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Trailer Safety Chains 101: Guide for Safe and Lawful Use on Trailers

One day, we hooked up a boat trailer that seemed to have properly latched to the ball, but we were wrong. A damaged part in the coupler caused enough play that the trailer detached from the truck on a big bump! The trailer safety chains alone kept us from losing our boat and ruining our day.

These chains are critical components of secure towing for bumper pull trailers and some fifth-wheel RVs. They help to prevent accidents and maintain the integrity of your towing setup. Today, we’re uncovering how safety chains should be used with a trailer hitch, whether there is a law for using the chains, how to connect them, and tips for quick and easy setup. 

Let’s dive in!

Are Trailer Safety Chains Required?

Only a select few states do not require trailer safety chains by law when towing a bumper pull or fifth-wheel RV, whether you cross them or not. However, in most states, it is mandatory to utilize safety chains, particularly when towing larger trailers or RVs. These laws aim to enhance road safety by ensuring that trailers remain securely attached to the tow vehicle. 

Beyond legal requirements, using safety chains is a responsible choice for anyone towing a trailer. They provide an essential backup system in case of hitch or attachment failure. This offers peace of mind and a layer of security throughout your journey. If you cause an accident and are found to have neglected to use safety chains, you will be liable.

How Many Safety Chains Do You Need On a Trailer?

The number of safety chains necessary on a trailer typically depends on the trailer’s design. Most trailers, including bumper pulls and fifth-wheel RVs, have two safety chain attachment points. Using two safety chains is a standard practice and safety measure when towing. 

Two safety chains are a backup in case one of the chains or attachment points fails. This redundancy is essential for additional stability and safety. In the event of a hitch failure or separation from the tow vehicle, both chains work to prevent the trailer from detaching and causing a potentially dangerous situation on the road.

When we had a trailer detach, one of the safety chains failed and it was only connected by the second. Without two chains, we would still have lost the boat.

Suggested Reading: Learn what articulating hitches are and if they’re the next big thing.

safety chains on trailer
It’s recommended to cross the safety chains in an “X” shape underneath the hitch and coupler.

Should You Cross Safety Chains On a Trailer?

Crossing safety chains may prevent the tongue of the trailer from digging into the pavement in case of detachment. Sometimes however there is no point in crossing the chains if they are connected at the same point on the trailer. We personally don’t think it’s critical to cross the chains, as long as they are securely attached. If a trailer comes detached, it will probably swing wildly and grind into the pavement regardless. A jack, tire or other part of the trailer will probably contact the ground and drag at some point.

Ideally, if your trailer comes detached, the chains will be short enough to catch the trailer and prevent hitting the ground. But many times the trailer design, height of the vehicle, or connection point prevents this setup. If the trailer hits the ground, some damage will occur, but preventing it from disconnecting is the primary goal.

trailer hitch
If this trailer detached it would probably drag the jack or the tire even if the chains were crossed

How to Hook Up Trailer Safety Chains

Correctly attaching trailer safety chains is a critical step in ensuring the safety and stability of your towing setup. After years of RVing, this has become second nature, but if you’re starting, you’ll want to follow the next steps to ensure a safe setup. 

start by attaching the trailer to the vehicle. Make sure any sway control and weight. Distribution systems are completely attached as well. With the trailer attached check the length of the chains to the connection point on the vehicle, you do not want them dragging on the ground. We will talk about adjusting the chain length next if they need it.

Next, attach each end of the safety chains to the attachment points on the tow vehicle’s hitch. Ensuring a secure connection is crucial, and you should fasten each chain independently. We always recommend using a connection hook that has a safety clasp or other mechanism to prevent the hook from slipping off.

Its up to you if you want to cross the chains under the trailer but the critical point is that they are connected. Simple as that!

Pro Tip: Now that you know how safety chains be used with a trailer hitch, learn the towing safety rules you should never break.

How to Double Tow Two Trailers - Triple Towing a Boat Behind Our Fifth Wheel RV - 70 Feet Long!

How to Fix Dragging Trailer Safety Chains

If you notice your trailer chains dragging or even close to the ground, you will want to fix the problem before you hit the road. One solution some drivers consider is twisting safety chains to reduce their length. However, we believe this solution is ill-advised. Doing this will weaken the chains’ structural integrity, undermining their effectiveness as a safety backup in case of a hitch failure. 

Rather than resorting to twisting, try these safer alternatives we find to easily fix the problem without causing further issues. Try adjusting the chain length to the appropriate size for your towing setup by detaching the chains (usually by a bolt) and shortening them. You can also use chain quick links or carabiners to take out some slack in the chain.

SHONAN 4.16 Inch Chain Quick Link Heavy Duty Large…
  • SPECIFICATION: This SHONAN 316 stainless steel heavy-duty locking…
  • 316 STAINLESS STEEL: This quick link connector(SNQL-01) is made…
  • MULTI-APPLICATIONS: The SHONAN Quick Link(SNQL-01) is designed to…

Take it from us, safety chains are VERY important, never forget to use them and the day something causes a disconnect you will be very thankful they exist.

Have you ever had safety chains save the day? Share in the comments below.

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Al Verwey

Friday 1st of December 2023

I was towing a small travel trailer with a minivan and only had about 5" of clearance from the road. I utilized a couple of short bungee cords across two parts of the hitch to raise the chains while still allowing them to move when turning.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 4th of December 2023

Ah yes, truckers use similar methods usually called chain keepers.

Tim Snow

Thursday 30th of November 2023

How do you utilize safety chains with a 5th wheel? Our Artic Wolf is not equipped with attachment points.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 4th of December 2023

Traditional fifth wheel hitches do not require them, I should add that to the article. Technically if you tow on a gooseneck connection you do need then however and the hitch will have them.