Since Hilton Head boat tours are one of the most popular activities on the island, I thought I’d create a handy parking guide to help you make it to your tour on time.
After all, there’s nothing worse than paying for a tour, circling endlessly for an elusive parking spot (that never appears), and then watching the boat sail off without you.
Trust me, I’ve had it happen!
For that reason, I decided to create this in-depth guide to Hilton Head marinas so you’ll not only make it to your tour on time, but you can also snag the best seat on the boat!
Note: This guide contains affiliate links to my trusted travel partners.
Table of Contents
Hilton Head Marinas
Boat tours generally depart from these three main marinas on Hilton Head: Harbour Town Marina, Shelter Cove Marina, and Palmetto Bay Marina.
I’ll start with the busiest and most popular marina…
Harbour Town Marina
Address: 160 Lighthouse Road, HHI, S.C. 29928
Water Access: via the Calibogue Sound
Harbour Town Marina is located on the southern tip of the island inside the private, gated community of Sea Pines.
It’s where you’ll find one of the most iconic symbols of the South Carolina Lowcountry — the famous red and white striped Harbour Town Lighthouse!
Since Harbour Town is such a popular area amongst tourists, it’s generally the busiest marina for departing boat tours.
Make note that it currently costs $9 per carload to enter Sea Pines.
The only two ways to avoid this fee are if your accommodations are located in Sea Pines and the owners happen to give you a visitor pass or if you can prove you reside in Beaufort County, Jasper County, or Chatham County and you pay for an annual parking pass.
Parking in the lots surrounding Harbour Town Marina is free, but it’s extremely difficult to find spots during peak tourism season (May – August).
The spaces fill up quickly, so you can spend a LOT of time driving around in circles.
There’s also a valet lot adjacent to the marina, and that’s where I usually park.
However, make note that a spot in the valet lot isn’t a guarantee. Since Harbour Town is such a popular area, it’s common for that lot to fill up, too!
The valet fee ranges from $10 – $20 (plus tip), which means that’s yet another expense you might incur when visiting Harbour Town.
Sea Pines Trolley: A Parking Alternative
Link to Additional Info: Sea Pines Trolley
Instead of driving in circles for an hour trying to find a parking space near Harbour Town Marina, a good alternative is to park near the entrance gate and take the free Sea Pines trolley to the marina.
Once you enter the gates to Sea Pines, drive about a half mile until you see a sign on your left indicating the trolley parking lot and pickup point.
Park there and wait for the red-line trolley to arrive.
It comes by on a regular basis to pick up passengers and transport them to Harbour Town Marina.
(Once you’re at the marina, you can take the blue-line, green-line, and yellow-line trolleys to visit additional places within Sea Pines.)
The trolleys are great if you’re taking a daytime Hilton Head dolphin tour, but make note that they stop running at 10 p.m.
How Early to Arrive for a Harbour Town Boat Tour
⭐ Insider Tip: If you’re planning a boat tour during peak tourism season and it departs out of Harbour Town Marina, plan to arrive at least a full hour before the time the boat tour guide suggests so you can find a parking space.
If you’re doing one of the larger boat tours — like the popular Vagabond tour — make sure you get in line on the dock 20 to 30 minutes early.
That’s the best way to get a good spot on the boat!
There are plenty of restaurants, shops, bars, and rocking chairs lining Harbour Town Marina, so you won’t get bored while you wait. Kids can play on the playground or enjoy Harbour Town’s live entertainment options.
Shelter Cove Marina
Address: 1 Shelter Cove Lane, HHI, S.C. 29928
Water Access: via Broad Creek
Shelter Cove Marina is another popular entertainment zone on Hilton Head Island.
The marina stays busy during peak tourism season, thanks to all the shops, bars, and restaurants in the area.
Make note that Tuesday night is one of the busiest nights at the marina.
That’s because there’s a spectacular fireworks show in Shelter Cove every Tuesday night during the summertime. (It’s free and a fun, family-friendly activity.)
Parking is free at Shelter Cove, and there are plenty of security cameras throughout the area.
Because there are so many attractions, expect to circle around a bit before finding a spot.
You might have to park a good distance from the water, as well, but there are drop-off points where you can unload passengers near the water.
Boat Tours in Shelter Cove
⭐ Insider Tip: I suggest arriving at least 30 to 40 minutes prior to the time your boat tour guide suggests — and more like an hour early if your tour is the same night as the fireworks show.
That’s to ensure you have enough time to find a parking spot and walk down to the docks to snag a good seat on the boat.
Palmetto Bay Marina
Address: 86 Helmsman Way, HHI, S.C. 29928
Water Access: via the Broad Creek
Palmetto Bay is the least crowded and least busy option, so consider yourself lucky if you take a boat tour departing out of this marina.
Parking is free and close to the marina, and there are approximately 150 spots.
Although that sounds like a lot, there are condos, two restaurants, and a handful of shops in the area, so the spaces do fill up quickly.
There are hundreds of extra spaces in an overflow lot under the nearby Cross Island Parkway, and I’ve never seen that lot completely full.
That lot is a five to ten minute walk to the marina, depending on your pace, so it’s close and convenient.
Boat Tours in Palmetto Bay Marina
⭐ Insider Tip: I suggest arriving 20 to 30 minutes prior to the time the boat tour operator suggests. Walk straight down to the dock and get in line to grab the best spot on the boat.
If you’re touring during the day, there’s a snow cone shop about 50 feet from the entrance ramp to the marina. It’s nice to grab a snow cone and sit on a bench near the water while you wait for the tour to start!
Additional Hilton Head Marinas
In addition to the three main marinas listed above, it’s possible your boat tour might depart out of one of the many other marinas on the island. (Hilton Head is quite the boater’s paradise, if that isn’t obvious by now.)
For example, if you opt for a private boat tour, the boat might be docked at one of these locations:
Broad Creek Marina
Address: 18 Simmons Road, HHI, SC 29926
Water Access: via Broad Creek
This one is located along Broad Creek towards the center of the island.
Hilton Head Harbour RV Resort & Marina
Address: 43 Jenkins Island Road, HHI, SC 29926
Water Access: via Skull Creek
This is the first marina you come to on the island. It’s located just across the main bridge to Hilton Head and faces Pinckney Island.
Safe Harbour at Skull Creek Marina
Address: 1 Waterway Lane, HHI, SC 29926
Water Access: via Skull Creek
This option is slightly more difficult to describe, so I suggest following the instructions your boat tour guide provides.
Sometimes the tours depart from the marina at the address listed above, but sometimes the guides will offer to pick you up on the docks located adjacent to Dockside, Skull Creek Boathouse, or Hudson’s Seafood restaurants.
South Beach Marina in Sea Pines
Address: S Sea Pines Drive, HHI, SC 29928
Water Access: via Calibogue Creek
This marina is located in Sea Pines, so just like with Harbour Town Marina, you’ll have to pay the $9 Sea Pines entry fee.
The marina is located along the same creek where the popular Salty Dog Cafe is located.
You can try your luck at snagging parking at the marina or park in the Sea Pines trolley lot and utilize a combo of the red-line and green-line trolleys to get to South Beach.
Windmill Harbour Marina
Address: 161 Harbour Passage, HHI, SC 29926
Water Access: via the Calibogue Sound to Mackay Creek
This option is also centrally located on the island. I’ve never been, so I don’t have any insider parking tips.
Hilton Head Marinas: Summary
I hope this guide was a helpful introduction to the three primary marinas on Hilton Head Island.
In short, Harbour Town Marina will almost always be the busiest and most expensive marina to visit when planning a boat tour and Palmetto Bay Marina is one of the easiest to access.