According to U.S. Coast Guard data, there are 4.3 million boats registered in the eight Great Lakes states — nearly a quarter of all registered boats in the entire nation. While water-based recreational users are not the primary source of AIS introductions, recreational activities do contribute to the spread of invasive species. Plants and animals can hitch a ride on hulls, props, and other boating and angling equipment.

To curb the spread of AIS, Great Lakes states have established specific invasive species laws which list restricted and prohibited species, rules of possession, penalties for intentional introduction and releases, and permit programs. Follow your state’s restrictions on the transport of species and educate others about your state laws regarding transporting AIS. See State Laws.

Several simple best management practices can help prevent the spread of AIS. As a marina operator, your role is to encourage boaters and staff to adopt these guidelines and offer training, educational materials, resources, and services.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Educate employees and boaters about boat cleaning procedures, reporting guidelines, and prohibition on intentional transport of regulated species.
  • Identify resources and services that could support AIS control efforts.
  • Implement AIS control measures (e.g., placement of trash cans near launches for bait disposal, and install signs and posters).
  • Understand the role of marinas and boaters in stopping the spread of AIS.

Best Management Practices

Provide AIS Educational Materials

Marina operators and public launch managers are uniquely positioned to inform boaters of AIS-related best management practices. Encouraging the use of these practices may help slow the spread of aquatic invasive species and diseases. Installing signs, posters and other notices to advise boaters and marina staff about their responsibility in controlling the spread of AIS is a key part of education. For example, you could:

  • Inform boaters and encourage practices that help control the spread of aquatic invasive species and diseases. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Installing signs, posters and other notices to advise boaters and marina staff about their responsibility in controlling the spread of AIS. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Place Watercraft Checkpoint signs about proper boat cleaning near launch areas and in boat maintenance areas.
  • Distribute the Watercraft Checkpoints Tip Sheet, as well as other materials about AIS. See Resources and Tools for tip sheets, posters and other educational materials.
  • Host educational events designed to focus on proper watercraft inspection to reduce the spread of AIS.
  • Provide guidelines on the proper disposal of unwanted bait in a trash receptacle on land.
  • Encourage boaters to adopt the “Guidelines for Preventing the Spread of AIS” that address practices on and off the water, including properly disposing unwanted bait, pets or plants.
  • Directing boaters to informational resources:

Provide Inspection and Cleaning Guidance to BoatersWatercraft Check points

Using the Watercraft Checkpoints materials to properly inspect watercraft and dispose of AIS materials is a primary method of stopping the spread of AIS and preventing the introduction of new AIS. The general rule is: do not release plants, fish or animals into a body of water unless they came out of that body of water.

Communicate with boaters and staff that proper inspection of watercraft involves cleaning, draining and drying vessels, trailers and other equipment. Protocols for these activities have been outlined by the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!TM and are outlined below.

  • Encourage boaters to use best management practices when cleaning, washing, and draining their boats. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Communicate with boaters and staff that proper inspection of watercraft involves cleaning, draining and drying vessels, trailers and other equipment. Protocols for these activities have been outlined by the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!TM and are outlined below.

General AIS Prevention Procedures for Boaters

Inspect and clean off visible aquatic plants, animals, and mud from boat, motor, trailer, and equipment before leaving the water access. Remove all visible mud, sand and plant fragments. Follow the checkpoints below, before leaving the water access.

Remove plants and animals from watercraft. Check the following:

  • Boat hull, bottom and sides
  • Centerboard, bilge board wells and rudders of sailboats and kayaks
  • Motor, propeller, bunks and intake grates of motorboats
  • Steering nozzle and ballast tanks of personal watercraft (e.g., jet skis or wakeboards)
  • Anchor, anchor line and other rope
  • Trailer, including rollers, spare tire, trailer axle, lights and wiring

Drain all water holding compartments. Check the following:

  • Drain water from live wells, bait wells and bilge areas
  • Drain bait containers before leaving the water access*
  • Flush motor according to owner’s manual
  • Run engine 5-10 seconds to blow out excess water and vegetation

*Let boaters know that when keeping live bait, drain bait container and replace it with bottled, spring or dechlorinated tap water. Don’t add other live fish to the bait container.

