South Carolina Boating Laws and Regulations
Age and Operator Restrictions
Persons 16 years of age or older may operate any boat or PWC without restrictions.
Persons younger than 16 years of age may operate:
- A boat or PWC powered by less than 15 hp without restrictions.
- A boat or PWC powered by 15 hp or more only if:
- They are accompanied by an adult at least 18 years old who is not under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or…
- They have passed a boating safety course approved by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
It is unlawful for a person to cause or allow a child over whom they have permanent or temporary responsibility to operate a boat or PWC illegally.
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 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 the 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 under age 16 must complete a boating course approved by the SCDNR to operate a boat or personal watercraft with a 15 h.p. motor or greater, unless accompanied by an adult age 18 years or older.
The operator of every vessel involved in a boating accident shall report to the 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 this state from the freshwater-saltwater dividing line seaward, and on that portion of Lake Marion and Santee Swamp west of the I-95 bridge upstream to the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree rivers during the season for hunting waterfowl.
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.
Boating – Title and Register a Watercraft or Outboard Motor in SC
In the state of South Carolina, the law requires all motorized boats and watercraft, except exempted vessels, sailboats, and all outboard motors five horsepower and greater to be titled. By law we must have your completed application and other required documents, which vary by purchase or selling situation, to title and register your boat and/or motor. When purchasing a watercraft or outboard motor, make sure it is titled/registered to the person you are buying it from.
If you are selling a boat and/or motor in South Carolina:
You must be the titled owner. If you are not listed as the owner of the title, you must complete the application process with SCDNR prior to the sale.
If you have purchased a boat or motor that has ever been titled and/or registered in South Carolina:
- Pay your property taxes in your name with your county
- Submit a paid property tax receipt in your name or notice from the county that no taxes are due with your application and other supporting documents.
If you have purchased a boat or motor out-of-state or from a SCDNR permitted marine dealer:
Property taxes will be billed by your county after being titled and/or registered with SCDNR.
Once purchased, your boat and/or motor may be used 60 days from the date of purchase, even with expired or out-of-state decals using your temporary certificate number and copies of your title or bill of sale.
Boating – Title and Register a Watercraft or Outboard Motor in SC
|Fee Amount||Type of Fee|
|$20.00||SC Boat Registration and Title – (Never been registered/titled before in SC / or previously documented)|
|$10.00||Renew Boat Registration – Annual Registration Renewal|
|$20.00||In State Change of Ownership – SC Boat Registration and Title (Only for boats that are currently registered/titled in South Carolina)|
|$10.00||Watercraft Title (unpowered vessels)|
|$10.00||Title – Sailboats without any propulsion/wind only|
|$20.00||SC Sailboats Registration and Title with propulsion: outboard, trolling motors, diesel engines, inboard|
|$10.00||New Motor Title (Never been titled before in SC or if the motor is titled in a titling state and is being transferred to SC or if the motor is not titled because it’s coming from a non-titling state)|
|$10.00||In State Change of Ownership – SC Outboard Motor Title (Only Outboard Motors that are currently titled in South Carolina)|
|$5.00||Duplicate or Corrected Boat Title (Lost, adding a lien, name changes or address changes)|
|$5.00||Duplicate Registration Card (Lost, or need more than one)|
|$5.00||Duplicate Watercraft/Outboard Motor Decal|
|5% of purchase|
|Casual Excise Tax – The fee for casual excise tax 5% of the purchase price and has a maximum of $500 if the boat and motor are purchased from same owner. When a boat is purchased as one unit, the casual excise is 5% of the purchase and has a maximum of $500.|
|6% of purchase||Casual Excise Tax – When an outboard motor is purchased as one unit, the casual excise is 6% of the purchase and has no maximum fee.|
- A $15.00 late fee is required if application for a new or used watercraft/outboard motor is not received within 30 days of purchase. The late fee is applied on the 31st day after the purchase.
- A $15.00 late fee is required if application for registration renewal is not received within 30 days after registration expires. The late fee is applied on the 31st day after the expiration date of the watercraft decal.
- A $30.00 late fee is required if application for a new or used watercraft/outboard motor is not received within 60 days. The late fee is applied on the 61st day after purchase.
- A $30.00 late fee is required if application for registration renewal is not received within 60 days after registration expires. The late fee is applied on the 61st day after the expiration date of the watercraft decal.
- A $30.00 late fee applies to S.C. permitted marine dealer if the application for a new or used watercraft or outboard motor is not received within 60 days of purchase date. The late fee is applied on the 61st day after the purchase.
The owner of a watercraft or outboard motor which has been stolen should immediately contact local law enforcement to file a report, and then the SCDNR Marine Investigations at 803-734-3856 to receive a Theft Report form. Forms can also be found at www.dnr.sc.gov/boating in the Forms section.
SCDNR Watercraft Section, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202-0167, or call 803-734-3857 M–F 8:30 AM–4:45 PM