Massachusetts : Safety by City
- Cape Cod
- Fall River
- Martha’s Vineyard
- New Bedford
Chatham, Massachusetts, fills the southeastern corner of Cape Cod, known as the “Elbow.”
It’s surrounded by water on three sides and includes an island of its own.
Cape Cod is shaped like an arm being flexed, so people refer to each city by its location on the arm.
That’s why Chatham is at the elbow.
The central location makes it a perfect place to visit the fist or the forearm while still being in a bustling New England town mixed with historic charm, shorelines for miles, lighthouses, and modern amenities.
Chatham is known as a luxury retirement community, offering an element of sophistication while still offering public amenities to tourists.
Whether you want to stroll down Main Street or walk on the beach to see the sunrise, you have an abundance of things to see and do – combined with three lighthouses and a windmill.
This historical side of Chatham is a must-see, mixed with several museums, including the Shark Center.
The town brings an element of badassery, having been the interception point for wireless transmissions during World War II, and a museum bearing the inventor of the wireless telegraph, Guglielmo Marconi.
Warnings & Dangers in Chatham
OVERALL RISK : LOW
Like all other Cape Cod towns, Chatham has a low risk. Violent crime numbers are in the single digits, and even thefts are extremely low for such a tourist-based area. Add to that the volume of things to do, and this is a safe, fun, and unique getaway.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority offers local routes with extended options throughout the Cape. The CapeFLYER Railroad offers rides to and from Boston. Taxis and rideshares are available, along with private chauffeured rentals or traditional rental cars.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
The pickpocket or purse snatching risk is low here, with no incidents reported in 2021. Even car break-ins are relatively low, with just three reported in 2021. You shouldn't let your guard down because of those low numbers. It just proves that using smart travel safety tips pays off.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
Chatham doesn't get as much as in other parts of the Cape, but it is exposed more to hurricanes, tropical weather, and rip tides. Severe thunderstorms are also a concern, with flooding being a risk during heavy storms. The town's emergency management plan and hazard mitigation details are available to read on the official website.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
Most years, Chatham doesn't have a single robbery, which means this is yet another low risk for visitors.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
The risk here is low overall, with such a small population and residential area. Lone wolf acts of terrorism would be the biggest concern. During the summer of 2022, a hate group distributed antisemitic flyers around the city. The police department immediately began working with federal authorities to track down the group members.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Text message scams and small withdrawal scams are the top concerns here. You should be very conservative when sharing your phone number with any business, especially online. The small withdrawal scams start with charges of $1 on your bank or credit card statements. Most people won't bother tracking that down. Turns out, the scammers are just seeing if you will report it. They'll wait awhile and then charge a large amount several months later. Always report any suspicious activity to your bank immediately. You should also consider only using a local travel agency for rental homes or condos, or you could be susceptible to rental scammers.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women will love every aspect of Chatham, including the safety details. While Hyannis is more of a party town and beach, Chatham is a little more family-friendly and calm.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
Several PFAS ("forever chemicals") levels were high during 2021, leading to an immediate shutdown of the impacted wells and notification of residents. All actions and communication followed the PFAS laws of Massachusetts. It's a great example of why you should check water quality just before any trip to confirm there are no warnings issued. The full 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations.
Safest Places to Visit in Chatham
Chathaminfo.com is the Chamber of Commerce website listing things to do, places to stay, and restaurants.
The best part of the website is the Official Guidebook, which can be downloaded online without giving away any personal information.
Chatham is a window-shopping dream come true with charming and unique boutiques that offer bargain trinkets, nautical clothing, fine jewelry, and everything in between.
Main Street is a mile long and could easily take a day of exploring by itself.
Nine parking lots near downtown offer free parking, some with time limits.
Chatham is home to three lighthouses and a windmill.
- Chatham Lighthouse: Located at the point of the elbow, this lighthouse is open for tours and is near Lighthouse Beach.
- Stage Harbor Lighthouse: This lighthouse is best viewed from the beach or the water, but it’s a private residence, and tours aren’t allowed.
- Monomoy Point Lighthouse: You’ll have to take a ferry trip to get to this lighthouse, but tours are few and far between. You can also ask, but don’t get your hopes up.
- Chatham Windmill: This historic grist mill is open for tours in the summer.
- Chatham also has a variety of beaches and two ponds to explore.
- Lighthouse Beach: Most dangerous water current at the beach, and you must avoid parts of the water where swimming is banned.
- Harding’s Beach: Family-friendly beach with calm waters and great amenities.
- Ridgevale Beach: Small beach with few amenities but does have a seasonal snack bar.
- Cockle Cove Beach: Ideal for kids with calmer water.
- Forest Beach: Primarily a locals beach, there are no lifeguards on duty.
- Pleasant Bay Beach: Also known as Jackknife Beach, this location is in a cove, making it another safe place for children and untrained swimmers.
- Schoolhouse Pond: Residents only.
- Oyster Pond Beach: Saltwater upon with rafting, warm water with a calm surface.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is just off the coast but still part of Chatham.
The 3,500 acres are split between the peninsula and nearby islands, with boat rides required to get to the lighthouse island.
Anglers will love the fishing and shellfish options here, while wildlife lovers can see animals above, below, and in distant waters.
Bring your camera for several scenic viewpoints along the way.
The Chatham Marconi Maritime Center is known as “The World’s Greatest Coastal Station.”
You’ll learn how Chatham Radio in this remote area became a global powerhouse of communication from wartime to aviation warriors like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.
The Shark Center has two locations on Cape Cod, with one in Chatham.
This educational experience shows you the life of sharks, explains their predatory nature, and offers a look at the impact of global warming on Cape Cod.
