South Carolina's Flagship University

Regulatory Pathfinder
for Coastal Development in South Carolina

Docks and Piers, Generally

South Carolina has a number of regulations that govern proposed and existing docks and piers. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) implements these requirements. Various federal legal requirements may apply as well. Docks and piers are the most popular method of gaining access to deep water. According to S.C. Code Regs 30-12(A), a dock or pier is a structure built over and/or floating on water and is used to provide access to water and for the mooring of boats. Because of their location, docks and piers sometimes pose navigational problems, restrict public use of the water and, under certain circumstances, possess potential for creating environmental problems.

The Pathfinder section on docks is divided in five parts. Together, these pages set forth basic requirements with respect to 1) all docks generally (this page), 2) private and joint use docks, 3) master planned community docks, 4) commercial docks, and 5) community docks. This section is not applicable to marinas. Please visit the Marina webpage for information relating to marinas.

The following standards are applicable for construction of all docks and piers.

  1. Docks and piers shall be limited to one structure per parcel and shall not restrict the reasonable navigation or public use of State lands and waters.
  2. Docks and piers shall be constructed in a manner that does not restrict water flow.
  3. The size and extension of a dock or pier must be limited to that which is reasonable for the intended use. [See the section on dock size for more information.]
  4. Docks and piers should use the least environmentally damaging alignment.
  5. All applications for docks and piers should accurately illustrate the alignment of property boundaries with adjacent owners and show the distance of the proposed dock from such extended property boundaries. For the purpose of this section, the extension of these boundaries will be an extension of the high ground property line. The Department may consider an alternative alignment if site specific characteristics warrant or in the case of dock master plans, when appropriate.
  6. Walkways leading to the dock or pier should be elevated at least three feet above mean high water.
  7. Dry storage in uplands will be encouraged in preference to moorage in crowded areas.
  8. Developers of subdivisions and multiple family dwellings are encouraged to develop plans which include joint-use docks and/or community docks at the time of required dock master plans. Dock corridors on the approved Dock Master Plan (DMP) must be shown with bearings or State Plane Coordinates on a recordable subdivision plat for the development, and recorded in the appropriate County Office of Deeds. Subsequent re-surveys or modifications to lots shall reference the dock corridors on the recorded subdivision plat and be submitted to the Department. Reference to this DMP must be given in all contracts for lot sales.
  9. Project proposals shall include facilities for the proper handling of litter, waste, refuse and petroleum products, where applicable.
  10. Where docks and piers are to be constructed over tidelands utilized for shellfish culture or other mariculture activity, the Department will consider rights of the lessee and the public prior to approval or denial.
  11. Docks cannot be enclosed by walls or screens.
  12. Docks longer than 1,000 feet over critical area are prohibited. This is inclusive of pierheads, floats, boatlifts, ramps, mooring pilings and other associated structures.
  13. Handrails, if proposed, shall be limited to a maximum height of 36" above the walkway or pierhead decking.
  14. Docks must extend to the first navigable creek, within extensions of upland property lines or corridor lines, that has a defined channel as evidenced by a significant change in grade with the surrounding marsh; or having an established history of navigational access or use. Rare geographic circumstances, such as very close proximity of a significantly larger creek within extensions of property or corridor lines, may warrant dock extension to a creek other than the first navigable creek. A creek with an established history of navigational use may also be considered as navigable. Such creeks cannot be bridged in order to obtain access to deeper water. However, pierheads must be located over open water and floating docks that rest upon the bottom at mean low tide will not normally be permitted. In exceptional cases, the Department may allow an open water channel to be bridged if current access is prohibited by other man made or natural restrictions or if site-specific conditions warrant such a crossing.
  15. This section applies to lots subdivided or resubdivided after May 23, 1993. Additionally, lots subdivided or resubdivided after June 27, 1997 must meet the minimum, local requirements to construct a habitable structure in order to qualify for a dock:
    1. To be eligible for a private, community or commercial dock, a lot must have
      1. 75 feet of frontage at the marsh edge, and
      2. 75 feet between its extended property lines at the location in the waterbody of the proposed dock.
    2. Joint use docks will be considered for adjacent waterfront properties each of which must have:
      1. 50 feet of frontage at the marsh edge, and
      2. 50 feet between its extended property lines at the location in the waterbody of the proposed dock.
      3. Lots less than 50 feet wide are not eligible for a dock.
  16. No docks, pierheads or other associated structures will be permitted closer than 20 feet from extended property lines with the exception of joint use docks shared by two adjoining property owners. However, the Department may allow construction closer than 20 feet or over extended property lines where there is no material harm to the policies of the Act.
  17. If a dock is destroyed, the dock may be rebuilt to its previous configuration so long as reconstruction is completed within five years of the date of the event unless there are extenuating circumstances justifying more time.
  18. In the event that a dock owner intends to change the use of a dock from the permitted use or non-permitted grandfathered use, a new permit must be obtained prior to the change in use. The change in use is based on the types of docks distinguished by these regulations.

A helpful brochure on building docks in the South Carolina Low Country has been published by (OCRM), and is available here.

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.