If a portable ladder is being utilised, this should be used at an angle of between 75 degrees from the horizontal and should extend at least 1m above the final landing place, as per the UK’s Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers.

A gangway should be carried on every ship of 30 metres of more registered length (or overall length, if the ship is not registered). The gangway should be appropriate to the deck layout, size, shape and maximum freeboard of the ship’ and ‘Portable ladders should only be used as a last resort, where no safer means of access is reasonably practicable. Further guidance is in 22.1 Section 2 and Annex 22.2. of the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers,

...states the MGN 533 (M).

The majority of the Club’s vessels tend to utilise ladders and gangways due to the fact that accommodation ladders tend to be constructed for larger vessels.

The rigging of any access or gangway is an important job and must be undertaken by a suitably qualified and experienced person from the vessel. The gangway must not be placed on a bulwark or side rail of the vessel, unless the bulwark or side rail is of sufficient strength to bear the weight of the gangway and persons using it.

Key points to consider

  • Handrails: Handrails should adequately fence off the ladder and be kept at a height of at least 1m. If these are made of rope, they must be monitored and kept taut at all times.
  • Steps and platforms: Steps and platforms must be kept clear of oil and debris. If a bottom platform is fitted on the gangway, this must be kept horizontal and have stanchions fitted to enable the safety rope to continue through them.
  • Illumination: The access area of the vessel, the total length of the gangway and the quayside is to be kept adequately lit to ensure safe transit.
  • Lifebuoy: The lifebuoy must be fitted with a separate safety line attached to a quoit or similar device and a self-igniting light. This must be positioned on the vessel at the top of the access point.
  • Safety net: If it is applicable and practicable, a safety net is to be fitted under every part of the access ladder or gangway, extending on both sides and kept taut. The net must not be secured to any fixed point on the quay. Figures 2 and 3 show gangways incorrectly rigged, therefore increasing the risk of incidents.
  • Watchkeeper: Even if it is not applicable under local regulations for some vessels to comply with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, it is good practice to have a member of the vessel’s crew permanently stationed at the gangway for safety purposes. They will be able to assist people transiting the gangway and they can monitor any dangerous practices. The watchkeeper must keep in mind that they are the first point of contact on the vessel for those boarding. If a vessel is alongside a berth affected by tidal conditions, the situation should be constantly reassessed. In addition, the watchkeeper must have access to the times of high and low waters and be aware of any cargo or ballast operations that may affect the vessel’s trim and list. If a watchkeeper is not present at the gangway and an incident occurs, the vessel’s crew might carry on with their duties, unaware of the situation.
  • Bulwark ladder: A bulwark ladder should be utilised when the top of the gangway or portable ladder rests or is level with the bulwark. It should be securely attached to the vessel to prevent movement and must be equipped with two rigidly secured handrails/stanchions.
  • Fire plan: The fire plan should be placed in the vicinity of the gangway. It should contain information that may be useful in an emergency, such as a cargo stowage plan, stability details, crew list, general arrangement plan and a plan highlighting the location of the vessel’s safety equipment. Mooring lines should be routinely monitored to avoid surging up and/or down the quay.

In addition, prevailing circumstances such as weather and events, which may create temporary tripping hazards, must be taken into account and highlighted as necessary. When assembling a means of access, it is not only the vessel’s equipment, access and procedures that need to be assessed and followed, but also those ashore.

It should be ensured, as far as possible, that the end of the ladder being located on the quay is placed in an unobstructed area clear of debris and oil patches and away from impending dangers such as lorries or cranes for cargo work and cargo being loaded/discharged. The running of mooring lines should be in such a manner that they do not pose danger to those transiting the gangway.

Final checks

After the access has been rigged and prior to use, the gangway should be checked to ensure that it is safe to use. Areas to concentrate on include:

  • Cleanliness
  • Faults, including physical damage. All boarding equipment should be maintained and checked at regular intervals designated by a planned maintenance programme. Any faults that are noted on the equipment must be dealt with immediately and recorded in the planning system and reported to shore managers where necessary, in line with the company’s direct reporting system. Aluminium equipment should be particularly checked for corrosion and fractures. Ladders should not be painted in case this conceals defects.
  • All moving parts are in good working order and are well-greased.
  • Ensure that all associated equipment is available and correctly located.


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