Sailors once climbed the rigging on ratlines, horizontal ropes tied between the shrouds as a ladder. Tall ships and many schooners still have ratlines, but most sailboats don't. Ratlines create wind drag, and lower sections of the mast away are inaccessible.
Fixed, folding, or removable steps allow sailors to climb directly up the mast.
Each step is mounted by screws or rivets to the mast, about 18 inches apart, on alternating sides.
- Steps always ready for use
- Easily climbed
- Lengthy installation, with 3 to 6 holes drilled in mast per step
- Steps may foul halyards or rigging
- Hands not free for other uses while climbing
- Unless a safety harness is used, climber can fall
- Steps cause wind drag and extra weight aloft
Cost: $17 to $23 each, or about $476 to $644 to climb to 45 feet
Folding steps are like fixed steps, but when not in use the step surface folds up alongside the mast to make the step less likely to foul halyards or rigging. Each step is opened on the ascent and then closed on the descent.
Climbing is a little slower than with fixed mast steps, but otherwise the advantages are similar. Except for being less likely to foul the rigging, folding steps also have similar disadvantages.
Cost: $20 to $42 each, or about $560 to $1148 to climb to 45 feet (depending on materials)
The problems of wind drag, weight aloft, and fouled rigging are solved by removable steps mounted only when needed in pre-drilled holes.
But it takes longer to climb and descend because the climber must carry the steps and insert or remove each along the way.
Otherwise, the advantages and disadvantages of removable mast steps are similar to those of fixed steps.
Cost: $15 to $20 each, or $420 to $560 to climb to 45 feet