Boating is one of the best ways to spend time outdoors in Charleston. In our 2023 Charleston Boating Guide, you’ll find up-to-date information about restaurants with docks, islands where you can anchor, and much more.
Boating. Whether you’re at the helm or lounging on the bow, it’s a great way to spend time outdoors in Charleston. While local residents can get on the water any time of year, now that spring has sprung, Charleston’s waterways are seeing more boat traffic; and, over the next few months, there will be lots of boats on the water on sunny weekend afternoons.
Our 2023 Charleston Boating Guide covers everything you need to know to have a fun and relaxing day on the water this year. We’ve also included some important safety considerations for boating on Charleston’s inland and coastal waterways, as well as a list of weekends it might be best to avoid Charleston’s boating scene unless you are extremely comfortable at the helm.
Charleston Boating: What You Need (and Want) to Know in 2023
While many people find boating intimidating, it really shouldn’t be—as long as you plan ahead. With this in mind, here’s everything you need to know about boating in Charleston, SC in 2023:
- Restaurants You Can Visit By Boat
- Beaches You Can Visit By Boat
- Planning Your Day on the Water in Charleston
- Safety Considerations for Boating on Charleston’s Inland and Coastal Waterways
- Busy Weekends in the Charleston Harbor
Restaurants You Can Visit By Boat
We’ll start our 2023 Charleston Boating guide with a list of the restaurants you can visit by boat. Surprisingly, there aren’t that many. While we’ve covered all of the waterfront restaurants with docks in Charleston that we know, we’re sure there are more as well—and if you know of other restaurants you can visit by boat in Charleston, we encourage you to let us know so we can add them to the list.
All of the restaurants on Shem Creek are accessible by boat. While some have their own docks for customers, those that don’t are just a short walk from the Public Day Dock. Currently, the restaurants on Shem Creek include:
- Red’s Ice House
- Saltwater Cowboys
- Shem Creek Crab House
- Tavern & Table
- Vickery’s Bar & Grill
- Water’s Edge
- Wreck of the Richard & Charlene
Along with Shem Creek, Isle of Palms is one of the other main areas with restaurants that are accessible by boat—via the IOP Marina. While many of the restaurants on Isle of Palms are within walking distance of the IOP Marina, those located on the Intracoastal Waterway at the marina include:
- Islander 71 Fish House and Deck Bar
- SaltWorks Dockside Deli
Charleston boaters have a few other options for docking for lunch or dinner as well. These options are spread out around the Charleston Harbor (and points slightly farther north and east), and include:
- Bowens Island Restaurant (between James Island and Folly Island)
- California Dreaming (on the Ashley River)
- Charleston Crab House (on the Wappoo Creek)
- Marina Variety Store Restaurant (at Charleston City Marina)
- The Kingstide (on Daniel Island)
- The Reel Bar and Charleston Harbor Fish House (at Charleston Harbor Marina)
Beaches You Can Visit By Boat
Next up for our 2023 Charleston Boating Guide are the beaches that are only accessible by boat. Due to Charleston’s unique coastal landscape, there are several beaches situated on barrier islands that most vacationers (and most permanent residents) never get to see. But, if you have a boat, all of these beaches are easily accessible—just make sure you plan for the tides and you know how to anchor your boat safely.
The Charleston beaches that are only accessible by boat include those on the following islands:
- Bull Island (north of Isle of Palms)
- Capers Island (north of Isle of Palms)
- Cat Island (on the Wando River)
- Drum Island (under the Ravenel Bridge)
- Morris Island (north of Folly Island on the Charleston Harbor)
- Otter Island (south of Edisto Island)
- Wolf Island (on the Stono River)
To find the best place to anchor, you can start with Google Maps’ satellite view. This will allow you to see where each island’s beaches are located. But, you will also need to check the depth chart to make sure you find a safe place to make your approach, and it’s always a good idea to consult a local captain who can point you toward the perfect spot for a relaxing and secluded beach day.
Planning Your Day on the Water in Charleston
Due to Charleston’s unique geography and its coastal location, all days on the water should be planned in advance. While a day of boating with calm seas and clear skies can make lasting memories, getting caught in a storm or dealing with high winds or a four-foot swell can be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Fortunately, these conditions are easy to avoid the majority of the time. While there is always a possibility that the weather will change unexpectedly, these days the marine weather forecasts for Charleston tend to be pretty accurate. Plus, there are lots of free phone apps—including Wind Tracker, Windy, and Tides Near Me—that you can use to get a good idea of what you can expect in terms of wind, weather, and water conditions throughout the day.
