Unless they are buried, above ground pools sit above the ground. Other than this being the most obvious thing I’ve ever said, it means that swimmers will have to climb over the wall to get into the water. For this and other reasons, a pool ladder is an important decision when getting an above ground pool.
There are about a dozen main choices when it comes to getting a ladder or steps for an above ground pool. Pool packages almost always come with a standard A-frame type that will work well for able-bodied people to get in and out of the pool. Though, some have different wants and needs so it’s worth spending some time learning about the different options that are available.
The Different Types of Ladders and Steps for Above Ground Pools
This is the most common ladder for above grounds. A ladder with rungs is placed outside the pool and another ladder with rungs is placed inside the pool. Almost all are now made of resin and usually can take people who weigh up to 300 pounds.
A-frames attach in some way to the top of the pool’s rails to make them more stable. Almost all A-frames are safety ladders which means the outside rungs can be removed or pulled up so that it’s off the ground. This is done so that small children can’t use them to get access to the pool.
An in-pool ladder is almost exactly the same as an A-frame except it doesn’t have the rungs on the outside. In-pool ladders are used when a pool has a deck, because with a deck you’ll no longer need to step up from the ground. Note: Some first get an above ground pool and then have a deck built later. They will then use an A-frame ladder until the deck is built and will then cut off the outside portion of the A-frame ladder so they can then use it as an in-pool ladder with the new deck.
This is nice if you don’t have a deck. Having steps inside the pool is better than just climbing rungs for a couple of reasons. One reason is they are wider for feet to step on. They also have rails (on one or both sides) that help older or bigger swimmers get in and out of the water.
Another reason is the steps make good landings or rest spots for short kids. Steps can usually hold more weight than ladders so that’s good for the heavier people in the family.
This is the ultimate entry system for an above ground pool. There are wide, flat steps outside that go all the way up. These steps then go over the wall and down into the water. These steps also have handrailings (on one or both sides) on the inside and outside of the pool. These handrailings are good for those who can have a hard time climbing in and out. The weight limit is also more. This is a good option for those who do not have a deck, but whose pools need to be accessible to elderly swimmers, bigger swimmers or swimmers with special needs.
An above ground pool entry system with steps on the outside still has to be safe for kids. So, they will come with an outside gate that can be locked to block small kids from being able to climb the steps. The weight limit for these steps can be as much as 500 pounds. This is also the most expensive entry system costing as much as $600.00 for the nicest one.
These are for above grounds with decks. Since swimmers can get to the top of the pool via the deck, access is only needed for getting in and out of the water. Inside steps are better than just an in-pool ladder as it is wider for the feet and has one or two handrails that help swimmers get in and out.
These are the most common steps for above ground pools that have decks. These steps are called wedding cake steps because they have rounded steps starting with a small round one at the top and then each getting longer as they go down deeper into the water. These steps have one rail that runs up the middle of the steps to assist swimmers to get in and out of the pool. Because these steps curve around, there is more stepping area which provides even more landing area for shorter kids.
Wedding cake steps don’t attach well to the top of the pool. So, weighing them down properly is more important than with the other steps. These steps take up a lot of space in the pool so they may not be a good option for smaller pools. A big advantage is most are injection-molded which means very little assembly is required.
Some General Notes on Above Ground Steps and Ladders
Weighing down steps can be a pain.
All ladders/steps will float a little in the water so therefore they must be weighed down. Some will require of you to pour sand into the unit while with others you will have to fill bags with sand and place them at the bottom of the steps.
I have seen people use all kinds of things, from concrete blocks to rocks to plastic dumbbells, to weigh the steps down. Anything is fine, but keep in mind that it will be in the water so plastic bags will deteriorate and objects will have algae grow on them. Real pool guy tip: Buy a longer piece of 3” PVC and some 3” end caps. Cut pieces of PVC to fit the area that’s underneath the steps, then fill with sand or concrete and glue caps on both ends. This is a nice, precise, clean way to weigh down the steps. You’re welcome!
Assembly will be required.
No real pool installer will assemble any ladders or steps. So, this is something you’ll have to do. I haven’t assembled a ladder in more than 25 years, so I don’t know much about it except that some say they suck to put together and some say they aren’t that bad.
Install the ladder/steps when the pool is at least half full.
An above ground pool liner isn’t completely set in place and secure until the pool is at least half filled. So, in order to avoid possible damage, wait before placing the steps inside the pool.
Secure your entry system.
Ensure that you do a good job and that the steps are weighed down well. This is where people get injured, so make sure it’s stable and not wobbly or wonky (I love using the word “wonky”).
Most entry systems for above ground pools don’t have to be attached to the top rails of the pool, but if you’ve done a nice job of installing yours and it still doesn’t feel quite stable, bolt your steps to the pool at the top.