Before Charleston had anything, it had a harbor. We still have one, a major commercial harbor transporting import and export goods worldwide. For the "blue water sailor," Charleston is a great port to plan a stopover. It's the deepest port on this coast, three marina's have no air draft restrictions, tidal range is modest and, this from an old sailor, the run ashore is simply awesome!
For the avid sailor, your Cruising Almanac will have details of tides and marina draft restrictions, VHF Channels - so there is little point in repeating them here. What can we tell you though to make your stopover just that little bit more interesting?
Well a week will get you down here from the Northeast and another week will get you to the Florida Keys or Bahamas. It's 60 miles to good fishing in the Gulf Stream, where the weather and water are warm most of the year. We have 3 downtown marinas that are convenient for visiting yachts, a few more if you are motoring. The difference among them being air draft for low bridges on the Ashley River. Transient day rates hover around $2/3 per foot, only about 50/100 large boats "overwinter" in downtown Charleston marinas so its pretty quiet most of the time.
The Cooper River, on the eastern side of the peninsula, is the main commercial channel, with the Ravenel and Don Holt bridges at 186 and 155 feet air draft respectively. Water depth is more than you need at over 40 feet even at low tide. Charleston has a tide and currents, though it is a relatively modest 1.5 knots or so. If that makes you nervous then time your arrival to come in at slack tide. Commercial shipping is mostly on the Cooper River so once out of this channel you will be fine. There are two marina's on the Cooper - Charleston Harbor Marina at Patriots Point on the Mt. Pleasant side has customs facilities and is accessible at all points of the tide. It's a large marina with plenty of additional facilities plus the USS Yorktown, Clamagore and Laffey for the history buff among us. Charleston is a 10 minute Uber ride away and there is also a water taxi, weather dependent.
The Ashley River on the west side of the peninsula has Charleston City Marina that can handle the largest transient visitor. This marina is accessible at all points of the tide. Customs and the usual marina facilities are available. There are two other marinas in the immediate vicinity on either side of the river. Located beyond the James Island Expressway Bridge (Air draft 56 feet) they are better suited to motorboats.
And what to do when you get to port? The main attractions for Charleston located in town, a 5 minute Uber ride from port to the Upper King District and all that has to offer. Historic downtown, Lower King Street, Meeting Street, East Bay Street and the picturesque historic districts are a similar distance. If you have a bicycle on board then you don't need Uber, the peninsula is 2 miles across at its widest and without any hills whatsoever!
If you decide to drop anchor in Charleston Harbor, head out of the harbor past Crab Bank to Shem Creek - this makes for a fun day trip. The nearest marina are north towards Isle of Palms with several marina's to stop over on the intracoastal canal, or south either up the Stono River to the back of Folly Beach or around Kiawah Island to Bohicket Marina about an 8 hours sail away.