The Isle of Wight Council Chain Ferry (Floating Bridge) carries vehicles, bicycles and foot passengers between Cowes and East Cowes, seven days a week, all year round. The Chain Ferry runs a full service with the support of a “pushing vessel” during spring ebb tides.
For detailed information and safety advice, please also read:
• Local Notice to Mariners No. 08 of 2022: Cowes Chain Ferry - Safety Advice
The Chain Ferry operates between the east and west banks of the River Medina hauling on two chains, each of approximately 165m, which span across the estuary and are permanently attached to both riverbanks. A flashing yellow light on the forward end of the Chain Ferry indicates its intention to commence a crossing and the light remains illuminated until it reaches the opposite bank. The Chain Ferry has right of way over all river traffic.
Vessels requiring an unimpeded passage must establish early contact (call sign ‘Cowes Chain Ferry’) and agree on VHF Channel 69 which side the ferry will hold for your passage.
The Chain Ferry is situated on a blind bend at the narrowest stretch of the river. Navigate with caution when approaching the ferry, particularly with a following tide. The tidal flow generally accelerates as you approach the ferry due to the river narrowing, which may set you down towards the ferry quicker than you initially anticipated. Give way in good time.
During all tides, especially spring tides, there are strong currents associated in this narrow part of the river. The ebb flows are usually more pronounced than the flood. The ebb tide is accentuated towards the eastern side of the river where the spring ebb may be in excess of 4 knots and cause the unwary to be set down upon the eastern bank, especially near Trinity Wharf and the Red Funnel ferry terminal in East Cowes.
The depth of navigable water above the chains varies depending on the state of the tide height and the position of the ferry in relation to either the east or west riverbank. When the Chain Ferry is berthed on either riverbank, and not partway across the fairway, the depth of navigable water is deepest in the middle of the visible fairway and decreases rapidly towards either riverbank and the prow or ‘forward end’ of the ferry as the chains rise closer to the surface.
The Chain Ferry is manned 24hrs a day, but between 0030 and 0530 the Chain Ferry is generally out of service and moored off of the east bank exhibiting an anchor light. Vessels requiring an unimpeded passage shall call the Chain Ferry in good time (10 minutes' notice) to enable the crew to start her engines and move to shore.