Volunteers Community Partners

Watercraft Steward Program

This is a typical setup for a Watercraft Steward tabling event. Displayed on the table is a range of educational materials, and FLI/FL PRISM giveaways like pins and boat towels. Also included is a simple game used to draw event-goers so they can reach a broader range with AIS educational outreach.

The Watercraft Steward Program operated at the Finger Lakes Institute has been providing outreach and education to the public boating community using the many water resources of the Finger Lakes Region since 2012. Current and past funding for this program has been provided by a number of sources: US Fish and Wildlife Service and FLLOWPA, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and a number of other organizations including the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association and Council, the Conesus Lake Association, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Livingston County, Cayuga County, Onondaga County, and Monroe County. This program focuses on spreading the message that boaters must Clean, Drain, and Dry their vessels after leaving a launch before entering a public roadway, per the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Regulation Part 576. The program has operated on all of the individual Finger Lakes, the Erie Canal, the Genesee River, and Lake Ontario.

The role of Watercraft Stewards can be looked at in three ways. Stewards can provide the first and last line of defense against the spread of aquatic invasive species. With a physical presence at some of the busiest launches in the State, our stewards are able to physically inspect each boat that passes through their launch for the presence of aquatic invasive species. While performing watercraft inspections, stewards also provide important outreach and education to the boating community about how they should be acting in the absence of stewards. Stewards inform boaters about how and why to Clean, Drain, and Dry, and give other important info about AIS in the Finger Lakes Region. Stewards also regularly attend public events and meetings for tabling opportunities, where they are able to focus on education and outreach while they get a break from inspections at the launch. Informing the public about how cleaning, draining, and drying their boats can stop the spread of AIS, and explaining to them why stopping that spread is important utilizes the most cost effective tactic for invasive species management: prevention.

Steward Daniel Robeson mid-inspection at the Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park. This location is one of the busiest public boat launches in NY State.

Steward Kelly Minnehan mid-inspection at the Conesus Lake State Marine Park, another one of NY State’s busiest public boat launches.

Finally, stewards collect a huge amount of data. Steward use powerful GIS-integrated technology to collect data about demographics and user groups at a launch, weather, knowledge of AIS management methods, species found, and launch traffic levels, among other things. With this data, managers paint multiple detailed pictures of each lake or launch that help to guide education and outreach strategies customized for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Over the past three years alone, the FLI Watercraft Steward Program has inspected nearly 100,000 watercrafts, reaching over 200,000 individuals across its range. In 2019 alone, over 2,000 inspections conducted resulted in AIS interceptions upon entering or leaving a waterbody – this is prevention in action.


Year Watercrafts Inspected People Reached
2017 35,468 79,084
2018 34,772 81,448
2019 29,806 63,679


Another initiative associated with the Watercraft Steward Program involves providing invasive species disposal stations. These boxes were placed at a number of boat launch sites around the Finger Lakes to encourage launch users to properly dispose of AIS while cleaning their boats in between uses. AIS disposal stations also offer a great deal of information about how boaters can take part in stopping the spread of invasive species on their own. To learn more about AIS disposal boxes, and for more information about how you or your organization can build one yourself, click here.

Over the years, the FLI Watercraft Steward Program has grown and evolved in many different ways. The scope and range of steward coverage has expanded and shifted with changes in local and regional needs (see the map below for details on launches covered over the past three years). The number of full-time stewards trained and deployed at boat launches has grown to more than twenty. New technology is constantly being reviewed, tested and deployed to improve data collection and analysis, training and management, reporting, and communication. The WSP at the Finger Lakes Institute will continue to be funded by many of the above organizations, in addition to receiving funding by the Finger Lakes PRISMS’ contract until 2023. With this continued funding, management of this program will strive to continually improve AIS education and outreach efforts in the Finger Lakes Region and beyond, and to foster valuable stewardship from the boating community.

A large number of 2018 Watercraft Stewards participated in a volunteer water chestnut pull in Red Creek, removing over 1000 lbs of invasive plants from the Lake Ontario tributary. Participating in these events help to build team membership and broadens the stewards understanding of invasive species management programming in the Finger Lakes and Southern Lake Ontario areas.