Most Islanders call the Cowes Chain Ferry the “Floating Bridge” and for good reason. It provides a vital foot passenger and vehicle link across the River Medina between Cowes and East Cowes with an excellent regular service all year round.
The Chain Ferry operates in both directions from 0500 onwards on Mondays to Saturdays and from 0635 onwards on Sundays. There are regular crossings at approximately 10-15 minute intervals from each side of the River Medina which continue until after midnight daily. The service is extended by special arrangement, e.g. during Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week.
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 river banks. The Chain Ferry displays a flashing yellow light on the forward end of the Chain Ferry to indicate to mariners 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, however, any vessel requiring an unimpeded passage is required to establish early contact (call sign ‘Cowes Chain Ferry’) and agree on VHF Ch 69 which side the Chain Ferry will hold for your passage.
The Chain Ferry is situated on a blind bend and the narrowest stretch of the River Medina; you are strongly advised to navigate with caution when approaching the ferry particularly when following the tide. The tidal flow generally accelerates as you approach the Chain Ferry due to the river narrowing, which may set you down towards the Chain Ferry quicker than you initially anticipated. Give way in good time.
During all tides, especially spring tides, there are strong currents associated with this area. 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 in the area of the Trinity House Wharf (East Cowes) and the Red Funnel ferry terminal (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 therefore 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 least depth of navigable water over the chains is approximately 1.7m below chart datum in the middle of the visible fairway during the half tide period.
Full survey diagrams and the Cowes Chain Ferry Local Notice to Mariners are available to view on www.cowesharbourcommission.co.uk.