With this in mind, here are some tips for planning your day on the water in Charleston:
- Check the Forecast – As we just mentioned, it is extremely important to check the forecast for all Charleston boaters. Even if it’s sunny and calm at home, the conditions could be very different in the Charleston Harbor. Check the conditions throughout the entire time you’ll be on the water; and, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, be willing to plan your boat outing for another day.
- Prepare for the Weather – A little rain isn’t an issue for most boaters; and, on a hot summer day, a light sprinkle can be refreshing. But, if there is a chance of a light rain, you still might want to bring a jacket so that you don’t get soaked. On hot Charleston summer days, sun protection is a must, and all captains, crew members, and passengers should have plenty of fluid onboard to stay well hydrated.
- Plan for the Wind, Swell, and Tide – If your boat has an engine, you’ll be able to go wherever you want regardless of the wind, swell, and tide. On a sailboat or paddle boat (i.e., kayak), this might not be the case. Even if you have an engine, you will burn a lot more fuel going against the tide or a strong wind than you will running with it.
- Go Early – The Charleston Harbor and Charleston’s inland waterways tend to get much more crowded as the day passes. By mid-afternoon on a warm summer’s day, there will be lots of boats all over the Harbor. But, if you go early, you may still be able to get the beach all to yourself.
- Have an Alternate Plan – If you’re boating on a busy day, you may find that the beach is more crowded than you’d like, or that there are no berths available at the restaurant where you were planning to eat lunch or dinner. To avoid ending up with nothing to do, it’s a good idea to have an alternate plan. Is Capers Island too crowded, then consider heading slightly farther up the ICW to Bull Island. Are all of Shem Creek’s restaurants packed? Then try calling ahead to a restaurant on the other side of the Harbor.
Safety Considerations for Boating on Charleston’s Inland and Coastal Waterways
In addition to these planning considerations, it is important to keep some safety considerations in mind as well. While boating generally shouldn’t be dangerous, it can get very dangerous when mistakes are made. Here are some safety tips (among many others) to consider when boating in the Charleston area:
- Know When You’re the Give-Way Vessel – The rules of the water dictate which vessel should give way when two vessels are on a collision course. But, the rules also state that it is ultimately all boaters’ responsibility to avoid a collision. So, while it is important to know when you’re the give-way vessel, it is also important to pay attention and know when you need to make an evasive maneuver.
- Follow the Requirements for Safety Equipment Onboard – All boats should be equipped with the safety equipment that the U.S. Coast Guard requires (at a minimum). Among other things, this includes a life jacket for everyone onboard (including youth life jackets for children) and a throwable Type IV personal floatation device (PFD).
- Adhere to Your Boat’s Capacity Limit – All recreational boats have capacity limits, measured both in terms of total number of occupants and total weight onboard. An overloaded boat is a dangerous boat, and taking too many passengers is risky for everyone onboard.
- Know Where You’re Going – Even if you are exploring an island you’ve never visited, it is important to know where you are going. Plan your route in advance, and make sure you will not be boating into shallow waters unexpectedly. The Charleston area has lots of sandbars—it’s even possible to run aground in the middle of the Charleston Harbor. Many of the smaller channels off of the ICW get shallow very quickly as well.
- Never Drink and Boat – Finally, never drink and boat. Boating under the influence is illegal—and for good reason. While it is fine for passengers to enjoy some drinks responsibly, captains and crew members need to be sober and alert at all times.
Busy Weekends in the Charleston Harbor
Finally, we’ll close our 2023 Charleston Boating Guide with some tips for avoiding busy weekends. Special events and holidays can bring lots of boats to the Charleston Harbor—to the extent that many casual boaters will be uncomfortable being on the water.
We’ve gotten past one of the busiest weekends for Charleston boating already. This was the weekend of Charleston Race Week, which was in late April. Some of the other weekends less-experienced boaters may want to avoid include:
- Cooper River Bridge Run (April 1, 2023)
- Charleston Dragon Boat Festival (May 6, 2023)
- Memorial Day Weekend (May 27-29, 2023)
- Independence Day Weekend (July 4-6, 2023)
- Labor Day Weekend (September 2-4, 2023)
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