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College of Arts & Sciences
Maritime Research Division


FAQ

Have questions about the Hobby License Program? Check here first.

As Hobby License operations transition to the Columbia office allow additional processing time when submitting applications for the foreseeable future.  Thank you for your understanding and patience.

What is a Hobby License?

In an effort to preserve and protect the Palmetto State's vast underwater archaeological and paleontological legacy, the South Carolina Underwater Antiquites Act permits small-scale, recreational, non-mechanical, non-commercial surface collecting in state waters by individuals licensed through the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA). Since the Hobby License program's inception in the 1970s, thousands of sport divers and avocational collectors have been able to play an active and ongoing role in the documentation and management of our state's submerged cultural and natural resources.

Similar to many fish and wildlife licenses, the conditions of the Hobby License require responsible collection activity and reporting of any property recovered from submerged sites in public waters. In exchange for reporting detailed information about any artifacts and fossils collected, Hobby License participants are granted title to submerged finds recovered in accordance with the Underwater Antiquities Act and license contract. The Hobby License allows hand collection of naturally exposed artifacts and fossils that they can see resting on the bottom sediments on submerges sites in state waters. This license does not allow disturbance or recovery of hardware and structural components from shipwrecks or submerged historic structures, nor does it allow disturbance or recovery of embedded material, including articulated fossil specimens. The Hobby License also does not permit use of tools, digging, or movement of sediment to expose and recover material buried in bottom sediments, or any collection activity above the waterline.

Activities such as Magnet Fishing are prohibited in South Carolina waterways and SCIAA does not issue Hobby Licenses for this potentially destructive practice. The South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act does not allow for indiscriminate collection of artifacts using equipment that is deployed from the surface of the water, including use of tethered rakes, scoops, or magnets. The primary reason magnet fishing is not permitted is that an operator on the surface cannot see what has been snagged by their magnet to determine whether it is partially buried beneath the sediment or attached to ferrous/magnetic hardware on a shipwreck or other submerged historic structure. Deployment of a tethered magnet can easily result in the dismemberment and destruction of an otherwise undisturbed shipwreck or archaeological site. Beyond explicitly prohibiting indiscriminate collection of archaeological material and destructive recovery practices, the law only allows hobby licensed divers to bring material up to the surface using only the minimal lift provided by their scuba buoyancy control device. Hobby Licenses do not permit the use of any other kind of equipment, such as a tethers and surface lines, to bring submerged artifacts to the surface.  For more detailed information about the license requirements and reporting, continue reading the topics found on this page.

Who needs a Hobby License?

Currently, South Carolina is the only state that specifically permits recreational collection of artifacts and fossils from submerged sites.  Hobby Licenses are intended for scuba divers, but anyone who wishes to collect artifacts and/or fossils from submerged sites in South Carolina waters on a recreational, non-commercial basis needs to obtain a license.  State jurisdiction begins at the mean low water mark, and includes coastal waters and all inland navigable and formerly navigable waters such as rivers, creeks, and canals. The State also has jurisdiction of offshore waters out to three statute miles. Although many participants are certified scuba divers, scuba certification is not required to obtain a license. If you wish to collect artifacts or fossils from underwater sites in public waterways in South Carolina, you must obtain a license.   

How do I get a Hobby License?

Diving to collect antiquities in South Carolina waters requires planning ahead.  To obtain a Hobby License, you should download the current Hobby License Application packet found on the Forms page and mail the completed application to us at your earliest convenience. ALLOW 2 - 4 WEEKS FOR PROCESSING.  The application packet includes detailed application instructions, a summary of the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act, the license application form, and the license contract between the licensee and SCIAA. Please read all of the information provided in the application packet carefully before signing these documents. By signing the application and license contract, each applicant agrees to file timely dive reports on a quarterly basis and abide by all state laws and Institute regulations; Forms that are missing an applicant or witness signature will not be approved and will be returned to the applicant. Once the forms are properly completed, mail the application along with a check or money order made out to "USC" for the appropriate license fee amount to the address provided on the forms. **DO NOT MAIL CASH**  

All license applications are processed in the order in which they are received and all licenses are returned to the mailing address provided by each applicant.  To receive a license as quickly as possible, each applicant should follow the instructions provided on the application forms.  Due to the high volume of license applicants during peak dive season April-October, divers should submit an application at least four weeks prior to any submerged collection activity to ensure timely turnaround.  In fairness to all pending recreational applicants, there is no expedited processing ahead of individuals who are already awaiting their licenses; Institute staff will not respond to special requests for prioritized or expedited hobby licenses.  If you do not receive your license four weeks after mailing the application to us, please contact us at mrd@sc.edu to inquire about the status of your application. 

