but what if you do?

After you do your safety stop and slowly ascend to the surface of the water, your dive is not completed until you are safely back on the dive boat.

Divers Climbing Up Ladder

Ladder exists can be an easy way to get out of the water. There are times when making your way to or climbing up a boat ladder can be somewhat challenging if you’re faced with rough seas and huge swells causing the awaiting boat to rise up and fall. But have no fear, a boat crew member will toss a line out in the water so you can hang on to it while comfortably waiting your turn to climb up the ladder or use the rope to pull yourself closer to the boat.

My first ladder climb

My first attempt of climbing up a boat ladder with my BCD, regulator and mask on didn’t go as well as I expected. I was working on my entry level Open Water Diver Certification at the time and during our first open water dive the Instructor had to end the dive earlier due to a student diver being low on air.

I don’t weigh a lot and when we surfaced I still had 2000 psi of air left in my tank. The water at the surface was a little rougher than what I hoped which caused some anxiety but I figured this was going to be an easy climb up the ladder. I mean really? Why would it be difficult? Anyone can climb a ladder…

Following instructions, I planted both my feet onto the first rung and had a good grip on the hand railings ready to pull myself up and maintaining a 3 point contact I lifted one foot up but nothing happened. I didn’t seem to have the strength to pull myself up. Feeling rather embarrassed I finally resigned and let 2 polite boat crew members reach out their helping hand and let them haul me up to avoid having a lineup of divers who were patiently waiting in the water.

Happily it was a simple matter of keeping my core muscles tight and using my leg muscles. Also learning the correct technique to climb up the ladder with confidence makes a difference… lol!

I will say though, during my many dives and over the years, I have seen a few experienced divers lose their balance and fall back into the water and thankfully no one was hurt.

Anyway, I decided to give you some tips in case you are new to diving or never have climbed up a boat ladder with your regulator, BCD and tank on.

Tips To Ending The Dive And Climbing Up The Boat Ladder

1) Listen to the pre-dive talk. The entrance procedure of how to get back on  the boat will be described in detail by your tour guide before starting your dive.

2) Air in your BCD. After you do your safety stop and have slowly ascended to the surface of the water, make sure to put a bit of air into your BCD to keep you comfortably afloat. Stay close to your dive group while observing the boat as it slowly approaches closer. If a boat member tosses a rope into the water, swim slowly to where the rope is and hold onto it.

If the water isn’t rough, you don’t need to hold on to a rope, it’s easy to hover around in the water while you wait your turn.

3) Wait your turn. Water conditions can change by the time you surface causing the boat to rise and fall. It’s important to stay a good distance away from the diver who is climbing up the ladder in case he or she loses a grip on the boat ladder and falls into the water landing on you.

Diver Waiting To Climb Ladder

4) Your turn. Slowly make your way closer to the boat using the rope to draw you in. It’s important to keep your mask on and your regulator in your mouth in case you lose your balance and fall into the water.

If you remove your weights and hand them over to a boat crew member, it will be less weight on your body to carry when climbing the ladder. If you have a camera, speargun or anything else that can get in your way, hand them over too.

Sometimes, you can even hand in your BCD still attached to the tank, if the water is too rough. (Lol… why didn’t I think of this on my first open water dive?)

Relax your body as you get a good hand grip of the hand rail or ladder with one hand below the water and keep your elbow bent to absorb the up and down motion of the boat.

Next, you need to remove your fins one at a time because it’s awkward climbing the ladder with them on. To do this, bend your leg over the opposite thigh to remove the fin.  If you’re wearing fins with a strap and buckle, just loosen the strap and do not unbuckle it in case you need to use them.

Remove one fin and either loop it over your free wrist or hand it over to the boat assistant one fin at a time. Turn and grip the opposite hand rail or ladder and repeat the process of removing the other fin.

Wait until the ladder is down from an upswing (this is important). Place both feet on the bottom rung and lean inward to relocate your weight onto the ladder. This keeps your center of gravity close to the ladder which helps you stay balanced and more in control as you climb and pull yourself up on the platform.

5) Back on the boat. Once you’re back on the dive boat move away from the exit area for the next diver to climb the ladder and now your dive is safely completed.  

Pick up your fins and mask and any other personal belonging lying on the boat deck and go back to your seat and remove your dive gear.

Dive Gear Put Away

Are you ready to go on a dive trip and try this out? Click here if you’re interested in getting to know all about whale sharks.

Do you have any stories you would like to share of your experiences with climbing boat ladders with your dive gear on? If you have any comments or questions, I really would like to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!


4 thoughts on “How To Climb Up a Boat Ladder After a Dive – Beginners”

  1. Monica: You have written a very informative web page on “How to climb up a boat ladder after a dive- beginners”. Although I am not a scuba diver, I can relate to the difficulty of getting back into a boat in choppy seas. I have done it many times just not with scuba gear on. Snorkling trips and the like. The climbing up the ladder can be made more difficult if one is tired from swimming. Sometimes I’m on a dive boat with divers when I snorkel and I’ll sure keep this in mind .. maybe I can help them with some advice. 

    • Hi Mick, thanks for your great comment. Yes, climbing up a boat ladder can be challenging for snorkelers as well in rough seas. Keeping your balance and maintaining 3 point contact is a must. That would be awesome if you can give a diver who is struggling to climb up a boat ladder some advice. I’m sure the diver would appreciate it.



  2. Hello Monica,
    I came across this post on Google+ and was immediately interested! You’ve done a great job with this instructional advice on climbing up a boat ladder. This is one thing I’ve feared about giving diving a try. I have enough trouble getting back on a small boat after a swim, with no gear on…

    You’ve given me a little encouragement here in this post though, so I may have to really try it out next time I have the opportunity.

    Do you have any lessons on breathing and controlling ear pressure when diving deep? I was on a trip in Punta Cana and went out on a boat where they suit you up in this giant “Space Ship Helmet”. They submerge you down about 20 feet so you can walk the sea floor and see pretty fish and statues they place down there. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if my ears and head wouldn’t have hurt so much. I actually had inner ear imbalance or loss of my equilibrium after that for a few weeks!

    Thanks for sharing,

    • Hi Devara,

      You’re very welcome and thank you for reading my article. I’m glad I was able to give you some encouragement here.

      I have never tried the “Space Ship Helmet”… I will have to do that! I’m sorry to hear your ears were bothering you.

      When you’re down underwater, your ears need to get equalized. Here is one of my articles, I think you will find very helpful. There are several methods to do this.

      What works well for me is chewing gum on the boat because this gets you swallowing. Every time you swallow, you hear a pop in your ears. I discard the gum just before I enter the water. If that doesn’t equalize your ears underwater, try moving your jaw around, back and forth.

      Another method is to not descend so fast once you enter the water. Go down slowly about a foot at a time. Pinch your nose and at the same time, blow out thru your nose GENTLY. You should hear a squealing sound come out from your ears and instantly feel this release of pressure from your inner ear. If you still feel pain then repeat the process until the pressure is gone.

      If you’re interested now in taking scuba diving lessons, here is another article, I recommend you read… these are helpful tips to let you know what’s involved to learn to dive.

      I hope these two articles are helpful and let me know if you have any questions.



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