Boating in Charleston, SC: Everything You Need to Know
Charleston is the largest city in South Carolina and perches nineteen feet above the scenic Atlantic Coast. Here, the tidal Cooper River and Ashley River estuaries converge to create the Charleston Harbor. With nearly fifteen percent of the subtropical city comprised of waterways, you’re sure to have a good time on your next boating adventure.
Not sure where to start? Don’t worry; we’ve got it all covered, from where to boat, what to do, sandbars to check out, and what you need to take a boat out on the water legally.
Where can I boat in Charleston, SC?
The twelve-foot-deep Charleston Harbor was created by the confluence of the Cooper, Ashley, and Wando Rivers. The Harbor is what initially attracted early settlers in 1680; two years later, it was declared the colony of Charleston’s official port of entry. In 1862, the Civil War broke out at the entrance of the Charleston Harbor when Fort Johnson’s militia fired at Fort Sumpter.
- Remley’s Point Public Boat Landing. You can find this boat ramp at the western end of 5th Street. This is one of the easiest landings in Charleston to get into, but it is busy, and there are strong currents in the water.
- Maritime Center. This full-service marina allows boats up to 120 feet long to launch and dock near Historic Downtown Charleston. You can find it at 10 Wharfside Street, Charleston, SC 29402.
The Ashley River is part of the Charleston Harbor Watershed and is filled with salt marshes, cypress swamps, numerous species of fish, birds of prey, and other wildlife, including dolphins. Much of the river’s banks are dotted with pre-Revolutionary War plantations. Boaters and paddlers can travel up or downstream, depending on the day and the tide.
- W.O. Thomas, Jr. Boat Landing. This ramp is not close to many beaches or the Harbor, but it offers plenty of space and gorgeous waters. You can find this ramp at 4354 Bridge View Dr. in North Charleston.
- Wappoo Cut Boat Ramp. This boat ramp technically puts you at the end of Wappoo Creek, but it is a short jaunt to the end of Ashley River and then the Charleston Harbor. This ramp can be found at the end of Tranquil Drive, right by the Wappoo Creek Bridge.
The Cooper River was primarily used as the main transportation route, especially when early rice plantations were established in the colonial period. The East Branch and West Branch make up this river, with the former starting near the Francis Marion National Forest and the latter rising in Moncks Corner. The US Navy now uses this river, and many of the early plantations were subdivided into residential housing and industrial properties.
- Bushy Park Boat Landing. This landing features a fishing dock, ample parking, and more. It is best to land your boat only during high tide here, so consider that. You can find this ramp at 500 Bushy Creek Park Road.
The Folly River is a broad, flat, and slow-moving river that meanders through the Stono River Watershed, consisting of marshes, swamps, and low-lying coastal fields. The river ends by Folly Beach in the Atlantic River.
- Folly River Boat Ramp. This access point is located on Center Street, just over the Folly River Bridge by Folly Beach.
This picturesque creek runs right through the center of Mount Pleasant in Charleston. It is formed by multiple trickling tributaries near Bowman Road and ends three miles later in Charleston Harbor. From the 1940s to the 1970s, anglers heavily fished the creek for shrimp. That practice has largely been shut down to regulations that protect local wildlife. Manatees and dolphins are often seen in Shem Creek, as are egrets, osprey, and other birds of prey.
- Shem Creek Boat Landing. Shem Creek Boat Landing is best suited for smaller watercraft but offers beautiful views and excellent fishing. You can find it at 109 Simmons Street in Mt Pleasant.
The Stono River is a tidal channel and a vital component of the Intracoastal Waterway. It separates Johns Island from James Island and the mainland of Charleston, South Carolina. The Stono River was home to the historic Stono Rebellion in 1739, where enslaved people gathered to rebel and headed south, killing more than twenty people who stood in their way in an attempt to reach St. Augustine, Florida. There, a group of Spanish people offered freedom and land to fugitive slaves.
- John P. Limehouse Landing. This landing is next to the John F. Limehouse Memorial Bridge on Johns Island and the Wolf Island Camping Area. It offers boaters some spectacular views of the scenic Stono River. Currents can be fierce and fast depending on tidal conditions, so use caution.
- Sol Legare Public Boat Landing. You can find this landing at the end of Sol Legare Road on James Island. This provides access to the Stono River between Abbapoola Creek and Green Creek.
Sandbars in Charleston
Sandbars are beloved by paddle boaters and small boat campers, but they are tricky obstacles to be avoided by larger boats. The sandbars can shift with the tides and rip currents, especially in Charleston. This means that even native locals can have difficulty locating and maneuvering around them. In particular, the sandbars are only visible at low tide in this area. If you are boating during high tide, use the utmost caution.
Shem Creek is the most notorious waterway in Charleston for its ever-changing sandbars. However, you should note that Santee River, north of Charleston, has several near the mouth. Many of these are the size of football fields.
Sullivan’s Island is the prime location if you wish to see, anchor, or even camp on a sandbar.
What is required on a boat in Charleston, South Carolina?
Boat operators in a 15 HP or greater vessel under the age of sixteen must be accompanied by an adult (someone eighteen years old or older) or pass a boater safety course and carry a boater education card.
If you want to boat in Charleston, you will need a US Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (PFD) per person on the watercraft. Children under the age of twelve must wear their PFD at all times. Boats that are sixteen feet long or more need a Type IV throwable device.
Personal watercraft can only be operated during daylight hours, between sunrise and sunset.
All boats must be equipped with lanyard-type or self-circling engine cutoff switches.
All boats that are 39.4 feet or shorter need an efficient sound-producing device—Boats 39.4 to 65.6 feet long need a whistle and a bell.
“Boats must not exceed an idle speed when they are within fifty 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,” according to Sec. 50-21-870.
What is there to do on a boat in Charleston, SC?
Charleston, SC, is the perfect place to enjoy almost all forms of boating-related activities. Here are a few popular boating activities to try in Charleston:
- Saltwater fish – South Carolina and the Atlantic Coast is home to dozens of saltwater fish, including croakers, spadefish, sea bass, herring, eels, shad, sturgeon, cobia, mackerel, flounder, sea trout, weakfish, tarpon, drum fish, and varies species of shrimp, oysters, crabs, and more.
- Freshwater fish – here are a few tips to help you avoid spooking your fish away.
- Scuba dive
- Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP)
- Enjoy a drink or dinner aboard your boat
- Boat camp.
- Ride tow-toys
- Enjoy nature or birdwatch – Charleston is home to manatees, dolphins, eagles, falcons, egrets, pelicans, gulls, beavers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, deer, foxes, weasels, and more. Be sure to always follow these six sustainable boating practices.
- Check out delicious dockside restaurants in Charleston. Take your dinner aboard your boat, or sit on the restaurant’s dock and enjoy the view.
Are you ready to explore the breath-taking waterways of Charleston, South Carolina? With a local Boatsetter boat rental, you can visit Charleston’s best destinations with your friends and family.