The History of the Folly Beach Boat

When driving through the salt marshes on your way to Folly Beach, you pass by the iconic Folly Boat, located on Folly Road, just past the dog-friendly taproom The Barrel. This is where the boat has been since 2019, at least, though it has been a staple of Folly Road since 1989, when it was discovered washed ashore in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.

The original location of the Folly Boat was much closer to the beach, just before the bridge leading onto the island. Nobody knows where the 36-foot, steel-hulled vessel was before the storm, and nobody came forward to claim the derelict boat in the decades that followed.

Origins of the Folly Boat: 1989 to 2017

The Folly Boat in 1996, painted with killer whales by Tiffany Maser.

Legend has it that the Folly Boat sat undisturbed on the side of Folly Road for about a year before it received its first paint job, starting a tradition that is still ongoing today.

People started painting over the boat with various messages and artworks, from sports-related things to marriage proposals, birthdays, historic events, Charleston messages, and of course, some incendiary political sentiments.

The painting of the Folly Boat had always been something that the city had turned a blind eye towards, and thus anybody can go down there with a can of paint and cover the boat with whatever they please.

Many people have taken advantage of this over the years, so much so that there have been occasions when hundreds of layers of paint have baked themselves off in chunks due to the hot sun and humidity, with an entire layer sagging off all around the boat in 2012.

To give you an idea of how much paint we’re talking about — sometimes the boat is painted over twice in one day.

Paint peeling off the boat in April 2012, being examined by Mayor Tim Goodwin and public works director Kevin Whitsett. Photo from the Post & Courier.

Hurricane Irma and the Folly Boat: 2017 to Present

The Folly Boat in the march post-Irma. Photo by Lauren Petracca / Post & Courier.

This was the story of the Folly Boat from 1989 to 2017, when Hurricane Irma came along and once again swept the Folly Boat from it’s marsh-side location.

When the floodwaters cleared it was revealed that the boat had drifted into the dock of Folly Beach local Chris John, whom wanted nothing more to send the boat back to its home before the storm.

See a video that Chris took during the storm below, which went viral at the time, and shows the boat bumping against his dock.

Unfortunately, the city would not allow the boat to simply be placed back in its former location, citing regulations and laws as the reason. They preferred the idea of the boat being moved to a safer location on private property.

It took more than two years, but in December 2019, owner Chad Reynolds of The Barrel finally stepped up and took responsibility for moving the boat onto the edge of the Barrel’s property, jutting out past the fence on the south side of the property.

The Folly Boat in May of 2020, painted for Mother’s Day.

In the meantime, the boat had been lodged into the mud behind Chris John’s house, and since the city would not allow the boat to be moved back to its original location, he was preparing to move the boat himself — straight to the junkyard.

Now, though the boat is on private property, Reynolds honors the decades-old tradition of allowing people to paint the boat, with the one request that people keep it classy.

Thus, the Folly Boat still stands as one of the most iconic features at the heart of the island’s personality, and can still be enjoyed as a public piece of the community.

The Folly Boat once had its own up-to-date website called follyboat.com, where lovers and painters of the boat could upload their own photos. Started in the 1990s, the website once served as a place to document the history of the beloved vessel, however it has since fallen by the wayside.

There is still a Facebook page, though, where you can find photos and stories about the boat shared by locals and visitors alike.

Local songwriter duo Gracie & Lacy love the Folly Boat so much that they even wrote a song about it, titled “Ode To Folly Boat”. Watch the Folly Beach-filmed music video for that below.

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