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. Cowes Week.
The Chain Ferry is situated within Cowes Harbour and in close proximity to the blind bend of the River Medina and all sailors and boaters are advised to navigate with caution in the vicinity of the Chain Ferry.
The Chain Ferry operates between the east and west banks of the river by hauling on two chains, each of approximately 165 metres, which span across the estuary and are permanently attached to both river banks. The depth of navigable water above these chains varies depending on the state of the tide height and the position of the Chain Ferry in relation to either east or west riverbank. The depth of navigable water is deepest in the middle of the visible Fairway and decreases towards either riverbank and the prow or ‘forward end’ of the ferry as the chains rise closer to the surface.
When the Chain Ferry is berthed on either riverbank and therefore not partway across the Fairway, the least depth of navigable water over the chains is approximately 1.7 metres BELOW chart datum in the middle of the visible Fairway during the half tide period.
The shallowest section of the river lies to the south of the Chain Ferry between the northern Whitegates pontoons in the vicinity of GKN and Medina Yard where the depth of water is a minimum of 1.7m below chart datum at all states of tide.
All vessels over 20m in length or requiring an unrestricted transit past the Chain Ferry should call ‘Cowes Chain Ferry’ on VHF radio Channel 69 to give indication of their approach and agree which side the Chain Ferry will moor during the passage.
Sailing vessels fitted with engines are strongly advised to proceed under power when navigating in any part of the Main Harbour Fairway.
All vessels navigating within the river shall keep well clear of the prow or ’forward ’ ramp of the Chain Ferry and be aware that if the Chain Ferry is not on either riverbank and is therefore part way across the fairway, the navigable depth of water above the chains decreases rapidly.
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 Chain Ferry maintains a listening watch on the Cowes Harbour Working Channel (VHF Channel 69).
See the link to the full Local Notice to Mariners No. 11 of 2012 below and also the latest surveys showing the clearance over the chains at different states of tide and with the Chain Ferry on both the east and west river banks: