Under South Carolina law, you are required to pay personal property taxes on watercraft. We receive a list annually from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources of all watercraft registered in York County on December 31st of the previous year. This list is used to generate tax bills for the current year (50-23-260).
Since taxes are based on ownership as of December 31st of the previous year, when you purchase a watercraft, you will not receive a tax bill in your name until the following year. However, when you transfer the title with DNR, if delinquent taxes are owed by a previous owner, you will not be able to complete the transfer until all taxes are paid (50-23-295). The Application for Certificate of Title can be found on the DNR website and must be submitted within thirty days of the date of purchase (50-23-60). After sixty days, a late penalty is charged by DNR.
Watercraft registrations are renewable every three years. Late renewal is subject to penalties through DNR (50-23-370). Renewal cannot be completed if delinquent taxes are owed (50-23-425).
If you move from the address on your watercraft registration, you must submit a change of address in writing to DNR within thirty days of moving (50-23-400). You can download a Disposal or Change of Address for Watercraft or Outboard Motor on the DNR website. Keep in mind that our tax bill is sent to the address on file with DNR. If you don't change your address, you will not receive your tax bill. As a result, when your registration is up for renewal, you will be required to pay all delinquent taxes before the renewal process can be completed.
If your watercraft has been junked, abandoned, or destroyed, you must submit the original title to DNR in order to have the property removed from the tax billing list. If you still receive a tax bill, you need to submit proof from DNR that you surrendered the title. However, if the watercraft is destroyed in the current year and you wait until the following year to surrender the title, you will still be liable for the taxes billed since DNR records still showed your ownership of the watercraft on December 31st.
If you sell your watercraft, you must submit a Disposal or Change of Address for Watercraft or Outboard Motor or bill of sale to DNR to delete the property from the tax billing list. You will still be liable for the current year taxes when you sell your watercraft since you were the owner of record on December 31st of the previous year. However, you can request that taxes be prorated pursuant to Section 12-37-735 of the South Carolina Code. Please contact our office for more information on how the proration is done.
***NOTE: When selling your watercraft, please make sure all property taxes are current. The Bill of Sale provided by DNR includes the following statement: "I certify this property is free of any liens or adverse claims and all personal property taxes have been paid to date. I understand that all current year personal property taxes are the responsibility of the seller(s), unless an otherwise enforceable agreement has been reached between the seller and buyer........" You are required to sign and have this document notarized. Under Section 50-23-295 of the South Carolina Code of Law if you knowingly sell a watercraft with delinquent taxes, you could be fined.
***NOTE: Before buying a watercraft, please call the County Auditor's Office that the property is registered in and verify that no delinquent taxes are owed. If you purchase a watercraft with delinquent taxes, you will not be able to register it until all delinquent taxes have been paid. When you purchase the watercraft, there may be no delinquent taxes. However, since the previous owner is responsible for the current year taxes, there may be delinquent taxes owed the following year. When your decal and registration come up for renewal, you will not be able to renew them until the delinquent taxes are paid. Discuss who will pay the current year taxes before purchasing a watercraft to avoid this problem.
If your watercraft is found to have a value less than $600.00 in the manuals provided to us by DOR to calculate your tax bill, your watercraft is listed as exempt. If you do not receive a tax bill for your watercraft, please contact our office to see if it is exempt. Since a paid tax receipt is required to renew your stickers and registration, if your watercraft is exempt, we will provide you a letter verifying this to submit to DNR.