What is the difference between an artifact and a fossil?

An artifact is any object 50 years or older that was made, altered, or used by man. Bottles, ceramics, coins, tobacco pipes, artillery, and stone projectile points are all artifacts.  Archaeology is the study of human activity through the documentation and analysis of material culture. Archaeologists at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology Maritime Research Division's Charleston Field Office receive and review all Artifact Reports submitted by Hobby License Program participants.

A fossil is mineralized or petrified remains of an animal or plant, or its impression in stone. Mineralized shark teeth, animal bones or plant remains are fossils. Paleontology is the study of what fossils tell us about the ecologies of the past.  Paleontologists at the South Carolina State Museum receive and review all Fossil Reports submitted by Hobby License Program participants.

How do I file the required Artifact Reports and Fossil Reports, and where does each report go each quarter?

In order to maintain eligibility for license renewal, each licensee must submit two separate kinds of reports on a quarterly basis;  Artifact Reports should be submitted online to SCIAA and Fossil Reports should be sent to paleontoligists at the SC State Museum.   To ensure each licensee's compliance with the reporting provisions outlined in the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act, each report is reviewed and recorded on the diver’s file in the diver databases at SCIAA and the State Museum.   Artifact Reports should be filed using the Online Artifact Report System.  If fossils are recovered, Fossil Reports must be emailed or mailed to Dave Cicimurri, Curator of Natural History at the State Museum (Dave.Cicimurri@scmuseum.org).  Sample Artifact Report and Fossil Report forms are provided to each new licensee with the license and digital PDF forms are available for download on the Hobby License Forms page.  Reports may be filed at any time prior to the deadline.  You are not required to wait until the end of the quarter to report, so feel free to file them throughout the quarter after collection activities occur.  Licensees who provide an email address will have access to the Online Artifact Report System and will receive a reminder prior to the quarterly deadlines throughout the license term. 

If I do not dive or collect anything, do I still need to file the reports?

Yes.  Each licensee must file a report indicating whether material was collected or not each quarter.  These reports are due at the end of each quarter while your license is valid, regardless of whether or not a licensee has been collecting.   If you did not dive or collect anything from SC waters, you can now simply check the two boxes at the top of your report in the Online Artifact Report System to let both agencies know you made no recoveries during the quarter.  If you dived but did not collect, just provide the dive location information on the report and then check the "No Recoveries" boxes.  

What does SCIAA and the State Museum do with the information in my reports?

Hobby license participants play an important role in the stewardship of our state's vast submerged cultural and natural heritage, and the data provided in reports submitted by licensees has contributed significantly to our understanding of the state's underwater aracheological and natural history.  There are multitudes of submerged archaeological and paleontological sites all over the state that range from ancient remains of extinct animals and plants and early prehistoric human occupations to 4,000-year-old canoes, colonial shipwrecks, sunken warchips, and 20th century tugboats.  The state’s many waterways served as the roadways for humnas throughout prehistoric and historic times and today contain the remnants of settlements, wars, agricultural growth, and technological advancements.  The waters of South Carolina and the sites they hold can answer many questions about our past as Americans and as humans.  Over the last 4 decades, over 90% of the known underwater sites in South Carolina waters have been documented in reports submitted by Hobby License Program participants, and the data submitted by licensees continues to contribute to our expanding knowledge of the state's cultural and natural past in many ways.  As the program enters its fifth decade, the information provided in these reports continues to be very useful to state archaeologists and paleontologists in determining the wide range of artifacts, archaeological sites, shipwrecks, and fossils located within South Carolina waters.  There are many exciting sites still awaiting discovery and staff members at the Institute and State Museum look forward to assessing and recording each new find.  Each report is reviewed within 60 days of submission and all reports are maintained in SCIAA and South Carolina State Museum databases. Either agency may follow up on a report of an interesting artifact by requesting that a photo or drawing of the item be submitted. Should the diver report visiting a site that may be of archaeological interest, SCIAA or SCSM staff may decide to visit the site with the reporting diver.  All report information is maintained in a private, secure database.  We do not share this info with third parties, and these records are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.  

