About those safety chains…

Safety chains, as their name suggests, offer a back up connection between the towing vehicle and the trailer… just in case. Photo courtesy Randy Randall

May 2022

By Randy Randall

“Whoa!” We all yelled, but it was too late. The boat rolled off the trailer, tipped up in the air, and fell with a smash onto the pavement. Now we all stood around looking at the boat high and dry right in the middle of our launch ramp. The owner scratched his head. He had misjudged the steepness of the ramp and the effect of gravity on the trailer rollers. The boat slid off because he had disconnected both the winch strap and the safety chain. There was nothing to hold the boat on the trailer, so it rolled off. Simple as that.

Those safety chains are super important. We have two and three incidents a summer where safety chains save a bad situation from getting a lot worse. Now the guy’s trailer and his boat were blocking our launch ramp. We’d done this before, so we knew to disconnect the trailer from the car, attach the winch to the boat, and bit by bit crank the trailer back under the boat. Eventually, we were able to pull the trailer tongue down and winch the boat the rest of the way forward, where we reattached the safety chain.

Another time a trailer hitch popped off the ball. The guy was backing down the ramp, and the trailer tongue lifted right off the ball. Wrong size. But he had his safety chains hooked up, and they held the boat and trailer. Friends controlled the trailer tongue as he eased up the ramp and into the parking lot. There’s a clamp up inside the hitch that can become loose. Sometimes you can tighten that, and it will fit tighter on the ball, but if it’s the wrong size, like a 2-inch hitch on a 1 7/8 ball, you need to get the right size. There are safety chains on both the boat and on the trailer, and they are all vitally important. Even on the highway, if the trailer hitch should come loose, the chains should keep the trailer attached to the bumper long enough for you to pull over into the breakdown lane.

Years ago, a customer arrived towing a wooden lobster boat with a small pickup truck. The trailer was homemade. When he turned into the parking lot, the three-inch pipe that was the tongue bent at right angles and broke off. The only thing that saved the boat were the rugged safety chains he had attached to the truck. We’ve seen winch straps, cables and ropes snap as well; usually in the fall at take-out time when the tide is low, and the angle on the ramp is steep. Guys winch the boat onto the trailer and start pulling up the ramp, and the strain is too much, and the rotten strap breaks. But if the safety chain is in place, the problem is minor.

Those safety chains are crucial to preventing serious and expensive accidents. Like any piece of safety equipment, the chains should be checked for weakness or wear and be connected properly. Lots of people cross the chains under the trailer tongue. Take it from someone who’s pretty much seen it all: Wait until your boat is touching the water before disconnecting the winch strap and the safety chain.

Frequent contributor, correspondent and friend. Randy Randall is co-owner of Marston’s Marina in Saco, Maine, and a dreamer and waterman of the first order.