May River speed demons leave angry Bluffton dock owners in their wake

sbowman@islandpacket.comAugust 22, 2013 

Bluffton resident Dyane Lee has long loved the tranquility of her family's dock on the May River.

But lately, roiled waters have turned her peace to peril.

About a year ago, a large wake threw Lee off her dock and into her boat. Countless times since, she has had to "hold on for dear life" to keep from being thrown off again.

Some neighbors on Water Street say they've had similar experiences and that the May has become more crowded with boaters, many of them reckless. The residents want a 500-foot-long no-wake zone established from the Calhoun Street public dock to the Bluffton Oyster Co.

"People need to just plain slow down," Lee said. "People come through here like crazy when there are kids on the docks, people fishing, boats launching, people paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming.

"It needs to be taken care of before someone gets hurt."

Her husband, Robert Lee, and neighbor Kent Collins took their complaint to Bluffton Town Council on Aug. 13. Both said they are pleased more people are using the river, but they are shocked to see boaters speeding by, creating large wakes and not giving other boaters enough room to navigate. The problem is particularly acute at low tide, when the channel is narrow.

"I have operated boats since I was a teen and was taught three priorities -- safety first, civility second and then pleasure third," Collins said. "But a lot of people who get into boats around here turn that around and do pleasure first."

Lee, Collins and other neighbors asked Town Council to ask the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to establish the no-wake zone.

Town manager Anthony Barrett said his staff is researching the process and will give a presentation to council Sept. 10.

A variety of criteria is considered before establishing a no-wake zone -- channel size, boat traffic and water depth, for instance, DNR spokesman Robert McCullough said.

The agency received 44 requests last year, and three were granted. McCullough said the agency receives many requests for the zones in private areas, but it can't "no wake everything."

"Not many are approved, but where they're called for and needed and where we designate them, they're a good tool and work very well," McCullough said.

Any officer from DNR, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office or Bluffton Police Department could enforce the no-wake zone on the May River, if it is approved.

There are 233 such zones in the state, 29 in Beaufort County. The agency could not say if there were any no-wake zones elsewhere on the May River.

Larry Toomer, owner of the Bluffton Oyster Co., said the closest no-wake zones he knows of are on Hilton Head and Daufuskie islands, in areas with public docks and heavy traffic -- areas like the troubled stretch of the May River, he points out.

"Sure it's a little bit of an inconvenience to slow down for that quarter-mile, but it's well worth it," Toomer said. "Any public boat launching, landing or dock needs to be a no-wake zone -- period."


A ride along the May River shows the area for which some residents in Old Town Bluffton want a 500-foot-long no-wake zone: Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at

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