South Carolina Jet Ski Laws: A Cheat Sheet With All The Details

Jet skis are a great way to spend time on the water in the summertime and create some memorable times with family and friends. In order to have a great time, you will need to know the laws for riding a jet ski according to the state you reside in. Rules and regulations can vary from state to state and it is a need-to-know in order to be able to enjoy your time on the water.

Anyone 16 years of age or older can operate a Personal Watercraft without any restrictions in South Carolina. Anyone under the age of 15 can operate a PWC as long as it is powered with less than 15 horsepower. They can operate one with higher horsepower as long as an adult at least 18 years of age, that is not under the influence, is supervising them.

It is important to be aware of the following regulations and laws for riding a jet ski on the water within the state of South Carolina. By doing so you are responsibly following the law and that will guarantee you have an adventurous and stress-free time on your jet ski with family and friends.

The Basics

Who Can Operate a Personal Watercraft

When it comes to the age of those who can operate a personal watercraft vessel, they must be 16 years of age or older to operate it without any restrictions.

Those who are younger than 16 years of age can operate a PWC as long as it is powered with less than 15 horsepower.

If they wanted to operate something with a bit more horsepower they are allowed to do so as long as an adult at least 18 years of age is supervising them.

This adult also has to be cognizant and not under the influence to supervise.

Find fuel selector switch on your personal watercraft

Being able to locate your fuel selector on your PWC can help make sure you do not become stranded without any fuel.

  • When you have turned off your PWC make sure to use the position “Off”
  • You can use “On” when you are underway
  • If you are underway and you have run out of fuel you can switch it to the “Reserve” position to help you get to shore
  • Don’t forget to turn the switch back to “On” once you finish refueling your PWC

Navigation Rules

There are two terms to help you better understand the concept of these rules!

Stand-on vessel: This is the vessel that must maintain its course and speed

Give-way vessel: This is the vessel that has to take early action in order to avoid any head-on collisions by changing their course, stopping, and slowing down

A powerboat and a sailboat will be used as an example.

To get an exact idea of what you would be looking at when experiencing this kind of situations here is a visual (Turn to page 9 within the PDF).

Click Here

Meeting Head-On
Power vs PowerNeither of the vessels are stand-on vessels. They should keep to the right.
Power vs SailThe powerboat is the give-way vessel, and the sail boat is the stand on.
Crossing Situations
Power vs PowerThe give-way vessel is on the left side of the operator’s port, and the vessel on the right side is the stand-on vessel.
Power vs SailThe powerboat is the give-way vessel while the sailboat is the stand-on one.
Power vs PowerThe vessel that is overtaking the other one is known as the give-way vessel. The one that is being overtaken is called the stand-on vessel.
Power vs SailThe vessel overtaking the other is called the give-way vessel. The one being overtaken is called the stand-on vessel.

Nighttime Navigation

Navigational lights required to be turned on between sunset and sunrise and during any other time where it may be harder to see. There are four common navigational lights that you are likely to see on the vessel and those are: sidelights, sternlights, masthead lights, and all-around white lights.

  • Sidelights – these are red and green and are only visible if another vessel is approaching the boat from the side of head-on
  • Sternlight – This is simply a white light that is only visible from behind the vessel
  • Masthead Light – This white light can shine from both sides and forward. This light is required on all vessels that are power driven.
  • All-Round White Light – This light can be created if combined with a masthead and a sternlight that almost all vessels can see from any direction

Environmental Considerations

It is important to keep your environment clean and cared for. Without taking good care of your surroundings you soon won’t have brisk, clear waters to go boating or jet skiing on.

Please be sure that the water you take your jet ski in is at least 30 inches deep. Taking your PWC in shallow water can disrupt any of the aquatic life that may be beneath the water.

It can also get sucked up into your pipe, which will cause some damage to your PWC but also the environment.

By operating your PWC at a slow speed can help you avoid causing any erosion.

Do not dock your PWC near a beach that has reeds or grasses. Even docking your PWC in a dock can cause some damage.

Be really careful when you are fueling your jet ski near the water. If you spill some oil or gasoline into the water that can be extremely damaging to the living creatures that reside in the water.

Laws and Regulations

Before You Go Out Into the Water You Must:

Register Your Vessel

To legally operate your vessel you must have a South Carolina Certificate of Number registration and validation decals. The only exceptions to these rules are:

  • Non-motorized vessels
  • Vessels documented with the U.S. Coast Guard
  • A vessel with registration from another state or country that is being temporarily used in South Carolina

Your registration card must be on board with you as you are operating the vessel in case enforcement stops to verify and inspect you.

The decals must be shown as so:

  • Each number has to be painted, applied onto your vessel as a decal, or placed to be shown on both sides of the bow
  • The numbers must read from left to right on both sides
  • Each number must be in block letters and three-inches high
  • The color of your numbers must also be in contrast with the background of your vessel
  • The letters have to be separated from the numbers with a space or a hyphen
  • There cannot be any other numbers shown on the bow

Hull Identification Number

A Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a 12-digit number that is assigned by the manufacturer to vessels built after 1972. They help be able to determine the difference between multiple vessels.

In case your vessel is stolen you should write down your HIN number and put it somewhere safe.

