Know the “Rules of the Water” in South Carolina to Avoid a Boating Accident

Numerous Boats on the WaterOur beautiful state of South Carolina is full of lakes, rivers, waterways, and coastlines. Millions of visitors and local residents enjoy being on or near the water all over the state. Myrtle Beach alone sees a staggering fourteen million visitors per year, and there are plenty of other local spots scattered across South Carolina where people can get out on a beach or in a recreational boat to enjoy a day or more of relaxation. But did you know that there are rules to obey while on the water that many people aren’t aware of? Learning how to be safe on the water can help you make sure that you avoid some of the most common boating accidents.

Rules of the Water

Just like operating an automobile, here are many laws and regulations in place for boat operators designed to enhance safety for everybody. Some of these rules may seem obvious, but others may not be obvious to first-time boaters, so it’s critical that boaters stay informed. When you’re operating your boat, make sure you follow the rules:

  • Obey no-wake zones. If you’re within 100 yards of the Atlantic coast or within 50 feet of a dock, wharf, pier, anchored or moored vessel, or a person in the water, slow down. You may not operate your vessel above idle speed in these areas. There may also be posted “no-wake zone” signs near loading areas, landings, or other busy areas that you must obey. Always pay attention to your wake, as you are responsible for its effects.

  • Avoid vessels with dive flags. A red flag with a white diagonal stripe indicates that there is a diver in the water. For the safety of the diver(s), stay at least 50 feet away from the boat, or if the waterway is too narrow, slow to a no-wake speed and only proceed with extreme caution.

  • Obey law enforcement commands. If a United States Coast Guard, Sheriff, Department of Natural Resources, or other law enforcement vessel issues a lawful order you must obey it. Prepare to heave to (come to a complete stop) immediately and be boarded if requested to do so.

  • Obey right-of-way. For sailboats, whose courses approach one another and there is a risk of collision, the boat which has wind on the port side must yield to the other. For powered vessels, if the other boat is to the starboard (right) of your craft, you must yield. If the courses are to meet head-on, each vessel is to alter course to starboard.

  • Do not exceed your vessel’s capacity. Know how many people and how much weight your boat or vessel can safely hold. If you’re unsure, it should be listed on the hull plaque of the vessel.

Other Boating Safety Laws

There are a number of other laws designed to protect recreational boaters and reduce injury or death out on the water, as well. With around 370,000 acres of open water in South Carolina, it’s important that you’re familiar with the following boating laws, too, as they are very similar to common motor vehicle laws you may already know about:

  • Boating under the influence (BUI). Just like operating a motor vehicle on our state’s roadways, it’s illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Punishments for misdemeanor BUI can result in up to three years of jail time for repeat offenders, as much as $6,000 in fines, loss of boating privileges for two years, plus mandatory boating safety and ADSAP (Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program) classes. Felony BUI (when someone is seriously hurt or killed) could result in up to twenty-five years of jail time, loss of boating privileges for three years beginning upon release, and as much as $20,000 in fines. Alcohol and boats do not mix.

  • Reckless operation. Similar to a reckless operation charge for a motor vehicle, when someone operates with willful disregard for safety, he or she may be charged with reckless operation.

  • Negligence. Negligent operation can be charged if you cause an accident by failing to maintain a proper lookout, race or otherwise drive your boat too fast, or disobey posted signs, including no-wake zones.

To learn more about the laws, regulations, and other “rules of the water,” you can check with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, take a course from the United States Coast Guard, or visit the United State Government Printing Office’s website to read the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations Title 33 on Navigation and Navigable Waters.

What to Do if You’ve Been Hurt in a Boating Accident

If you’ve been hurt as a result of the recklessness or negligence of another boater, you may be able to receive compensation for your injury, including recovery of medical bills, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Contact the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger to get the legal representation that you need today. To discuss your situation with a skilled attorney, call us at 803-790-2800 for a free case evaluation. Our offices are conveniently located in Columbia, and we proudly serve clients from the Sumpter area, Florence, and all over South Carolina.