South Carolina kayaking laws are set and governed by the Department of Natural Resources and the sheriff’s office. Department of Natural Resources enforcement officers, and any other law enforcement agents may enforce those kayaking rules and regulations.
South Carolina is home to 14 major reservoirs covering nearly 370,000 acres of water. Combined with their rivers and lakes, South Carolina is a natural hub for watersports. It’s no surprise that South Carolina is a popular state for kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding.
Here’s a summary of what you need to know about South Carolina kayak laws.
Not a Lawyer Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. More importantly, I am not your attorney. This article is not legal advice. If you desire legal advice, consult a competent, licensed attorney in your area.
South Carolina Kayaking Laws Summary
- South Carolina Kayaking Laws – South Carolina law considers kayaks and canoes to be vessels, the same as all other watercraft.
- South Carolina Kayak Registration – Unpowered kayaks and canoes do not need to be registered in South Carolina.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – All vessels equipped with any motor must be registered with the Department of Natural Resources. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
- Kayak Operator Licensing in South Carolina – Operating a kayak does not require any operating license in South Carolina.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – All operators under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult or have their own boating safety certificate.
- Kayaking BUI Law – South Carolina has a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law that applies to all water devices, including kayaks and canoes. In South Carolina, a BUI charge can be applied for being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any combination that impairs the operator. (see below for further details)
- Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All vessels must be equipped with a wearable Type I, II, III or V PFD for each person on board. (see below for kayak and canoe specifics)
- Kayak Lights Law – All vessels must have, at least, a lantern with a white light in between sunset and sunrise.
- Kayaking Sounding Devices – All vessels under 39.4 feet in length must carry an efficient sound producing device. (see below for further regulations)
- Kayaking VDS Law – All vessels 16 feet or more in length, when used on coastal waters, must carry USCG approved day and nighttime visual distress signals.
That only summarizes South Carolina boating laws applied to kayaking and canoeing. The details are more in-depth and specific. Read on to find out how to paddle legally in South Carolina.
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South Carolina Kayak Registration
Do you have to register a kayak in South Carolina? No. Kayaks and canoes without motors are exempt from registration. – South Carolina Boating Exempted Vessels
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in South Carolina? Yes. All motorboats must be registered. Outboard motors with 5hp and above must also be titled. Boat registrations are good for one annual year.
South Carolina Vessel Titling: The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources dictates that motorized vessels and sailboats (excluding kayaks and canoes) must be titled. Outboard motors with 5 or more horsepower must also be titled.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Boating Page – Online Boat Registration Renewal
Related Article: Paddle Board Registration
South Carolina Kayaking Operator Education Laws
Do you need a license to kayak in South Carolina? No. South Carolina only requires that operators of vessels with 15hp or more who are under the age of 16 have a boating safety certificate or be accompanied by someone over age 18.
Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in South Carolina? An approved boating course must be completed by anyone under the age of 16 who is operating a vessel with more than 15hp. Or, they may be accompanied by someone over the age of 18.
All operators of motorized vessels over 15 hp under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older or have their own boating safety certificate.
South Carolina Kayaking OUI Laws
Can you get a DUI on a kayak in South Carolina? Yes, you can get a DUI on any watercraft in South Carolina. In South Carolina, it’s against the law to operate a vessel while impaired or intoxicated due to alcohol or drugs. You can get the equivalent of a DUI, a BUI (Boating Under the Influence) in South Carolina with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%.
Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?
South Carolina Kayak Life Jacket Laws
Do you need a life jacket to kayak in South Carolina? Yes. All vessels must have one Type I, II, III, or V USCG-approved PFD for each person on board. The PFDs must be readily accessible and of the proper size.
South Carolina PFD Details:
- All vessels must be equipped with a wearable, USCG approved life jacket for each person on board or being towed.
- Life jackets are considered serviceable when free from tears, rot and punctures. All fasteners must be attached and functional.
PFD Age Laws
What age do you have to wear a life jacket in South Carolina? Life jackets must be worn by all youth 12 and under on any vessel less than 16 feet in length.
Type IV Throwable PFD
Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in South Carolina? Possibly. All vessels over 16 feet in length, including some kayaks and canoes, must have a Type IV throwable on board.
Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)
South Carolina Kayaking Lights Laws
What lights do I need on my kayak at night? All non motorized vessels, including canoes and kayaks, must have a lantern with a white light available to be exhibited in time to prevent a collision.
South Carolina Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a whistle on a kayak in South Carolina? Yes. All vessels less than 39.4 feet must carry an efficient sound producing device.
Mechanically propelled vessels less than 39.4 feet in length follow the same rules.
The best “sounding” device for kayakers and canoeists is a whistle attached to your PFD in a place that’s quick and easy to deploy.
Here’s what we consider to be the best whistle for kayaking.
VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices
All vessels 16 feet or more in length, when used on coastal waters, must carry USCG approved day and nighttime visual distress signals. Boats of smaller sizes have varying rules.
All vessels less than 16 feet in length, when used on South Carolina’s coastal waters, must carry VSD signals suitable for night use.
Only vessels longer than 16 feet must carry VSD signalling devices during the day.
South Carolina Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws
Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in South Carolina? No. Even if you have a trolling motor on your kayak, if the fuel tank is of open construction, you aren’t required to have a fire extinguisher.
Regardless of the law, we recommend carrying a small class B-I fire extinguisher if you have a trolling motor on your kayak or canoe. The worst thing in the world is a fire on a boat with no way to put it out, especially if you’re far from the shore.
Additional South Carolina Kayaking Laws Resources
Boating Law Enforcement
South Carolina officers of the Department of Natural Resources and any other law enforcement official may enforce South Carolina’s boat and water safety laws.
As always, USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters throughout South Carolina.