Don’t Forget The Trailer Bow Safety Chain

A fellow boater shares his harrowing launch ramp experience.

Hi, I’d like to share my VERY close call with my boat that occurred back when I lived in Massachusetts.

I am not a fisherman, but I use any excuse to get out on the water. So when my friend asked me if I fished off my boat, my reply was, “Fishing just makes a boat smell funny, but, if you bring the fishing gear, I’ll bring the boat.”

Bow safety chain
The importance of a bow safety chain comes to light in this boater’s story. Tiedown Engineering

He accepted my offer, and a few days later he, his wife, and yours truly headed to the ramp. It was a nice ramp, long shallow grade, with docks on either side of the ramp. I had never been to it before, but as a seasoned veteran of boat launches I saw nothing out of the ordinary. We were the only ones there so I swung around wide, and lined up the trailer on the ramp, backed down a bit, secured the tow vehicle and we threw all the fishing gear from the SUV into the boat.


My friend was going to launch the boat, and I was going to take the helm of the boat. I showed him the proper sequence for operating the winch, and releasing the bow safety chain. I wanted to get as close to the water as possible as my friend hadn’t had much experience backing a trailer so I hopped back into my SUV, released the e-brake, and just shifted into neutral, letting gravity do the work.

As I got closer to the water I applied the brakes, and the most sickening sound came from the winch. *WEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! *The winch handle was spinning wildly, I forgot to throw the winch ratchet back to retrieve, and the safety chain hadn’t been put back on. The boat was rolling off it’s trailer, and it wasn’t even close to the water!!!

Thinking quickly I shifted the SUV into reverse and floored it, stuffing the trailer back under the runaway boat, miraculously, somehow once the tension was off the winch strap the ratchet engaged, and the winch suddenly stopped…TWANG, the boat suddenly stopped rolling off it’s trailer, still several feet from the water.


Phew! I paused to regain my composure, secured the SUV, got out to make sure there wasn’t anything else I neglected to do before she floated off her trailer. My friend, who had been off to the side, watching helplessly, walked up to me, “Nice save”, he said. “Yeah, that was close,” I replied.

The rest of the fishing excursion, including the retrieval was uneventful, no further problems, no fish either!

On the way home I made a mental note, from now on, no matter what, the safety chain remains on at all times, and is the LAST thing to be unsecured before she rolls off her trailer. That was 20+ years ago, and I’m happy to report that there has never been a launching “incident” since!


School of Hard Knocks
Class is in session!

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