For the best part of my life, I’ve enjoyed every aspect of small boats, with one exception: climbing in and out of them while they’re on their trailers, whether at home when working on them, or at the ramp loading gear in and out or raising or lowering a sailing rig. I’ve been able to board three of my trailered boats by getting a tenuous footing on the trailer frame and then smearing my frontside over the gunwale, but it’s a painful process. Clambering out of the boat can be even worse because I can’t see where I’m putting my foot; I lost my toehold once and spilled onto the concrete driveway. I’ve used a milk crate as a step, but it’s not quite tall enough and can be unsteady on the lawn. I made ladders for two of the boats and, although they work, they are heavy, bulky, and take up a lot of room in my shop. I don’t take them to the launch ramp.
When I happened upon the FlexStep Pro while browsing the web, it looked like just the thing I needed. It’s an adjustable step with an aluminum mounting bracket that attaches to the trailer frame, so there’s no chance it will roll out from under me like a milk crate might if I put my weight too close to its edge. The receiver that supports the step can extend from 17″ to 21″ in four increments and is locked with a stainless-steel quick-release pin with a spring-loaded ball lock. The arm rotates 90 degrees in the bracket and locks in one of four positions.
The 5-1⁄4″ × 6-3⁄8″ backing plate can accommodate trailer beams up to 5″ deep, and the 4-1⁄4″ × 3⁄8″ bolts can span a beam about 3-1⁄2″ wide.
The manufacturer recommends removing the receiver (with the step) when towing the trailer and while launching or retrieving the boat at the ramp. It’s easy enough to do and assures the step isn’t lost on the highway or in the way of the boat at the ramp.
Where—and whether or not—the FlexStep can be mounted depends on the clearance between the boat and its trailer. Our Escargot canal boat covers the trailer bed and the beams from the bed to the tongue, so the only place I could mount the step was on the trailer tongue.
While that could be useful for some boats, it was my Caledonia Yawl that would benefit most from the step. The yawl rests on a flat drift-boat trailer that doesn’t have a box-beam frame. Instead, it has steel channels that support a wooden deck. My only option was to drill four holes in the side of the channel and two new holes in the bracket for a set of four shorter 3⁄8″ bolts that I had on hand. It was easy to drill the two additional holes in the aluminum bracket. The four holes in the trailer’s steel took more time and pressure. After the bracket was installed, the receiver was quick to install with the larger locking pin.
Boarding the Caledonia is now a breeze. The step is at just the right height for me to climb over the gunwale without having to put my weight on it. The rubber covers on the step provide a non-slip surface, and while there is slight play in the receiver, the step is solid and secure even with all my weight on one side.
The FlexStep Pro will change the way I ready the Caledonia for sailing. Instead of dropping the rig and gear into the boat and rushing to organize it at the dock while other boats are waiting, I’ll be happy to rig it in the parking lot where I can take my time and comfortably get in and out of the boat as many times as it takes.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats.
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