Boat Registration and Titling Requirements

In order to legally operate a boat in South Carolina, you must obtain a Certificate of Number (registration card) and validation decals. The Certificate of Number must be on board and be available for inspection by an enforcement officer during boat operation.

Boat Registration Exemptions:

  • Human-powered boats.
  • Boats that have been documented by the Coast Guard.
  • Boats that have been registered in another state or country and are using South Carolina’s waters temporarily.

The Certificate of Number and validation decals are obtained by submitting an application and fee to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Boat registrations are valid for 3 years.

Other Boat Registration Info

All boats are required to be titled. The only exceptions are boats that have been documented by the Coast Guard, paddleboats, rowboats and sailboards.

The DNR must be notified within 15 days if:

  • There has been a transfer of boat ownership.
  • The owner has changed their address.

The DNR must be notified within 10 days if:

  • A boat is destroyed or abandoned (the boat owner must surrender their Certificate of Number and title).

Additionally, if you lose or destroy your Certificate of Number or decals, you must apply to the DNR for replacements and submit processing fees.

Registration Numbers and Decal Placement:

  • The numbers must be applied as a decal, painted or permanently affixed to each side of the boat’s bow (boat owners are not permitted to display any other numbers in this area).
  • The number must be in bold block letters that are at least 3 inches high and in a color that contrasts with the color of the boat.
  • The numbers must be separated from the letters by a hyphen or by an equivalent space.
  • The numbers must be read from left to right.
  • Validation decals must be affixed on both sides of the boat, preceding the prefix letters of the registration number, and 6 inches following the registration number.
  • These placement requirements also apply to personal watercraft (PWCs).