South Carolina 2023 boating safety course requirement law

New South Carolina Boating Law Strengthens Safety Requirements

Younger boaters will soon need to take a boating safety class to operate a boat on South Carolina’s waterways. 

On June 7, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 97-7 to adopt a bill requiring boaters born on or after July 1, 2007, to pass a boating safety course and receive a boating safety certificate before operating a boat on state waters. Boaters affected by this bill are those turning 16 years of age in 2023, along with younger boaters.

The certificate is required for boaters operating boats with 10-horsepower or larger engines. Boaters may operate boats with smaller engines, as well as paddle craft like canoes and kayaks, without a safety certificate. Younger boaters are permitted to also operate a boat without a certificate if they are accompanied by a qualified adult. 

Violations of the law come with fines of $50 to $300. Violations are not considered criminal offenses.

Why is South Carolina Focusing on Boating Safety?

South Carolina is currently one of only four US states with no boater education requirements. The new bill will add South Carolina to the majority of states that require boating safety courses for some or all boaters. 

The addition of a certification requirement is a safety measure championed by several grassroots interest groups, including Boating Safety South Carolina. 

The founders of Boating Safety South Carolina have campaigned to increase the state’s boating safety requirements since 1997 when a boating accident on Lake Murray claimed the life of their eleven-year-old son. They have been joined by other South Carolina families who have lost loved ones in boat crashes on Lake Murray and other popular waterways. 

The bill received bipartisan support once it was introduced by Senator Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms. Sen. Campsen noted that new boaters need safety instruction so they can protect themselves and others on the water, comparing operating a boat to driving a car. 

Professional organizations, like the South Carolina Boating & Fishing Alliance, also support the bill. They note that those who operate boats professionally understand the risks and champion education for those who are less experienced with boat use. Rental companies also supported the bill, as increased education for boaters is likely to result in fewer accidents and thus lower costs for these companies to maintain their rental fleets of boats and personal watercraft. 

Debate Over the Boating Safety Requirements

The recently-passed bill received bipartisan support一but, it faced opposition from some representatives, including Representative Philip Lowe, R-Florence, who spoke at length against the bill and orchestrated repeated delays of the bill’s passage. 

In April 2023, Lowe introduced an amendment that would exempt hunters and anglers from the certification requirement if they used a boat to hunt or fish and had the proper hunting or fishing license. The amendment was added in the state House but struck down in the state Senate, where senators determined it would make the law “unenforceable.” 

After much debate and three years of dedication and hard work from Representative Chris Wooten and Senator George E. Campsen, the final ruling on June 7th was 97-7. The bill was then sent to Governor McMaster’s desk for signature. 

Fulfilling the Upcoming South Carolina Boating Safety Requirements

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources currently offers two optional boating education courses. One is a six-hour in-person class, which is offered free of charge. The other is an online course with a $40 participation fee. Both classes require students to pass a test to receive certification. 

If a young boater has already taken a safety course and earned a certificate, they may not have to take an additional course in South Carolina. Young boaters in South Carolina may use a safety certificate earned in another state to fulfill the safety certificate requirement as well. The state will also recognize a U.S. Coast Guard license or merchant mariner certificate issued in the boater’s name, even if these have expired for Coast Guard purposes. 

A shorter education course for those seeking to rent boats and personal watercraft will likely be required as well. Those who pass the shorter course will receive a 30-day certificate that allows them to rent and operate watercraft in South Carolina. 

Boaters under age 18 may operate 10-horsepower or larger watercraft if they are accompanied by an adult who was born before July 1, 2007, has a boating certificate or Coast Guard license, or has completed the rental safety course. 

Boating crashes can easily become fatal. The new law seeks to reduce accidents by improving boaters’ safety and awareness. Our experienced South Carolina boat accident attorneys also support the law’s efforts to improve boating safety.

Updated on June 26, 2023

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