Volunteers Community Partners

Watercraft Steward Program

The Finger Lakes Institute/Finger Lakes PRISM Watercraft Steward Program has been providing education and outreach to the Finger Lakes boating community since 2012. In addition to the voluntary inspections provided to boaters, this program informs boaters to “Clean, Drain, and Dry” their vessels to stop the spread of invasive species between water bodies. But “Clean, Drain, Dry” isn’t just something we like saying in the Finger Lakes – it’s required in New York State (per NYSDEC regulation Part 576). This program is spread across much of the Finger Lakes Region, and over the years has operated on ten out of the eleven Finger Lakes and additional waterbodies across the 17 county Finger Lakes PRISM region.

Stewards provide an important line of defense against the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Our stewards inspect watercraft for the presence of AIS at some of the busiest launches in the state.

Watercraft Steward Roles:

2021 watercraft stewards after a rainy day of pulling water chestnut



  • 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 play a vital role in outreach on AIS in our region. Stewards can teach boaters on which AIS are in their area, how to “Clean, Drain, and Dry” their watercraft, and why invasive species are a cause for concern. But the education stewards provide goes beyond the launch. Stewards regularly attend public events where they spread information about 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 Antoinette Miller mid-inspection at the Frontenac Park Boat Launch.

Steward Sydney VanWinkle mid-inspection at the Canandaigua 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, and more. With this data, invasive species managers can get a sense of usership and risk for AIS spread for each launch, and can help guide education and outreach strategies for that specific site. Over the past three years alone, the FLI Watercraft Steward Program has inspected over 115,000 watercraft, reaching over 240,000 individuals across its range. In 2021, nearly 4,000 invasive species were intercepted 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 deleterious AIS from entering or leaving our region.

Lead Steward Megan Swing gets low to thoroughly inspect a motorboat at the Woodville DEC Boat Launch.

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

What You Can Do to Help:

Stewards inform boaters to inspect¹, clean², drain³, and dry4 (or disinfect5) all boating, angling, and recreational gear before moving between waterways.

  1. Carefully inspect common attachment points for organisms or debris.
  2. Clean any attached organisms or debris before leaving. Do not wash or release material into a waterbody. Dispose of unused bait in the trash and dump bucket water on dry land.
  3. Drain all water holding compartments of the watercraft before leaving.
  4. Dry equipment before entering another waterbody. Drying time varies depending on weather and type of equipment.
  5. Disinfect anything that came into contact with water if it cannot be dried before reuse. For more information on disinfecting visit: https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/50267.htm

Additionally: Avoid boating, paddling, or swimming through dense plant beds. Never release unwanted home aquarium species into the wild or transport uncertified baitfish between waters. For more information of AIS prevention measures, visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/48221.html.


Inspection Records

People Reached During Inspections











Watercraft Steward Program Story Map:

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. Click here to go directly to the Story Map or keep scrolling to view the Story Map here.


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.