Located off the coast of South Carolina, Hilton Head is a barrier island known for its stunning beaches, maritime forests, and landlocked tidal marshes.
Considering the beauty of this Lowcountry town, you may want to use your drone to take some aerial photos and videos. But before you pack your swim trunks and make a beeline for the Palmetto State, you may wonder: Are drones even allowed in Hilton Head?
Fortunately, South Carolina is very welcoming of UAV pilots. Though you must obey federal and state drone laws, there are few – if any – local regulations you must be aware of.
Continue reading to learn more about flying your drone in this coastal town.
Federal drone laws in Hilton Head
Whether you want to capture some sick surfing footage or take a few beach photos, Hilton Head is the place to do it.
But what federal laws do you need to be aware of?
If you’re a hobbyist or recreational drone pilot, you must follow rules mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) .
Two primary rules include:
- Passing the TRUST: All recreational drone pilots in America must pass the TRUST, which is short for The Recreational UAS Safety Test . This multiple-choice exam is free to take and fairly straightforward. However, you must carry proof of taking the exam at all times when flying.
- Register your drones: If your drone weighs 0.55 pounds or more, you must register it with the FAA (link) and carry proof of registration when flying. Toy drones do not require registration.
TRUST is a collaboration between the FAA and industry to provide TRUST and educational safety material to Recreational Flyers.
Other safety regulations include:
- Keep your drone within your visual line of sight
- Do not interfere with other aircraft
- Fly at or below 400 feet
- Refrain from flying at night or during bad weather
- Do not fly your drone over crowds
State drone laws in Hilton Head
If you want to fly your drone in Hilton Head, you’re in luck. The state of South Carolina has very relaxed regulations when it comes to UAV pilots.
In fact, there is only one drone law in South Carolina: Bill 176.
According to Bill 176, you cannot fly a drone within 500 horizontal feet or 250 vertical feet of a Department of Corrections facility without written permission. Doing so could result in a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both.
We offer a closer look at this state bill in our overview of South Carolina drone rules and regulations.
» MORE: Drone Laws in South Carolina
Local drone laws in Hilton Head
Several years ago, Hilton Head Island Town Council attempted to outlaw drone usage on public beaches. But this never came to fruition.
The town does, however, enumerate unlawful activities on beaches. One of these is disturbing the peace.
As the ordinance  reads:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to attempt to attract the attention of the public to any political or commercial activity by the use of a loudspeaker or other sound amplification device, or to otherwise unreasonably disturb the peace of any person on the beach.”
Though it may be a stretch, flying a drone—especially in an uncourteous way—could be considered an infraction. That being said, we recommend respecting others’ privacy and not flying when the beach is very busy.
Can you fly a drone in Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge?
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 4,053-acre oasis situated between the mainland of South Carolina and Hilton Head Island.
Home to waterfowl, shorebirds, white-tailed deer, snakes, and alligators, Pinckney Island is certainly an interesting place to go for a hike or bike ride. However, in accordance with FAA guidelines, drones are strictly prohibited in this area.
Because Pinckney Island hosts a number of endangered/threatened species, including:
- Wood storks
- Peregrine falcons
- Least terns
- Little blue herons
- Brown pelicans
- Bald eagles
- Wayne’s race of black-throated green warbler
The sound and visual stimulus of a drone could stress these sensitive creatures, resulting in injury or even death.
That being said, be sure to enjoy Pinckney Island from the ground—not from the air.
Consequences of flying your drone in a National Wildlife Refuge
If you throw caution to the wind and decide to fly above Pinckney Island anyways, what could happen?
Unfortunately, flying an unmanned aircraft in a National Wildlife Refuge could result in serious consequences.
For example, if you were to fly your drone in a National Wildlife Refuge and cause harm to a bald eagle, you could face a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. You could also be charged with $5,000 in civil penalties.
If this were your second offense, however, your actions could result in a felony with a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Considering these grave consequences, it’s best to avoid flying your drone on Pinckney Island.
Can you fly a drone near Hilton Head Airport?
Another area to be mindful of during your beach vacation is Hilton Head Airport.
As a general rule, it’s advised to keep a five-mile radius from any airport.
If you aren’t sure if you are within a no-fly zone or what the restrictions are for the specific area, reference the B4UFLY App (link).
Hilton Head is a beautiful barrier island located off the coast of South Carolina. With stunning beaches and ecologically diverse forests, this southern town is a hit among UAV pilots.
However, there are some rules and regulations to be aware of first. According to S.C. Bill 176, you cannot fly a drone near a Department of Corrections facility without written permission. Otherwise, you could face jail time and a fine.
You should also avoid flying near Hilton Head Airport and Pinckney Island. As a National Wildlife Refuge, this 4,053-acre haven is off-limits to drone pilots. If you fail to follow this restriction, you could disturb endangered species and face hefty consequences.
If you keep these few drone laws in mind, your Hilton Head beach vacation should be a relaxing one.
1. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (link)
2. The Recreational UAS Safety Test (link)
3. Municode Library (link)