How much information do I need to include in my report?

In accordance with the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act and Section 54-7-670 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, "all persons who have collected objects with a Hobby License shall furnish the Institute and the Museum with a report which is to include a list of the objects and a description of the places from which the objects were recovered." Artifact Reports and Fossil Reports must be filed with the appropriate agency (Institute for Artifact Reports, SC State Museum for Fossil Reports) within ten days following the end of the calendar quarter in which the collection activities took place.   Artifact Report and Fossil Report forms are provided to each new licensee and are available for download on the Hobby License Forms page.  At a minimum, each report must include an itemized listing of recoveries and provide descriptions of any distinguishing features of the recovered artifacts or fossils.  Location info provided on each report must inlcude a description of both the body of water and the specific location within that body of water.  Maps and/or GPS coordinates are welcomed and appreciated. Photos of artifacts and/or fossils are encouraged. If you can't easily describe it, send us a picture. Photos can help us identify and determine the object's potential archaeological or paleontological significance, and we give bonus points for including a scale in pictures. Please be aware that failure to provide information regarding your finds or dive locations may result in report rejection and further inquiry from SCIAA or State Museum staff.  If you have questions about what to include or how to include it, please contact us about artifacts (mrd@sc.edu) or the State Museum (dave.cicimurri@scmuseum.org) about fossils before submitting your report. For additional information refer to the legislation. 

Collecting during Charter Ventures:

Hobby Licensees who hire a dive charter captain or chartered vessel remain individually responsible for recording all dive information accurately to satisfy the reporting requirements and maintain good license standing.  Should you employ a charter service in order to collect artifacts or fossils from South Carolina waters, remember that you are required to record and report any material collected along with an accurate description of the dive location(s) to include:

  • Body of water
  • Exact location of each dive on that body of water.

If you are unfamiliar with the area or do not know the specific dive location, ask your charter captain to provide you with these details prior to each dive and make sure to record this information before you splash.  The Institute and State Museum will not approve reports that request us to clarify the locational information with a charter captain in the event you cannot remember exactly where a dive occurred. 

How many of the artifacts or fossils that I find can I keep?

If a report listing the specific type, quantity and location of finds is submitted to SCIAA in the case of artifacts, or to the South Carolina State Museum in the case of fossils, within ten days following the end of quarter in which the activities took place, the licensee may keep 100% of his or her finds.  Licensees are required to retain posession of their finds for sixty (60) days after sending in a report so that SCIAA and the State Museum have the opportunity to study or evaluate the recovered objects.  Evaluation often simply involves a request for clarification regarding location, or photographs of recoveries.   As long as all items are properly reported and the licensee cooperates with staff to address reasonable questions regarding a report, the title to all collected material will be transferred to the licensee at the end of the 60 day period.   

Can I sell artifacts or fossils I collect under the auspices of the Hobby License?

Hobby Licenses are intended for recreational purposes only. SCIAA and the State Museum discourage any sales or commercial exploitation of artifacts or paleontological material recovered in our state under the Hobby License Program. Please note that license revocation may occur if a Hobby Licensee's activities are demonstrably commercial in nature or if a licensee refuses to cooperate with staff inquiries regarding possible commercial activities. If any member of the public has questions or concerns about material being offered for sale that is advertised as taken from SC waters, we ask you to send us an email at mrd@sc.edu. Make sure to include a description or a link to the item(s) in question.  

How can a diver legally collect artifacts or fossils for commercial purposes?

By obtaining an Intensive Survey License and/or Data Recovery License from SCIAA. Divers may obtain an application for this type of license from the Columbia office. Any project proposals and questions should be directed to Jim Spirek.

What happens if a Hobby Licensee fails to submit reports?

