Having just returned from the Newport International Boat Show I was most struck by the latest fashion wave in larger cruising sailboats, which is the stern landing pad. Apparently designed to allow easy access to hordes of boat show gawkers, these platforms, often featuring teak decks, certainly allow for easy access to the stern of the boat from either the water, a dinghy, or a floating dock, but some caveats lept to mind.
First, in many parts of the world, if not most, floating docks are not very common. Probably the most typical docking situation for cruising sailboats worldwide is a side-to tie up consisting of fixed pilings or a solid wharf, where a stern platform would be of little use.
My second thought was that there are also places in the world where you don't want to make it easy for people to swim or dinghy up to your boat and come aboard. The swimmer that tried to climb our topsides in Cartagena, Colombia, comes to mind, and if some friends of ours on a cat hadn't had stern boarding steps they might not have been robbed at night by a swimmer also in Colombia.
Of course in most of the world you do not worry about boarders coming in over the stern. However, these super wide sterns and platforms make me wonder about other disadvantages. What happens when a boat with such a stern starts to heel over in a gust? Will the rudder stay in the water? What happens to the steering feel? How does that huge area drain when a boarding seem comes aboard offshore? Is the giant stern door structurally strong enough?
No doubt designers will have studied these problems, and hopefully prevented any bad handling and strength problems, but it does seem rather odd to design a cruising sailboat around the premise that one of the most important things to achieve is easy boarding at the boat show and in a specific type of marina with floating docks where you can board stern to.