Myrtle Beach is one of the most popular beaches in South Carolina. Its gently sloping shore, sandy seafloor, and warm waters are great for all kinds of water sports, including swimming, surfing, water skiing, and boogie boarding.
But what does Myrtle Beach have to offer the 7.7 million Americans who love snorkeling?
Is There Snorkeling in Myrtle Beach?
Imagine you could stroll down Myrtle Beach, wade out into the warm, blue waters and find yourself gazing down at a colorful underwater world full of spectacular marine life.
Sadly, that’s not the case. If you want a good snorkeling experience at Myrtle Beach, you need to head out to one of the offshore dive sites that are shallow enough for snorkelers to enjoy.
Submerged shipwrecks off the coast of North Myrtle Beach offer some unique snorkeling opportunities when the conditions are good, but closer to shore it’s a different story.
The golden sand that makes Myrtle Beach a great place for swimming also makes it challenging for snorkelers.
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All that sand is great underfoot, but when it’s drifting around in the water, stirred up by the ebb and flow of the tides, it only obscures your visibility.
Safe and enjoyable snorkeling depends on underwater visibility. Without it, you won’t see very much and could end up in a potentially dangerous situation.
Is it Safe to Snorkel at Myrtle Beach?
Myrtle Beach is notorious for its murky waters which are caused by “pluff mud, the agitation of water caused by wave action and large tidal swings.”
Pluff mud is common throughout the South Carolina Lowcountry and is a type of soft, gooey mud usually associated with salt marshes. The many rivers around Myrtle Beach transport sediment and mud from the lowlands into the ocean, reducing visibility.
Snorkeling directly from the beach is disappointing, and the rip currents that abound in the area also make it potentially dangerous.
According to the National Weather Service, “eight people die each year from rip currents in the Carolinas alone.”
A rip current is a powerful, narrow channel of fast-moving water that flows away from the coastline at speeds of up to “eight feet per second.”
These dangerous currents can quickly whisk you out to sea and trying to swim against them is exhausting.
Although the wave action at Myrtle Beach is fairly moderate, with waves rarely exceeding three to four feet. Although these conditions are suitable for snorkeling, the combination of rip currents and limited visibility make snorkeling in the shallow waters close to Myrtle Beach challenging at best, and dangerous at worst.
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In addition to the dangerous water conditions, Myrtle Beach is famous for its sharks. Bull sharks, tiger sharks, blacktips, and spinners are all common in the area and shark attacks do occur, albeit infrequently.
Best Spots to Snorkel at Myrtle Beach
North Myrtle Beach offers better snorkeling opportunities than the main beach, and one of the best locations is the Charleston tug site.
Situated some 10 miles offshore, the Charleston tug wreck enjoys some of the most consistently clear waters in the Myrtle Beach area.
The average visibility this far offshore is around 26 to 30 feet and, although the main bulk of the ship rests some 62 feet underwater, the upper portions are close enough to the surface for snorkelers to enjoy.
The marine life isn’t quite as colorful as you’d find on a coral reef, but you do have a good chance of seeing predatory barracudas, Atlantic Spade fish, and a flurry of small gobies.
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Another possible snorkel site is at Little River Reef. This artificial reef site is one of the “most popular diving sites in the state.”
Although the reef itself is too deep for snorkelers to see, it attracts plenty of fish and other marine life that you might catch a glimpse of.
What Will You See When You Go Snorkeling at Myrtle Beach?
The only thing you’re guaranteed to see when snorkeling at Myrtle Beach is a lot of murky water. So even if you take a boat to one of the best snorkeling sites in Myrtle Beach, you won’t necessarily get the visibility you need for a good snorkeling experience.
If the average visibility at the Charleston tug dive site is 26 to 30 feet and the “the top of the tug boat is about 9 meters (30 feet) below the surface,” you won’t see very much unless the conditions are perfect.
Other dive sites offer even greater challenges for snorkelers, with most being even deeper than the Charleston.
If you really want to enjoy South Carolina’s marine life, you should consider scuba diving instead of snorkeling. The deeper you go into the Atlantic Ocean, the better your chances of spotting something spectacular.
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The open water dive sites around Myrtle Beach “are teeming with angel fish, amberjack, grouper, barracuda, sea turtles, and lobsters!” Head to the Twin Cities Wreck and you might even catch a glimpse of a sand tiger shark.
Limited visibility makes shore diving almost as challenging as snorkeling. The average visibility rarely exceeds 5 feet and the surfside entry can also be a little rough, especially if there’s a strong current.
Is It Safe To Snorkel At Myrtle Beach?
With the right equipment and experienced guide, it is safe to go snorkeling in Myrtle Beach, but you need to choose your location carefully.