Any licensed individual who fails to submit reports in a timely manner is subject to license penalties. When a licensee requests renewal of their license, Institute staff must verify that all reports for the previous term were submitted in a timely manner and that all reports have been approved by the Institute (for artifacts) or the State Museum (for fossils).  If reports were not filed in a timely manner or reporting deficiencies are not satisfactorily addressed with the Institute and/or the State Museum, a licensee will not be eligible to renew his or her license.  Once any and all past report deficiencies are satisfactorily addressed, a renewal applicant may become eligible to apply for a one-time 6-month Provisional Permit renewal.  If a licensee fails to submit all reports in a timely manner during a Provisional Permit term, the individual will not be eligible for continued participation in the Hobby Diver License program.  If it is determined that a licensee has not reported all recovered property persuant to the license agreement and South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act, the individual will not be eligible for continued participation in the Hobby Diver License program. Any individual who violates any of the provisions of Section 54-7-670 of the South Carolina Code of Laws is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be punished by a fine. If a person holds a Hobby License at the time a violation occurs, the license may be revoked by the Institute.  Please note that each day a violation occurs constitutes a separate offense.  If any member of the public has questions, concerns, or information regarding the sale of unreported material taken from SC waters, we ask you contact us via email at mrd@sc.edu.  

Are there any special conditions for collecting from shipwrecks?

No more than ten artifacts a day may be recovered from a shipwreck site. Divers may not destroy the integrity of the ship's structure by removing or moving timbers, fittings, fastenings, or machinery. Hobby divers who have recovered any artifacts from a shipwreck site must include in the report both a locational reference to the shipwreck site by locating the site on a topographic or hydrographic chart and a sketch map of the wreck site showing the location from where the artifacts were recovered in relation to the wreck. Federally-owned vessels in state waters are exempt from collecting, for instance USS Patapsco, USS Dai Ching, among others. Federal regulations prohibit disturbance of these shipwrecks and carry stiff fines and penalties for activities that adversely impact the site.

Is anyone allowed to use shovels or digging implements of any kind to expose finds in riverbeds or riverbanks?

No. Licensees must never dig or move sediment to expose finds. A Hobby License will not protect you if you are caught using digging implements anywhere in state waters. Law enforcement officers are trained to be on the lookout for tools such as shovels, scoops, rakes, and screens. Even during times of drought, no one is permitted to dig in banks and beds of any state waterways. Section 54-7-970 of the South Carolina Code of Laws specifically prohibits excavation and the use of tools of any kind to recover artifacts or fossils from state waterways:  

1. A person with a hobby license may collect from submerged lands of this State a reasonable number of artifactual items and/or complete and fragmented fossil specimens a day that: (a) are exposed or resting on the bottom sediments of submerged lands; and (b) do not require excavation to recover.

2. No artifactual or paleontological materials may be recovered from submerged lands of this State unless they can be obtained by hand.

3. No specimen may be recovered from a fossil specimen with joined or interrelated elements before contacting the museum.

Is anyone allowed to use rakes, air lifts, or dredges to expose or recover finds underwater?

Absolutely not. Only surface collection is allowed, which must be done by hand, without the aid of tools or mechanized equipment. Raking, dredging, or blowing sediment can irreparably damage and alter fragile ecosystems for generations.  The Institute and law enforcement agencies take these types of violations very seriously.  Anyone caught digging, dredging, blowing, or raking for artifacts or fossils in state waters will face stiff penalties, in addition to permanent license revocation.

Is anyone allowed to use buoyancy equipment like air bags to recover heavy artifacts?

No. The only permissible buoyancy equipment is a personal buoyancy compensator.  If you can't lift it legally with your BCD, leave it on the bottom.  

Who enforces the Underwater Antiquities laws on the water?

SCDNR is the primary law enforcement agency on most SC waterways, and many local law enforcement agencies share jurisdiction and will pursue violators.  SCIAA works with DNR and local law enforcement agencies to share information and ensure officers are aware of the law and are trained to be on the lookout for violations of the Underwater Antiquities Act.  We often request patrols in specific areas that we have reason to believe violations may be occuring.  Make sure you have your license card on your person any time you are collecting. If you see suspicious collection activities occuring, please immediatley contact state or local law enforcement. If you have concerns about possible violations of the law, also feel free to contact us directly at (803)576-6563.