South Carolina Boating Speed Regulations


In South Carolina, specific regulations govern vessel operation speeds to ensure safety on various lakes, reservoirs, and coastal areas. These rules aim to protect both property and individuals enjoying water activities.

Lake and Reservoir Speed Limits

  • Applicable Waters: Speed restrictions apply to 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, and a designated portion of the Savannah River.
  • Speed Limit Near Structures: Vessels must not exceed idle speed within 100 feet of a wharf, dock, bulkhead, or pier.
  • Proximity to Vessels or Swimmers: Operation is restricted to idle speed within 50 feet of a moored or anchored vessel or any person in the water.

Additional Restrictions on Lake Moultrie and Other Waters

  • Lake Moultrie Restrictions: The same idle speed limit applies within 50 feet of an anchored vessel, wharf, pier, dock, or a person in the water.
  • General Waterway Restrictions: Vessels are also restricted to idle speed within 100 yards of the Atlantic coastline.

Importance of Speed Regulations

These regulations are crucial for:

  • Safety: Reducing the risk of accidents between vessels and with swimmers or individuals near structures.
  • Property Protection: Minimizing wave impact on docks, piers, and anchored vessels.
  • Enjoyment of Waterways: Ensuring all users can enjoy South Carolina's beautiful waterways without undue risk or disturbance.

Wake Surfing

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)

South Carolina Boating Safety Equipment Requirements

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

  • Requirement for All Boats: Every boat must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable type PFD for each person on board or being towed. PFDs must be in serviceable condition, readily accessible, and appropriately sized for the intended user.
  • Additional Requirement for Boats 16 Feet or Longer: Must also carry a Type IV throwable device.
  • Children Under 12: Must wear a US Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD when on board a class “A” boat (less than 16 ft. long).

Fire Extinguisher

  • Boats Less Than 26 Feet: Must have one Coast Guard-approved hand-held portable fire extinguisher if:
    • Carrying passengers for hire,
    • Construction allows entrapment of flammable vapors,
    • Equipped with a permanently installed gas tank (including tanks fastened in a way that impedes immediate removal).
  • Boats Over 26 Feet: Additional fire extinguishers are required. Contact SCDNR for detailed regulations.

Navigation Lights

  • When Required: Must be used between official sunset and sunrise to ensure visibility to other vessels.


  • Coastal Waters Requirement: Vessels operating in coastal waters must have flares as part of their safety equipment.

Bells and Whistles

  • Vessels Under 65.6 Feet (20 Meters): Required to carry on board a whistle, horn, or other sound-producing device to signal position in periods of reduced visibility.
  • Vessels 65.6 Feet (20 Meters) or More: Must have both a whistle or horn and a bell, ensuring they can effectively communicate with other vessels.

Personal Watercraft Regulations in South Carolina

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Each individual on a personal watercraft (PWC) is mandated to wear a US Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD, ensuring safety and compliance with state laws.

Operation Hours and Safety Features

  • Operation Times: Personal watercraft may not be operated between sunset and sunrise, ensuring safety during low visibility conditions.
  • Safety Equipment: Must be equipped with a self-circling or lanyard-type engine cutoff switch to prevent runaway PWCs if the operator falls off.

Operating Restrictions

It's prohibited to operate a personal watercraft in a manner that causes it to leave the water completely while jumping the wake of another vessel within 200 feet of the vessel creating the wake. This rule is in place to prevent accidents and injuries related to wake jumping.

Marine Events

Permit Requirement

Any marine event involving more than 20 boats requires a permit to ensure safety and coordination. This includes regattas, races, parades, and other gatherings on the water.

Boater Education

Mandatory Boating Course

Operators born after July 1, 2007, must complete a SCDNR-approved boating course to legally operate a boat or personal watercraft with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater. Exceptions apply as detailed in the legislation.

Reporting Accidents

Accident Reporting

Operators must report any boating accident resulting in significant injury, death, or substantial property damage to SCDNR. This requirement helps in accident investigation and improving boating safety measures.


Use Restrictions

Airboats are strictly prohibited on public waters of the state seaward of the freshwater-saltwater dividing line, with further restrictions on specific water bodies to protect ecosystems and reduce noise pollution.

Titling & Registration for Watercraft in South Carolina

Titling Requirements

In South Carolina, the sale of used watercraft or outboard motors requires the seller to present a valid South Carolina Certificate of Title. This title, free from erasures, white-out, or marked-through information, should be in the seller's name. If the title document is compromised, a duplicate title must be requested. Mandatory titling applies to all sailboats, outboard motors with 5 horsepower or greater, and all other watercraft with the exception of documented vessels, windsurfers, and manually powered watercraft using oars or paddles.

Registration Process

Any watercraft propelled by mechanical means on navigable waters must be registered with the state, in addition to being properly titled in the owner's name. This registration is crucial for the legal operation of the watercraft in South Carolina waters.

Reporting Theft

If a watercraft or outboard motor is stolen, the owner is advised to:

  1. Immediately report the theft to local law enforcement authorities.
  2. Contact the SCDNR Marine Investigations Unit at 803-734-3856 to obtain a Theft Report form. This form is also available online in the Forms section at

Contact Information

For inquiries, titling, and registration submissions:

  • SCDNR Watercraft Section
  • Mailing Address: P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202-0167
  • Phone: 803-734-4DNR (Monday – Friday, 8:30 AM – 4:50 PM)

Vessel Sewage Regulations in South Carolina

Illegal Practices

South Carolina law strictly prohibits certain practices regarding the disposal of sewage from vessels to protect public health and the environment:

  • Marine Sanitation Devices: It is illegal to have a toilet on board without an approved marine sanitation device (MSD).
  • Discharge from Habitation Vessels: Boats used for habitation and moored at private docks cannot discharge raw or treated sewage.
  • Houseboats in Freshwater: The discharge of treated or raw sewage from houseboats into freshwater bodies is prohibited.
  • No Discharge Zones: Discharging treated or untreated sewage within designated No Discharge Zones (NDZs) is against the law.

Designated No Discharge Zones in South Carolina

  • Broad Creek (Hilton Head Island)
  • Lake Hartwell
  • Lake Keowee
  • Lake Murray
  • Lake Thurmond
  • Lake Wylie

These areas have been specifically designated to prevent pollution and protect water quality, making them safe for recreational activities and aquatic life.

What Boaters Can Do

To contribute to the preservation of South Carolina's waterways, boaters are encouraged to:

  • Use portable toilets or onshore/floating restrooms when available.
  • Ensure their vessel is equipped with a compliant Marine Sanitation Device (MSD).
  • Utilize pumpout facilities at local marinas to properly dispose of sewage.

Additional Resources and Contact Information

For detailed information about vessel sewage regulations, resources for compliant sanitation practices, or to find pumpout locations, boaters can reach out to:

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