Liberty, Justice, and a Good Time For All
by Melissa LaScaleia
The Murrells Inlet Boat Parade is gearing up to celebrate their 36th year in Murrells Inlet this July 4.
“A group of us started the Boat Parade in 1983 as a way to celebrate the 4th of July,” says Lee Hewitt. “Other communities had events and ways of celebrating, and we wanted to have something for our community too.”
Many years ago, Lee and his friends, including his mother Adele Hewitt, Bob Hendrick, Norma Coote, Sara Brown, Rose Cook, and Francis and Earl Atkinson, all lived on the creek in Murrells Inlet.
“At the time, there was a Mexican restaurant on the bypass called Rosa Lindas, and we met over margaritas and chips and salsa one night and came up with the idea,” he says. “That first year, we had about five or six boats in the parade.”
Within two to three years of starting it, the parade started to get bigger until it outgrew the group. At that point, they collectively turned it over to the Murrells Inlet Jaycees— a youth civic organization, to organize it, handle the logistics, and use it as a fundraising event to support their community projects.
Lee and his friends made and sold T-shirts that read ‘Murrells Inlet Boat Parade’ and came up with an accompanying logo and a theme that changes each year. It’s a tradition that is still carried on to this day.
“The T-shirts were really popular,” he says. “We sold out every year and donated the money to the Jaycees.”
In the 90s, the Jaycees closed their doors permanently, and the group turned the Boat Parade into a non-profit 501(c)(3). They selected the Boy Scouts of America as the new recipients of the proceeds from their T-shirt-sales.
Since the Boy Scouts have been involved, they’ve raised over $309,000 in T-shirt sales. This year’s theme is ‘Liberty, Justice, and a Good Time For All.’ Leading up to the event, you can buy the T-shirts at Garden City Realty, or Lee’s Inlet Apothecary, both in Murrells Inlet. If there are any left, they will be available for purchase along the Marsh Walk the day of the parade. They are still as popular today as they were back then, so get yours early. They sell out— all 3,000— every year.
Lee has served as cochairman of the parade since the beginning, with his friend, Bob Hendrick, who has since passed away, assisting him as his counter-chairman. Today, Lee runs things on his own with the help of the Boy Scouts.
“People call me throughout the year to plan for next year,” he says. “This is a big event for everybody— they plan months in advance. We have to create the theme, the logo— secure the permitting. There’s a lot to organize logistically with the Coast Guard, police and restaurants, so everyone can set their schedules.”
The Murrells Inlet Boat Parade is free and open to anyone who wants to participate. You can register your boat before July 4 at several different locations. Or, on the day of the parade, you can register at the Committee Boat, which is at the beginning of the parade.
The time for the parade changes annually, as it’s dependent on the tide. This year’s parade starts at 9am. From beginning to end, it takes about an hour and a half.
It starts at the point of Garden City, which is the mouth of the Inlet, and then runs past the houses of Garden City, along the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk, past Crazy Sister Marina and Belin Methodist Church, and finishes at the end of Parsonage Creek.
The best locations to view the parade are along the Marsh Walk or in the parking lot of Belin Methodist Church.
“You’ll see people decorate their boats, they’ll have costumes, they’ll have music,” Lee says. “We give trophies for the best decorated boats and the best decorated docks. People go all-out with red, white, and blue flags and banners. We’ll have judges on the committee boat and along the creek to judge.”
The Murrells Inlet Boat Parade may be a local event, but it’s reputation has spread to the point where it has been featured nationally. CBS news did a television clip on it several years ago.
“It’s become a great family event,” Lee says. “Families and friends gather out on the boats; the houses and docks along the creek are decorated. Restaurants along the Marsh Walk serve food and beer. There are picnics and cookouts; people show up by the thousands. It’s a great community event. It creates a strong sense of fellowship, and raises funds for the Boy Scouts. It’s just a good, fun day.”