In South Carolina, vessels may not be operated while upon the waters of Lake Greenwood, Lake Hartwell, Lake Jocassee, Lake Keowee, Lake Marion, Lake Monticello, Lake Murray, Lake Robinson, Lake Russell, Lake Secession, Lake Thurmond, Lake Wateree, Fishing Creek Reservoir, Parr Reservoir, or the portion of the Savannah River from the Interstate 20 Savannah River Bridge to the New Savannah River Bluff Lock and Dam in excess of idle speed within 100 feet of a wharf, dock, bulkhead, or pier; or 50 feet of a moored or anchored vessel or person in the water. (Sec. 50-21-870)
Vessels may not be operated on Lake Moultrie and all other waters in excess of idle speed within 50 feet of an anchored vessel, wharf, pier, dock, or a person in the water. Vessels may not operate in excess of idle speed within 100 yards of the Atlantic coastline. (Sec. 50-21-870)
No person may “wake surf” in excess of idle speed within two hundred feet of a moored vessel, wharf, dock, bulkhead, pier, or person in the water. Wake surf means to operate a vessel that is ballasted in the stern so as to create a wake that is, or is intended to be, surfed by another person. (Sec. 50-21-870)
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
All boats must have a U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable type PFD for each person on board or being towed. Each PFD must be in good condition, readily available and the proper size for the intended wearer. In addition, boats 16 feet in length or longer must carry a Type IV throwable device. In South Carolina, any person under age 12 must wear a US Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD when on board a class “A” (less than 16 ft. long) boat.
One Coast Guard approved hand-held portable fire extinguisher must be aboard each boat less than 26 feet if the boat is carrying passengers for hire or if the construction permits the entrapment of flammable vapors or if it has a permanently installed gas tank, including gas tanks that use any type of fastener that would hamper the immediate removal of the tank from the boat. Additional extinguishers are required in boats larger than 26 feet. Contact SCDNR for complete regulations.
Navigation lights must be on between official sunset and sunrise.
Flares are required for vessels in coastal waters.
Vessels less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) in length, including PWC’s, are required to carry on board a whistle, horn or sounding device.
Vessels 65.6 feet (20 meters) or more in length are required to carry on board a whistle or horn and a bell.
In South Carolina, each person on a personal watercraft must wear a US Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III or V PFD.
A personal watercraft may not be operated between sunset and sunrise and must be equipped with a self-circling or lanyard-type engine cutoff switch.
When operating a personal watercraft, one may not operate in a manner so as to leave the water completely while crossing (jumping) the wake of another vessel within 200 feet of the vessel creating the wake.
A permit is required for any marine event with more than 20 boats. For permits or information on these and other marine events, contact Marine Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 12559, Charleston, SC 29422, 843-953-9378.
In South Carolina, boat operators born after July 1, 2007 must complete a boating course approved by SCDNR to operate a boat or personal watercraft with a 10 h.p. motor or greater. There are exemptions for age and boating certifications. See 50-21-95 for a complete list of exemptions.
The operator of every vessel involved in a boating accident shall report to SCDNR whenever the accident results in loss of life, loss of consciousness, medical treatment beyond first aid or disability in excess of 24 hours, or property damage in excess of the minimum amount as set by the USCG. For more information, call 843-953-9378.
Airboats are prohibited on public waters of the state seaward of the freshwater-saltwater dividing line. Additional restrictions on specific bodies of water can be found in S.C. Code Section 50-21-860.
Titling & Registration
The seller of a used watercraft or outboard motor in South Carolina must produce a South Carolina Certificate of Title in his/her name at the time of sale. Titles are valid until the watercraft or outboard motor is sold, traded or exchanged. A title with erasures, white out or information marked through is not valid. The owner must request a duplicate title. Titles are required for all sailboats, all outboard motors 5 horsepower and greater, and all other watercraft except: documented vessels, windsurfers, and those propelled by human power with oars, paddles or similar devices.
Watercraft propelled by any mechanized means on navigable waters must be registered in addition to being titled in the owner’s name.
The owner of a watercraft or outboard motor which has been stolen should immediately contact local law enforcement to file a report, and then SCDNR Marine Investigations at 803-734-3856 to receive a Theft Report form. Forms can also be found at
SCDNR Watercraft Section, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202-0167, or call 803-734-4DNR M–F 8:30 AM–4:50 PM
For more information on boating, please refer to our Boating Handbook, visit
It is Illegal:
- To have a toilet installed aboard your boat without a marine sanitation device.
- For any boat used for habitation moored at a private dock to discharge raw or treated sewage.
- For houseboats to discharge treated or raw sewage in freshwater.
- For any vessel to discharge treated or untreated sewage in a No Discharge Zone.
Designated No Discharge Zones
- Broad Creek
(Hilton Head Island)
- Lake Hartwell
- Lake Keowee
- Lake Murray
- Lake Thurmond
- Lake Wylie
What Can You Do?
To protect humans and the environment, boaters should: use portable toilets, utilize onshore or floating restrooms, and have a Marine Sanitation Device installed on board and use a pumpout at a local marina.