2020 Boat Registration Renewal Changes

  • Effective January 1, 2020 all registrations will be renewed every year instead of every 3 years.
  • The expiration month of your watercraft decals will be the month the personal property taxes on your boat are due to the county along with the $10.00 annual registration renewal fee.
  • Beginning January 2021, your annual registration renewal fee of $10.00 will be billed by your county along with your property taxes.
Boat Registration Renewal Changes Frequently Asked Questions

Currently Registered Boats: Current numbers and decals will remain valid until they expire. Counties won’t begin billing current owners for the annual registration until January of 2021, and only then once their current registration is due to expire. Property tax notices and registration renewal fees will be due the month the registration decals expire. So, for a registration renewed in 2019, that owner’s tax bill should not reflect a charge for annual registration until 2022.

Tax Questions: The change to annual registrations may change the look of your yearly tax notice from your county of residence. Counties will begin issuing the new, prospective, tax notices for boats registered within the county beginning in 2020. Individual counties will determine and implement changes to their tax collection processes as directed by the new law. Please note that questions about a boat owners’ individual tax bills MUST be directed to that county’s Auditor or Treasurer’s Office. SCDNR Boating Office assistants will NOT be able to assist owners with questions about their individual tax bills/notices.

Current Owners: The expiration month on the vessel’s current decal will continue to be the month that property taxes are due on that boat. For example, if the boat registration expires in June, then both property taxes and annual registration fees for the coming year will be due in June. (Again, current three-year registrations will be valid until the year of their expiration).

New Registrations (new boats or used boats coming from out-of-state): New registrations will be based on the DATE OF SALE. For example: Upon registration, a boat purchased in January will receive a registration decal valid through the following January, regardless of when the owner applies for the registration (late fees will apply to registrations initiated more than 30 days after the date of purchase). A tax bill for the year covered by the registration will then be mailed by the county, and in subsequent years the county will mail a bill that includes the annual registration renewal fee. Failure to title and register your boat in a timely manner will shorten the duration of your decals. If you purchase your boat in May 2020 but do not title/register until October 2020, your decals will be dated in May 2021.

In-State Changes of Ownership (transfer of an already-titled/registered SC boat from one owner to another): After purchase, the new owner will need to visit their county tax office FIRST to pay the property taxes due for the coming year. The new owner can then apply for title and registration in their name using the paid tax receipt and other required documents. (They will need to apply within 30 days of purchase to avoid late fees.) The registration date will be based on DATE OF SALE. The date of sale will determine the month your property taxes are due and your registration will be renewed. For example, if you purchase a boat in May, your property taxes and registration renewal fees will be due in May. Failure to title and register your boat in a timely manner will shorten the duration of your decals. If you purchase your boat in May 2020 but do not title/register until October 2020, your decals will be dated in May 2021.

Non-taxable Boats Titled and Registered in S.C.: SCDNR will continue to mail renewal notices for boats that are non-taxable (boats that a county has determined have reached the end of their taxable life or dollar threshold). Their expiration month will not change, and the renewal notices will become annual.

Purchasing a Used Boat: SCDNR strongly recommends that prospective buyers research the registration and tax status and any potential recorded liens of any S.C.-registered boat BEFORE purchasing it, using our free online look-up service. Get the facts before you buy! General information and commonly asked questions regarding S.C. boating laws, titling and registration can also be found at this location.

Selling your Boat: It’s important to notify SCDNR in writing within 30 days if you have sold your boat. Not only is it required by law but it provides notification to SCDNR and your county that you no longer own the boat. This will prevent you from receiving any future property tax notices.

Change of Address: You should notify SCDNR in writing of any address changes. This ensures you will receive all future mailings from SCDNR and your property tax notice will be sent by the correct county.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the amount of the registration fee for boats increasing?

No. SCDNR is not changing the amount charged for boat registration fees and has not requested any change in the fee amount. It will be $10 annually going forward, rather than $30 every three years – the same TOTAL amount as before.

The expiration month of your boat's current registration decal will be the month property taxes and registration renewal fees (for the upcoming year) are due, and most boaters will pay the annual fee as part of their new tax bill. An EXCEPTION will be boats that a county has determined no longer have any taxable value. SCDNR will continue to mail registration renewals for those boats directly to those owners.

Are taxes on boats going up?

The change in the way taxes are levied on boats that was requested by the counties and approved by the S.C. General Assembly does not affect the AMOUNT of taxes paid on a boat. It only affects WHEN they are due to the county.

Questions or comments about the amount of tax due on your boat, the value of your boat for tax purposes, or the personal property tax rate in your county can best be answered by your county tax officials. SCDNR is not a taxing authority.

Will my boat’s registration numbers change annually?

No. We sincerely apologize for any confusion on that point. Some of the language used in the news release may have given the wrong impression about that. When a boat is registered in S.C., the registration number for that boat stays the same for as long as it remains registered in S.C. The new annual decal and registration card issued for a boat when your county of residence notifies SCDNR that the taxes and registration renewal fee have been paid will include the boat’s registration “number” on them (as they do now). State law also requires that owners ensure that the registration number of their boat is clearly marked on the bow of the boat – that requirement also has not changed.

I just put a current three-year registration on my boat, will it be good next year?

Yes, 2021 and 2022 watercraft decals are valid until their expiration dates. Only property taxes will be due on your boats until the expiration month and year of your current decal.

What is the reason for these changes?

Essentially, this change was requested by county governments to assist them in collecting the taxes due on boats. Under the old system, having multiple years of unpaid back taxes due on boats with expired registrations was often a problem. Counties needed a more efficient system for collecting the taxes due on boats within their jurisdictions. (This is a separate issue from the AMOUNT of taxes charged for boats or other personal property, and whether that is a good way to fund the costs of services provided to county residents -- public safety, fire protection, schools, libraries, etc.

Questions or comments on those topics would be best addressed to your county or state elected officials).

How can I avoid being charged taxes for a boat I no longer own, or purchasing a boat with overdue taxes due?

It is very important for boat owners to notify officially SCDNR within 30 days of selling or disposing of a boat that is registered in their name. Not only is failure to do so a violation of the law, it can also cause a tax bill to be generated by the county for property you may no longer own. Likewise, purchasing a used boat with back taxes due on it can cause a big headache for the new owner. You can avoid this scenario by using SCDNR’s free “SC Boat Facts” online lookup to check the registration and tax status of a potential used boat purchase BEFORE you buy. This and other boat titling and registration information can be found on the SCDNR website at: www.dnr.sc.gov/boating.html.