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Boating the ICW in South Carolina

South Carolina is home to some of the most spectacular sections of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and offers a generous helping of picturesque, historic and entertainment treasures. Running from the North Carolina border at Little River Inlet to the Savannah River at the Georgia border, South Carolina’s ICW stretches a graceful 235 miles. It calls to boaters, and anyone who has cruised the ICW, no matter their destination, will tell you that getting there is half the fun.


Tips and Advice for Boating the South Carolina Intracoastal Waterway

There’s nothing particularly difficult or scary about cruising the South Carolina ICW. But if you want to ensure a good time and smooth sailing, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:


Respect the Rock Pile

The Myrtle Beach stretch of the ICW is also home to the infamous Rock Pile. It’s a treacherous segment that’s the bane of many first-time cruisers. Fortunately, the bottom along most of the ICW is soft mud or sand. However, there is a small section through Myrtle Beach that has a rocky bottom and abrupt ledges that extend along the sides. What makes things problematic, is that none of the rocks are visible at high tide. However, the ones along the edges are easily seen at low tide.


We’re happy to tell you that running aground in most of the ICW is a nonevent – aside from bruised pride. And usually only requires you to wait for high tide, or a simple tow off, and you’re on your way. However, running aground in the Rock Pile will likely damage your boat. The good news is that once you’ve cruised through the area, you’ll see that there’s plenty of depth in this section and you only need to stay in the middle of the channel.


Know your bridges

The length of time it takes to cruise the ICW depends on your destination, your boat, your cruising style and, yes, bridge openings. You’ll need a listing of bridge locations (statue mile on ICW) with opening times and restrictions, as well as clearance when the bridge is closed. If you don’t have one, pick up a cruising guide such as the Waterway Guide, Atlantic ICW edition. Also make certain that you know your boat’s air draft (the distance from the surface of the water to the highest point on your boat), to determine when you even need an opening. And keep a close eye on the tide boards at each bridge that show the clearance depending on the level of the tide.


Stay in the channel

Keep a close eye on that magenta line on the charts of the ICW. They’re for you to use as a guideline between the red and green markers of the Waterway. It’s especially helpful on long stretches or where two bodies of water connect. BUT, remember that the line is an aide, and not the final word. That’s why you must take temporary buoys very seriously. Diligent captains have run aground where things have changed from the magenta line that is indicated on the chart. That’s why the numbered red and green marks that line the shoreline of the Waterway are our friends.


Additionally, when going south, the “red, right, returning” rule is not always the true to follow. There are exceptions like when the waterway crosses an inlet or enters a river system. It can be very confusing if you’re not paying close attention. Additionally, the red ICW markers move to the left side of the river channel when you’re traveling toward the ocean. Later, when you re-enter the waterway, the reds are back on the right.


Must-Stop Spots on the ICW

What makes for an ideal stop along the South Carolina ICW? Great people, great food and plenty to do. Here are our favorite stops:


Charleston’s Historic District has long been a favorite vacation spot for boaters. It’s one of the city’s earliest established districts – and remains one of the busiest today. Like a beautiful time capsule, it’s home to more than 1,400 distinct historic buildings, including churches, businesses, factories and homes, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. And even though it’s a National Historic Landmark, this neighborhood is anything but stuffy. It’s teeming with quaint shops, eateries and attractions. We think the best way to see everything is to simply stroll down Meeting Street, Broad Street, and King Street, absorbing the energy and history.


Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, in Mt. Pleasant, is a fascinating stop for boaters and landlubbers alike. It’s the perfect mix of the history of the military and water vessels of all types. There are three different museum ships that you can walk through and explore on a self-guided or docent-led tour. One ship, the ship the USS Yorktown, is the site of a Medal of Honor museum, 25 displayed aircraft and other exhibits. The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum also has exhibits onshore, as well as a snack shack, cafe and gift shop.


Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach along the ICW, is a totally unique shopping, dining and entertainment venue. In addition to an endless selection of restaurants and shops, it’s home to the Alabama Theatre, the only live theatre in North Myrtle Beach. Its lineup of talent is always impressive. If you’re looking for a more intimate atmosphere, the House of Blues is also on-site and showcases live music and delectable local fare. So you don’t miss a thing, check out Barefoot Landing’s Calendar of Events.


Myrtle Beach is a long-time favorite stop among boaters year round. Known as “The Grand Strand” its 60 miles of majestic sandy beaches are all postcard perfect. It’s a vacationer’s wonderland because there’s never a dull moment in Myrtle Beach. There’s so much to do and see, and most the action takes place along its bustling 1.2-mile oceanfront boardwalk – including the iconic SkyWheel, a giant-sized observation wheel which transports passengers 187 feet into the air.


And we know a great stop for a little break – Grande Dunes Marina in Myrtle Beach!

Book your slip today and see more by visiting:


If you and your crew are ready for an adventure of a lifetime that everyone will cherish, and long remember, set your sights on boating the South Carolina Intracoastal Waterway.


Written by: Jo Montgomery