13 laws every Hilton Head tourist needs to know (and some locals don’t even know)

Ah, tourist season on Hilton Head.

The beaches are packed. The air is sticky. Pope Avenue is moving at a steady pace of 10 mph. Confused drivers with out-of-state (cough cough Ohio) license plates are everywhere. And so many bikes!

OK you get it.

Yes, it’s paradise here, but paradise gets chaotic when 2 million tourists invade every summer.

Here on Hilton Head Island, we have a few laws that might be tricky for folks not familiar with Lowcountry life.

We love our sharing our island with tourists from all over the world, but we also love our beaches and protecting our wildlife. We want to keep our beaches clean, safe, and fun for everyone to enjoy, and these laws help us do that.

Nothing can ruin your vacation faster than a run-in with local law enforcement, so don’t let it. Here are 13 laws to know if you’re visiting Hilton Head:

Know the roundabout rules.

It’s pretty much impossible to get around Hilton Head without driving through a roundabout (or traffic circle, if you’d like to call it that). Love them or hate them, they’re everywhere.

Stick with these rules for two lane roundabouts:

  • Yield to drivers in all lanes inside the roundabout

  • Drive the outer lane if you are making a right turn

  • Use the inner lane if you are making a left turn, driving straight through, or making a U-turn (but pay attention to road signs, some roundabouts have different rules)

  • Do not stop or change lanes while in the roundabout.

  • ALWAYS GO RIGHT. You would think we wouldn’t have to say this, but surprise! Some people don’t get it.

Quiet! Turn those speakers down.

Seriously, “loudspeakers” are illegal on Hilton head beaches. It’s unlawful to “attract the attention of the public” with a “loudspeaker or other sound amplification device, or to otherwise unreasonably disturb the peace of any person on the beach.” It could land you a $500 fine.

Dogs are only allowed on the beach during certain times.

We love our dogs here on Hilton Head Island, but the beach too gets packed for pooches during the height of tourist season.

  • NO DOGS: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

  • DOGS WITH LEASHES WELCOME: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 1 -before Memorial Day weekend; 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday after Labor Day-Sept. 30

  • Any other time: Dogs welcome on the beach, must be under control.

  • Dogs are also welcome on Mitchellville and Fish Haul beaches at all times, as long as they have a leash.

No drinking on the beach.

It is illegal to drink alcohol on Hilton Head’s public beaches. Possession of alcohol or open containers of alcohol could result in a $500 fine (these fines are rare, but the general rule of thumb is don’t be stupid and clean up your trash!).

No shark fishing from shore —or fishing at certain times.

“There is no doubt that fishing on the beach attracts sharks,” according to shark expert George Burgess at the International Shark Attack File. And yet, every day, you can find fishermen lining the beaches right near swimmers. It’s illegal to bait or fish for sharks from the beach, or anywhere 400 yards from the beach.

Fishing in designated swimming areas on the beaches is banned from April- September from sun up to sundown. So let’s cut down on the shark bites and stop fishing near folks.

Games on the beach are also banned during tourist season.

If you’re planning on playing a beach game or participating in any water activities involving a board (surf, boogie, or skim), stay clear of the areas with a lifeguard in the summer.

From sun up to sun down, April to September the following activities are illegal in designated swimming areas:

  • Fishing or surf casting.

  • The use of a surfboard of similar article for surfing or surfriding.

  • Frisbees and/or other team sports involving a ball.

  • Recreational games with metal components such as metal horseshoes.

  • Violating this law could result in a $500 fine.

No! Do NOT feed the wildlife.

That means dolphins!

Feeding, attempting to feed, and harassment of marine mammals in the wild is illegal. If convicted, it could cost you $20,000 in fines or a year in prison, according to NOAA.

There is good reason for this. Feeding dolphins makes them aggressive toward humans and disrupts their natural feeding process, shifting their gears from hunters to beggars. Dolphin feeding also causes dolphins to follow boats, leading to more accidents.

And the same goes for manatees!

This law is important considering Hilton Head is a problem hotspot for chronic manatee feeding and watering. Even though the manatee population is growing, the mammals remain protected under federal and state law, which means it’s illegal to feed, water, play with or touch a manatee in South Carolina, according to SCDNR’s website. It could result in fines of more than $11,000 and jail time up to a year, according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.


When alligators are fed by humans, they associate humans as a food resource, which makes them aggressive. It’s illegal and very dangerous to feed alligators. It could result in a fine or 30 days in jail, or someone getting seriously injured.

Do not touch the sand dollars or the sea turtles. Leave those starfish alone, too.

As a general rule of thumb: don’t touch or take any living creature/ thing from the beaches. It’s illegal to remove, harm or harass any live beach fauna (sea turtles, sand dollars, conchs, starfish, etc.) You could get fined $500.

No fireworks or fires on the beach.

It’s illegal to set off fireworks anywhere on Hilton Head Island beaches without a permit. If you’re caught, it’s a misdemeanor and could result in a $500 fine.

This confuses tourists at times because it’s legal to sell fireworks in Beaufort County. On that note, building fires for anything other than cooking on Hilton Head beaches is also illegal.

No artificial light on the beach. That means flashlights.

See how cute that little guy is? Artificial light AKA flashlights confuses sea turtles and puts them in danger. So turn off those flashlights between May and October on the beach or buy a red flashlight that is sea-turtle-proof.

Only one in 1,000 sea turtle eggs make it to adulthood, so we do everything we can to help out the little guys.

No liquor sales on Sunday.

While this law won’t get you in trouble, it might be good to know if you’re planning on a Sunday Funday during vacation. You can’t buy hard liquor on Sundays in South Carolina.

However, you can buy beer and wine from grocery stores/ gas stations in Beaufort County on Sundays. Here is a breakdown of where you can buy beer and wine on Sundays in South Carolina.

Clean up your trash.

Littering is illegal everywhere, but it’s especially crucial to be careful with your trash in coastal communities where your litter could end the life of an endangered animal.

In fact, starting Oct. 15, plastic bags will be banned on Hilton Head and businesses will be forced to provide alternative.

And.. if you’re biking, STOP AND LOOK both ways at every intersection.

Those little stop signs next to the bike paths are not for decoration. They carry just as much weight in the eyes of the law as full-sized signs at intersections.

They’re placed where they are for a reason, too. The most common bike-vs.-car accident on the island is a right-turning motorist striking a cyclist in a crosswalk. SO please, be careful and pay attention out there!

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Mandy Matney is an award-winning journalist and self-proclaimed shark enthusiast from Kansas. She worked for newspapers in Missouri and Illinois before she realized Midwestern winters are horrible, then moved to Hilton Head in 2016. She is the breaking news editor at the Island Packet.