Places to Avoid in Chatham
We barely scratched the surface above of the things to do in and around Chatham.
Avoid “winging it” when visiting here because some of the top museums and attractions require reservations and filling up early.
Some places even have a waiting list starting a year in advance.
If I’ve learned anything researching Cape Cod, it’s that you should go in with a game plan with as much booked as you can, from lunch to boat trips.
Even campsite reservations fill up fast.
You won’t need to worry about parts of the town too dangerous to visit.
There aren’t bad neighborhoods or risky roads.
Parts of the town won’t allow visitor parking, and some beaches or resorts are for residents/members only.
Avoid thinking it’s okay to part somewhere illegal and nobody will notice.
This isn’t that kind of city.
Illegally parked cars are ticketed at best and towed at worst.
Please follow the local guidance on beach safety.
The unique position of three sides being surrounded by water offers great ocean options, but it also leads to very dangerous waters.
I’ve listed the most family-friendly beaches above, but those are also the best for people who aren’t strong swimmers.
Heed all warning signs of marine life, rip tides, and other dangerous currents.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Chatham
- Most local cities here have their own police department, and Chatham is one of them. Chatham Police Department is also on Facebook @Chatham-Police-Department and Twitter @Chathampolicema.
- Chatham Emergency Management uses Smart911 to notify residents and visitors about severe weather, road closures, or other safety issues. You can sign up on the Emergency Management section of the city’s website.
- Here are some phone numbers to add to your contact list on your phone. The Local Storm Information Hotline is (508)945-1213. To speak to an officer about an incident that doesn’t require 911, call (508)945-2791. You can report crime tips by calling (508)945-8846, and you don’t have to leave your name.
- Shark sightings have been more common around Cape Cod. One was spotted in Chatham just 20 yards offshore in August 2022. You can download the Sharktivity app, provided by the people who run the Shark Center, to check for daily shark sightings. If you see seals, don’t go near them. That usually means sharks are nearby looking for a meal.
- This part of the cape can be warmer than inland areas, and the water stays warmer too. This means a late summer or early fall trip could help you avoid the crowds while still enjoying beach days. Some seasonal businesses will close up the first few weeks of September, but Chatham is one city that has more businesses open than not on Cape Cod.
- You’ll need a fishing license from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, but you get the shellfish license as a town permit. Seasons vary for different shellfish, and shelling is only permitted at certain locations. The Shellfish Division of the city’s website has great details.
- Chatham offers various events throughout the year, which can lead to road closures and parking bans. Check the city’s website and social media sites, along with the police department’s social media, so you don’t park in the wrong spot or get lost.
- Many beaches here won’t have large parking lots, even if you have the right parking permit. Spots are on a first-come, first-served basis, so consider renting a bicycle or having a backup beach plan before you head out.
- Chatham is a very bikeable city, and many people opt to ditch the car and ride on two wheels. You should get a helmet and pads for proper safety gear use. Be respectful of other people on trails and always alert them that you are coming up behind them and then pass on their left. When you’re on the road, you must obey all the same rules as if you were driving a car.
- This part of the Cape can become shrouded in fog often, especially during the off-season or in springtime. While the beaches will stay open, boating tours might be limited. You should always confirm the weather permits an outdoor activity before you go through the trouble of driving, parking, walking, or biking.
So... How Safe Is Chatham Really?
It’s incredibly safe.
Just four violent crimes were reported in 2021, and every year since 2016 has seen 10 or fewer violent crimes.
Just one violent crime in 2021 was against a stranger, and the other three happened in private homes.
Fewer than 50 thefts happened in 2021, giving it a substantially lower risk than the national average.
However, the risk will feel higher in the summer when the crowds are large.
Standard safety practices go a very long way here.
Chatham’s placement at the elbow means there will be more sharks in the water, and the Monomoy Lighthouse is especially likely to get seals (which means shark potential).
You don’t have to avoid the water because of sharks, but it’s wise to only go waist-deep in the water.
You should also review the bugs of Cape Cod, as species like the Greenhead fly won’t respond to bug spray and will still bite you.
Get educated about jellyfish stings, sunburn treatment, and dehydration, so you can avert a costly trip to urgent care and treat yourself.
Chatham is a wonderful part of Cape Cod, and safety shouldn’t be a concern for your trip as long as you follow the advice here.
How Does Chatham Compare?
- Visas - The U.S. State Department issues visa or visa waivers for international guests. You'll also need a passport that doesn't expire for at least six months. You can travel throughout Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket without showing your visa.
- Currency - This is an expensive part of an already expensive region, and the U.S. Dollar is the only currency accepted. You can exchange currency here, but you'll pay lower fees if you do it at home before you leave. Buy your nautical clothing before you come because the clothing stores are overpriced here. Save the money to buy unique items you can't get anywhere else.
- Weather - You'll get all four seasons here, but there isn't as much snow in the winter as in other parts of the Cape. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt even in summer for cooler nights and mornings. Water shoes are important to protect your feet, especially on the sharp-shelled beaches of Chatham. Comfortable walking shoes and hiking boots will help you explore more places without getting blisters or sore feet.
- Airports - Hyannis is home to Cape Cod Airport, and from Chatham, that drive will take about 30 minutes. Boston Logan International Airport is about two hours away. Chatham only has a municipal airport, so those aforementioned airports are your best options. Be advised that Cape Cod Airport does have limited destinations.
- Travel Insurance - You'll be offered a travel insurance option at most hotels, resorts, and inns here to protect your investment. That will cover any delays, cancelations, or weather disruptions. If you are getting travel insurance for your flight, just ensure you aren't overpaying for overlapping coverage.
Chatham Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|