Council lifts ban on commercial activity for small charter boats – Coastal Observer


Council lifts ban on commercial activity for small charter boats

The only limit on the fishing charters using public landings is the number of passengers: six.

Small fishing charters and tour boats are clear to use Georgetown County’s public boat landings under new rules approved this week after months of debate. But County Council rejected efforts by a 40-passenger tour boat to use the Campbell Marine Complex in Georgetown.

After hearing from fishing charter captains who use the Murrells Inlet Boat Landing, the council decided against limiting the size of their boats to 30 feet because several said their boats are just a few feet longer.

“It takes a burden and worryation off their backs,” Council Member Raymond Newton said.

He and Council Member Everett Carolina were unable to convince their five colleagues to give larger  tour boats a break. 

The council took up a revision to a 1991 ordinance that prohibits commercial activity at the landings after Rover Tours was barred by a Circuit Court judge last summer from using East Bay Park in the city of Georgetown to pick up and unload passengers. The tour boat moved upstream to the county’s Campbell landing, but deputies ordered it to move.

At the same time, Sheriff Carter Weaver questioned whether the 1991 prohibition was enforceable. It was rarely enforced in the past. Deputies cited six charter fishing boats operating from the Murrells Inlet Boat Landing. They were found not guilty in Magistrate’s Court.

In October, the council took up an amendment that would allow boats up to 30 feet in length with captains licensed by the Coast Guard to carry up to six passengers.

The amendment received two of the three required readings, but final approval was delayed in December so Newton and Carolina could draft an exemption for larger tour boats.

The council was lobbied by Rover Tours to allow it to use the Campbell landing. The 40-foot pontoon boat had operated from a rented slip behind the S.C. Maritime Museum, but had to move when the museum decided it needed the space for its own boats. Supporters of the tour boat said it was an important part of the tourism economy and provided access to the county’s waters for people who can’t afford their own boat

Jay Watson, the county attorney, cautioned the council about lifting the restriction on larger boats, saying it raised legal issues that should be discussed in a closed executive session.

This week, the council heard from two fishing charter captains who said the 30-foot limit would, if enforced, prevent them from using the Murrells Inlet landing. It is too expensive to operate from a marina, even if slips were available, they said.

It isn’t the charters that cause delays at the boat landing, said Matt Long, a charter captain. “The charter guys are the ones who know what they’re doing,” he told the council.

Supporters of Rover Tours said if safety was the county’s concern, the company had never had an accident loading or unloading passengers.

“We have never had an injury,” said Clarissa Tuten, who worked as a crew member while in college. She added that Coast Guard training had been scheduled for the same week last summer when the tours were forced to halt.

Council Member Clint Elliott moved to adopt the ordinance without the 30-foot restriction.

Newton proposed another amendment for larger boats. He said it wasn’t about a single tour company, but about the tourism industry.

“We have many industries that use our boat landings,” he said, highlighting commercial crabbers, oyster harvesters and shad netters.

He proposed that the county Parks and Recreation Department issue permits to the larger boats and have the authority to limit the number of annual permits.

“You need to take a hard look at it before you cast this vote tonight,” Newton said.

His amendment failed 2-5 with no further discussion. He and Carolina supported final approval of the ordinance.



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