Boating in South Carolina

It is essential for anyone operating a boat (also referred to as a “vessel” or “watercraft”) to understand the laws they’re against while in the water. This guide is intended to give insight on the required boating equipment, basic rules/regulations, DNR safety checks, and criminal offenses regarding boating in South Carolina. *A lot of information was drawn from* to make certain that we are providing the correct information to our fellow boaters.

Required Equipment to have Onboard in South Carolina:

There are several factors to consider before heading out to sea. One of which, is the equipment that you are legally required to have on your boat in South Carolina…

  1. A tittle and registration. Much like your car, you’ll want to have these with you at all times.
  2. A fire extinguisher is also mandatory to have stored on your boat, just to be safe.
  3. Flares are another requirement for a boat. Keeping the flares in watertight storage (plastic bin) is a smart way to keep them in working order in case you need to use them.
  4. PFD’s (Personal Floatation Device) or lifejackets, are essential for everyone on the boat. The number of people riding should equal the number of lifejackets on board – no questions asked.
  5. Moving right along, a bell, whistle, and working horn are also necessary to have. After all, it is important for others to notice and acknowledge your presence (if need be).
  6. A kill switch is another safety requirement to have on board your boat. These cords, also called “engine safety cut out switch,” are important to have in case the captain gets thrown out of their seat. Pulling this cord will immediately cut off the engine so that the boat stops moving and people have time to get out of harm’s way.
  7. Last but not least, there are several mandatory lights to have on your boat consisting of side lights, and a masthead light. More information about each light can be found by clicking here.

Rules/Regulations to Follow on the Water in South Carolina:

  1. Don’t exceed idle speed if you are within 50 feet of a moored/anchored vessel, a wharf, a dock, a bulkhead, a pier, or a person in the water.
  2. Don’t exceed idle speed if you are within 100 yards of the Atlantic coast line.
  3. Don’t go within 50 feet of a vessel if it shows a “diver down” flag (red with a diagonal white stripe). If the waters are narrow, stay as far out of the way as possible to avoid an accident.
  4. Don’t obstruct a pier, dock, a boat ramp, or an access area to the facilities.
  5. Always maintain a proper look out and travel at a safe speed to avoid any collisions.
  6. Everyone should be seated when the boat is in motion.
  7. Yield right of way to a vessel that you are passing, and if two vessels are crossing paths, the vessel that has the other vessel on its starboard (right) side must yield right of way.
  8. The boats hull should be marked for both weight and number of people. Do not exceed these limits.
  9. When passing a boat that is stopped by enforcement, maintain idle speed to pass them.

DNR Safety Checks: What to Expect

DNR, the Coast Guard, Sheriff’s Office, or any Law Enforcement Agency, is able to stop your boat to perform a safety check. This has happened several times to multiple people, so it’s important that you have all of the required equipment on board (see above) to prevent any issues. When these checks are performed, they shouldn’t have any reason to believe you are committing a crime. However, there is a law in place that requires you to stop the watercraft to permit boarding if the law enforcement vessel activates its blue lights. Our best advice is to abide by the law and have all of the necessary equipment on board when you’re out on the water. Just because you’re far away from the rest of the world, doesn’t mean the rules have changed.

Criminal Offenses on the Water:

  1. BUI – Sounds like DUI, doesn’t it? Well, it means the same too. A BUI stands for “Boating Under the Influence.” A person can be charged with Boating Under the Influence (BUI) if there’s probable cause to believe that the person was operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both.
  2. Negligent Operation of a Boat – Operating a boat at more than idle speed in a no wake zone, failing to maintain a proper lookout for other boats or persons, operating too fast for conditions on the water, racing, or pulling a skier through a designated swimming area can each constitute negligent operation.
  3. Reckless Boating – A person can be charged with reckless boating if the person boats in a reckless manner. Examples include (but are not limited too): Weaving through congested vessel traffic at more than idle speed, jumping the wake of another vessel within two hundred feet of that vessel, crossing the path or wake of another vessel when the visibility around the other vessel is obstructed, and maintaining a collision course with another vessel or object and swerving away in near to the other vessel or object. Two offenses for reckless boating can result in suspension of boating privileges all together.

All in all, it’s important to be safe on the water. It’s exciting to feel as though you’re away from the rest of the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. There are still plenty of rules/regulations to follow to ensure you and your friends/family stay out of trouble. Let us stay cautious and courteous of those around us. South Carolina is home to many boat owners… let’s keep it that way!