As a result of legislation changing the way that counties collect property taxes on boats, in January of 2020, boat owners and buyers in South Carolina will begin to see changes in the way that boat registrations are issued by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The changes to the registration process will be phased in over the next three years as current registrations expire and will result in an annual registration process for boats that more closely mirrors the system used for automobiles.

The most visible and immediate change for boat owners will be that boat registration renewals will be done on an annual basis, rather than every three years as they are currently. The fee for the new annual registration will be $10 (1/3 the cost of the old three-year fee of $30).

Once fully implemented, the annual registration fee will be included on and paid via the boat owner’s county property tax bill, just like SCDMV vehicle registration fees are paid, which should be more convenient for boat owners than getting a separate bill.

Another change is that under the new law, property taxes for boats will be collected by counties in advance (or “prospectively”) for the coming year. Under the old system, property taxes for boats were collected “in arrears,” or for the previous year. Once the property taxes and registration renewal fee for the coming year have been paid by the owner, the county will notify SCDNR to issue a new set of annual registration numbers for that vessel.

These changes to state law were requested by counties to aid them in accurately collecting the property taxes due on boats. SCDNR is currently working with tax collection officials in all 46 counties to help implement the new requirements and ensure that boat registrations are integrated into the new, annual system. It’s important to note that for boat owners with current registrations, those registrations (and the decal and “numbers” issued by SCDNR for their hulls) will continue to be valid until they expire. The new system should also benefit the prospective buyers of used boats, by making it easier to determine if the property taxes on a potential used purchase are current. Buying a boat on which back property taxes are due can cause major headaches when the new owner attempts to title and register the vessel.