Volunteers Community Partners

Watercraft Steward Program

The Watercraft Steward Program of the Finger Lakes Institute has been providing outreach and education to the public boating community of the Finger Lakes Region since 2012.  This program informs boaters to “Clean, Drain, and Dry” their vessels after leaving a launch to stop the spread of invasive species between water bodies. Not only is “Clean, Drain, and Dry” important – but it’s New York State law as well (per NYSDEC regulation Part 576). This program is widespread, and has operated on each of the individual Finger Lakes, the Erie Canal, the Genesee River, Lake Ontario, and the 17 county Finger Lakes PRISM region.

Stewards provide an important line of defense against the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). With a physical presence at some of the busiest launches in the state, our stewards are able to precisely inspect each boat that passes through their launch for the presence of AIS.

Watercraft Steward Roles:

  • Prevent invasive species introductions
  • Inspect watercraft for AIS
  • Educate the public on AIS
  • Take part in AIS removal
  • Record AIS data at boat launches



Stewards also play a vital role in education about AIS in our region. Stewards can teach boaters on what AIS are in their area, how to “Clean, Drain, and Dry” their watercraft, and why invasive species are a cause for concern. The education stewards provide goes beyond the launch, and stewards regularly attend public events where they can teach AIS to a wider audience. Informing the public about how cleaning, draining, and drying their boats is crucial to stopping the future spread of AIS, and utilizes the most cost effective tactic for invasive species management – prevention.


Steward Daniel Robeson mid-inspection at the Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park.

Steward Kelly Minnehan mid-inspection at the Conesus Lake State Marine Park.


Finally, stewards collect a huge amount of data. Stewards use GIS technology to collect data about user groups, knowledge of AIS management methods, species found, launch traffic levels, etc. With this data, invasive species managers can get a sense of the health of each launch and help guide education and outreach strategies for that specific site. Over the past three years alone, the FLI Watercraft Steward Program has inspected nearly 110,000 watercrafts, reaching almost 250,000 individuals across its range. In 2019, over 2,000 inspections conducted resulted in AIS interceptions upon entering or leaving a waterbody – this is prevention in action. The FLI/FLPRISM Watercraft Steward Program will continue to be funded through the Finger Lakes PRISM and other sources for the foreseeable future. This program will continue to grow and evolve while preventing dangerous AIS from entering or leaving our region.

Lead Steward Nico Bersani gets low to thoroughly inspect a motorboat in the Finger Lakes

Steward Megan Harris points to places a boater is likely to find aquatic hitchhikers


Inspection Records

People Reached










In 2020, our team developed an ESRI Story Map using data collected by FLI Watercraft Stewards through the Watercraft Inspection Survey Program Application (WISPA). This product gives an excellent overview of the program, it’s goals, and evolution over the past several years. The Story Map also includes a number of data analyses for WISPA data, offering a peek at what happens behind the scenes of the FLI/FL PRISM Watercraft Steward Program.

Current and past funding for this program has been provided by a number of sources: US Fish and Wildlife Service, FLLOWPA, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association and Council, the Conesus Lake Assocation, Corneel Cooperative Extension of Livingston County, Cayuga County, Onondaga County, Monroe County, and more.