It might be tempting to strap on your fins and mask and stroll into the warm, coastal waters, but it’s not advisable. The changing tides and strong currents make snorkeling off the beach potentially dangerous.
Rip currents can happen at any time and “are the main cause of weather-related deaths in coastal Carolinas.”
Every year, around eight people die as a result of rip tides in South Carolina alone, which suggests that snorkeling in Myrtle Beach isn’t necessarily the safest.
The best snorkeling in the area is also the safest. The currents are more consistent and the visibility much better at some of the offshore dive sites, so tagging along on a dive trip might be your best bet.
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There are lots of dive shops and boats offering offshore diving and snorkeling excursions, but you’ll need a bit of luck and an experienced guide to get the most out of it.
Not only will a guide show you the best marine life there is to see off Myrtle Beach, but they’ll also ensure your safety
Despite that, even the best spots for snorkeling in Myrtle Beach are only as good as the visibility. If you’re forking out over $100 for an excursion on which you end up seeing nothing but sand and sediment, you’ll be bitterly disappointed.
To get the most out of a trip to Myrtle Beach, you might need to cast your fins and snorkel aside and hire a jet ski instead!
7 tips When You Go Snorkeling at Myrtle Beach
#1 Wear a Full Face Mask
A full face mask can help combat the limited visibility by giving you a 180° field of vision.
#3 Hire a Guide
An experienced local guide will be able to identify the best snorkeling spots on any specific day. As they are familiar with the conditions and marine life you’re likely to see, they can keep you safe while showing you the best Myrtle Beach offers.
A few places offer dedicated snorkel trips simply because the snorkeling isn’t particularly good.
You could try contacting a dive company like Express Watersports and asking for their advice about snorkeling. They may even invite you to join a scuba diving trip if the conditions are right.
#4 Head Offshore
Snorkeling close to shore is potentially dangerous along the Grand Strand coastline. Rip currents and murky waters make it difficult to maintain your position in the water, while the sandy bottom means there’s little to see.
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Offshore sites not only have better visibility but also tend to be safer as they’re less affected by the waves and currents that besiege the beautiful beaches.
#5 Use a Dive Light
A good dive light or underwater safety light can improve the visibility when the conditions are dark or the water is murky with sediment.
The best kind of dive light for snorkeling in Myrtle Beach is one with a lumen output of at least 200 lumens and a beam angle of between 12° and 75° degrees.
#6 Check the Surf Report
Calm, smooth seas not only make snorkeling in Myrtle Beach safer but also more enjoyable. Before you take to the ocean, check the surf and weather reports.
Plan your trip for a time when the swell is minimal and there’s nothing more than a light breeze of around 6-11 kph.
Also watch out for the large tidal swings that, at their highest, bring waves of over 7 feet crashing into the shore.
#7 Test your Equipment
Before taking to the sea, make sure your snorkeling equipment is clean and working effectively. A fault snorkel, combined with poor visibility and rough seas could prove life-threatening, while a cracked or damaged mask could make it difficult to see anything at all.
Is there Good Diving in Myrtle Beach?
There’s very little coastal scuba diving available at Myrtle Beach, but some of the offshore sites offer unique and fascinating experiences that are too deep for snorkelers to enjoy.
Diving charters frequent both deep and shallow artificial reefs that include a variety of shipwrecks, including some that date back to the Second World War.
As a diver, you can enjoy a world-class experience exploring places like the Twin Cities Wreck where the Dutch freighter SS Hebe and the British Sub Hunter HMT lie side-by-side some 110 feet below the surface.
The two ships collided some 80 years ago and now provide a habitat for a variety of sea life, including torpedo-shaped barracuda, vicious-looking sand tiger sharks, and “muppet-like toadfish.”
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Other popular diving locations include the Charleston tug, Barracuda Alley, and The Governor which is home to some rare sea life. All these sites are suitable for novice divers while still providing enough excitement to attract more experienced divers.
Myrtle Beach is a great place to enjoy a wide range of water sports, but snorkeling isn’t one of them.
There are some amazing places to go scuba diving, but most of the shipwrecks and artificial reefs in the area are too deep to enjoy from the surface.
Poor visibility and large tidal swings also make for a challenging snorkeling experience.
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If you really want to enjoy the underwater world of Myrtle Beach, you’ll have better luck diving than you will snorkeling, although you can see the upper reaches of the Charleston Tug wreck from the surface when conditions are good.
Suppose you desperately want to snorkel in South Carolina. In that case, you’d be better off heading south to Charleston, where the sandy reefs and warm coastal waters provide a more comfortable and rewarding experience.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.