Fees For Registering Your Boat

New registration and Title $40.00
Registration Renewal$30.00
Transfer Boat Registration and Title $16.00
Watercraft Title (sailboat)$10.00
Transfer Motor Title $10.00
Duplicate Titles $5.00
Duplicate Card or Decals $5.00 each
Late Fee (31 st day-60th day)$15.00
Late Fee (61st day and thereafter)$30.00

Required Equipment

Personal Flotation Devices

Every person must wear a personal flotation device that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. They must wear their personal flotation device while on board the PWC. An inflatable personal flotation device is not permitted on board a PWC.

Type 1Offshore Life Jackets This vest can turn an unconscious person in the water to face up in the water. It was made for rough waters and for situations where rescue might take a long time.
Type 2Near-Shore VestsThis vest is fit for calmer waters and faster rescues. If you were to wear this while unconscious it may not be able to turn your face up in the water.
Type 3Flotation AidsThis vest can also be a full-sleeved jacket and it is great for calm waters and fast rescues. This will definitely not turn your face up in rough waters. This is generally worn for water sports.
Type 4Throw able DevicesThis type of flotation device is a cushion or ring buoys and are typically used to throw at someone in trouble. They are not made to last for long hours in the waters, or non-swimmers, or the unconscious.
Type 5Special-Use DevicesThis type of flotation device was made for activities like kayaking, water-skiing These typically look like white water vests, deck suits, and personal flotation device hybrids.

Navigation Lights

When the visibility of your surroundings is near restricted you will need to turn on your navigation lights. these navigation lights are typically turned on between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

Power-Driven Vessels When Underway

The lights required on a vessel like this one is:

  • Red and green sidelights that can be visible from at least 2-miles away, and at least a mile away on a clear, dark night.


  • An all-round white light that can be seen from at least two miles away on a dark, clear night. The lights must be 3.3 higher than your sidelights.

Unpowered Vessels When Underway

Lights required for this vessel are:

  • Red and green sidelights that can be seen from two miles away. The sternlight must also be visible from 2 miles away.


  • You can bring on board a lantern or flashlight that shines white light.

All Vessels When Not Underway

ALL vessels must show a white light in all directions if they are anchored outside a mooring area between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

Fire Extinguishers

It is the law in South Carolina for all vessels to have a Type B fire extinguisher on board if one of the following conditions are present in your vessel:

  • Fuel tanks that have been permanently installed
  • Closed living spaces
  • Closed storage compartments that have combustible or flammable items stored within it
  • Closed compartments under the seats of your vessel where fuel tank may be placed

Your fire extinguisher should be placed somewhere where it can be easily accessible in case of an emergency.

Ventilation Systems

The main purpose of a ventilation system is to prevent any explosions to be had and with a properly ventilated PWC or boat there is less of a chance of that life-threatening explosion.


  • If the situation called for a sound signal and your engine is not muffled properly they might not be able to hear your cries for help
  • There are some South Carolina lakes that forbid any excessive or loud noises to be heard from boats or PWCs

Operating Your PWC While On The Water

Speed Regulations

If you fail to follow the speed regulations provided for PWCs, then it can result in possible injury, damage to your PWC, or unnecessary inconvenience.

You cannot operate your PWC in excess of “Idle speed” if you are within 50 feet of the following:

  • A person in the water
  • A moored or anchored PWC or boat
  • A pier, dock or wharf (a level quayside)

You must keep your vessel at “idle speed” when near a boat with a flashing blue light.

Alcohol and Drugs

This is a simple rule: Don’t Drink and Boat!

It is against the law in South Carolina to operate a moving vessel or a vessel that happens to be under sails on the water if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Your penalty for failing to follow this law is a fine of up to $6,000 and you can even be subjected to three years of imprisonment. Your privilege to go boating will also be suspended for up to two years.

Felony Boating Under the Influence can carry a penalty fine of up to $25,000 and 25 years of imprisonment.

Anyone operating a vessel is considered to have given their consent to a breath, blood, and urine test for any indication of them being under the influence.


In the terrible event of a PWC or boating accident you must:

  1. Stop the vessel at that moment
  2. Assist the person who was injured
  3. Give, in writing, the name of the person, their address, and the vessel identification number to the owner of the property that was damaged

You can call the SCDNR at 1-800-922-5431 in case of the person operating the vessel is in a boating accident.

Negligent and Illegal Operation of Your PWC

To be aware of what is considered to be a negligent or illegal operation of your PWC, here are the following examples:

  • Chasing, disturbing or even harassing wildlife around the area
  • Weaving your PWC through a populated or trafficked area
  • Letting passengers swim nearby the boat landing or ramp
  • Being unnecessarily close to another boat when crossing its path
  • Letting passengers ride on any part of the PWC where they are at risk of falling overboard
  • Having your PWC leave the water completely if you are passing within 200 feet of another PWC or boat
  • If you swerve at the last second to avoid a collision with another PWC
  • Towing another person on water skis or something similar, and towing them in a way where they are likely to collide with another object, in which, that might cause them harm

Discharge of Trash, Waste, and Hazardous Substances


When it comes to charging trash, it is illegal to dump plastics or garbage into any federally controlled or even state waters. You have to keep your trash on board, sealed and contained to where it will not fall out.


The discharge of waste must be done through a wastewater holding system that will prevent any waste from reaching the water. South Carolina forbids discharge of any treated or untreated sewage into their clear waters.

Hazardous Substances

It is illegal to dump oil or hazardous substances into the water. If you want to be able to dump oil, you can do it at a reception facility.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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