South Carolina's Flagship University

Regulatory Pathfinder
for Coastal Development in South Carolina

Private Citizens: Docks and Piers

If you wish to construct a dock, determining which type(s) of permit(s) you need may be tricky. The federal government has regulations about activities in what they call traditionally navigable waters or waters of the United States that are implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. See the definitions section for more information about those and other definitions on this page. On a federal level, if your project is maintenance to an existing dock or repair or reconstruction of a dock damaged or destroyed by a discrete event such as a hurricane, you might be eligible for a streamlined "nationwide" permit from the federal government. You can find out more about such permitting by clicking here: Nationwide. Another type of federal streamlined permit, a Regional Permit, may be available for additions to an existing, grandfathered or previously permitted private dock. If your project doesn't qualify for streamlined federal permit, you will need to apply for an individual permit if you want to undertake construction, and should click here for information on the application process for an individual permit.

Likewise, under South Carolina state law, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) reviews actions proposed for critical areas (tidal). Thus in many cases it is likely you will need two permits, both federal and state. Information on various jurisdictional questions can be found here.

Make sure you read all the applicable rules and follow any links directing you to more regulations that are applicable to your project. Likewise, should you have any questions you should contact personnel at the Corps and/or OCRM for further information.

A private dock is a dock or facility that provides access for one family, has docking space for 10 boats or less and is not a marina.

  1. There are some general restrictions that apply regardless of which type of dock you are constructing. Click here for this information.
  2. If your subdivision or lot is covered by a Dock Master Plan (DMP), which should have been included in your lot's sale contract, your permit application will be reviewed for consistency with the DMP and OCRM's current policies and regulations before the permit will be approved. S.C. Code Regs. 30-12(A)(3)(d). Also on the general restrictions page, note there are up to two rules that may not apply to your situation based on when your subdivision or lot was created and recorded.
  3. You cannot construct or reconstruct seaward of the baseline except a) wooden walkways no wider than 6 feet, b) small wooden decks no larger than 144 square feet, c) small fishing piers both public and private that were in existence on or before September 21, 1989, and associated structures such as bait shops, restrooms, restaurants and arcades if rebuilt to same dimensions and are to be used for the same purposes and remain open to the same group of people as original structure (either public or private). S.C. Code Regs. 30-15(A) and (C)(2).
  4. Dock size is restricted based on the width of the creek on which it will be constructed. Click here for these specific rules.
  5. Storage on docks is limited to a bench-like locker no larger than 3 feet high, by 3 feet deep and 8 feet long.
  6. Walkways leading to the dock or pier cannot be more than 4 feet wide. If there is a need for handicapped access OCRM can use the American with Disabilities Act recommendations for the width of the walkway and other structural configurations.
  7. Commercial activity at a private dock is not allowed unless both activities are water-dependent and approved by OCRM. Illegal use of a private dock is grounds to revoke a permit.
  8. No live-aboard boats are allowed to be docked at private docks.
  9. Davit systems or boat lifts are allowed if the entire docking system is limited to the minimum size necessary. Typically a single family docking facility will be allowed only one lift. Hull scraping, sandblasting, painting, paint removal and major engine repair are prohibited. Lifts must be open-sided. No enclosures are allowed. Catwalks no wider than 3 feet are allowed to provide access to one side.


The square footage of a roof is considered a part of the dock's total square footage. Restrictions on dock size depend on the size of the creek: click here for information on these size restrictions. There are also specific rules applicable to private docks about roofs. They are as follows:

  1. Roofs will be permitted only on a case-by-case basis based on each application's individual merits. The existence of similar structures in the area will be considered as well as the roof may impact the view of others. Roofs that may seriously impact views will not be allowed while other, less intrusive roofs may be allowed;
  2. Roofs must be clearly shown on the public notice application drawings and included in the written description;
  3. Attics or enclosed ceiling roof storage on roofed docks is prohibited;
  4. Roofs cannot be flat. If otherwise allowed the roof height cannot exceed 12 feet when measured from the floor decking of the dock to the roof's highest point, including any ornamental structures;
  5. No rails on decks can be incorporated into the roof. No means of accessing the roof on a permanent basis, such as steps or ladders, is allowed.

For more information on building private docks please click here.

S.C. Code Regs. 30-12(A)(2).

Sources of Information

South Carolina Code of Regulations 30-15 (A), (C)(2), 30-12(A)(2)(c)

Last Updated October 29, 2010


This project was supported through a generous grant from the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium. The principal investigator is Professor Kim Diana Connolly at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Two law students, Keith Bartlett and Valerie Cochran, provided invaluable work toward project completion. Technical assistance with web design was provided by USC School of Law webmaster Tobias Brasier. Broken links should be reported to lawweb@law.sc.edu. This website is NOT intended as legal advice, and particularized analysis by professionals should be sought wherever appropriate.