Encourage Boaters to Wash and Dry Equipment

  • Rinsing boat, trailer, and equipment with high-pressure, hot water, if available is preferred.
  • Dry everything for five days, unless otherwise required by local or state laws. Letting the boat and equipment dry before moving between waters can help kill small species not easily seen (e.g., zebra mussel veligers and waterfleas).
  • An alternative is to wipe briskly with a dry towel if thorough air-drying is not possible before leaving the water access.
  • Wide use of chemical prophylactics or disinfectants for treating watercraft and recreational equipment is NOT recommended. Chemicals may damage the vessel, or equipment, pose risks to the environment and human health, and have varying levels of effectiveness.

Provide a Boat Wash Area

Boat washing stations help remove aquatic invasive species from the exterior of boats, trailers, and other equipment. Marina facilities typically use one of three types of washing stations: fixed with full drainage system, fixed with wand system, and portable.

  • Provide boaters with an area – contained and managed for boat wash water – where they can carefully inspect, clean drain and dry their boats and equipment when they leave the water. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Provide trash receptacles for disposal of leftover bait and debris, plant and mud from boaters’ equipment. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Provide high-pressure washer or hot water. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Provide oil-absorbent materials for boaters using the wash station. For more information, see: Waste Management and Recycling Unit and Boat Maintenance Unit. Regional Best Management Practice
  • If a washing system is not provided, marina operators may promote the use of a commercial carwash by providing maps to these facilities. Identify carwash facilities that thoroughly filter wastewater before being returned to waterway (on-site or at wastewater treatment plant).
  • For more information on boat washing systems, including case studies, see: Presentation (PDF).

For more information on boat hull washing at marinas as related to boat maintenance, please refer to the following units: Boat Maintenance Unit, Siting Considerations Unit, Marina Design and Maintenance Unit. Additional resources: State Resources for Boat Wash Water.

Train Staff

Many of the best practices and educational materials mentioned above for boaters may be used to train marina staff about AIS issues. Train marina maintenance staff to provide services to assist with proper hull washing and dry-well inspection.

  • Become aware of and adhere to your state’s restrictions on the transport of species. For more information, see: State LawsRegional Best Management Practice
  • Watercraft inspection, cleaning and maintenance may already be part of the routine service that you offer your patrons. Informing marina staff about the AIS checkpoints is another step in the inspection process. Post the Watercraft Checkpoints poster in the boat maintenance area and inform your staff about specific guidelines and laws.
  • Provide the Watercraft Checkpoints Tip Sheet to boaters.
  • Post signs and information that will help educate and remind staff of best practices.

Clean Boats, Clean Waters
Several states have developed Clean Boats, Clean Waters campaigns. The program trains volunteers to work with boaters, primarily at public boat launches, to prevent the spread of invasive species. For example, volunteers show boaters how to inspect their equipment, demonstrate cleaning techniques for boats and trailers, and share information about AIS.

State-operated or municipal marina facility operators may find the Clean Boats educational materials applicable. For more information, see: Clean Boats Clean Waters video.

Report Suspected New Aquatic Invasive Species

Marina operators, staff and boaters can play an important role in AIS management by reporting any new invasive species or the spread of existing invasive species to new locations. Resource managers need current information on where species have been found in order to effectively manage our resources.

  • If a boater suspects a new occurrence of an aquatic invasive species, provide information on reporting the detection and offer educational resources about aquatic invasive species. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Report invasive species found at new locations to USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Sighting Report Form OR call 1-877-STOP-ANS. Data is available for use by biologists, interagency groups, and the general public.
  • In addition to USGS, you should also report the finding to the state. Contact information is provided below for Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
    • Michigan: Please report invasive species found at new locations on the USGS NAS website, by calling (877) STOP-ANS or directly contacting the GLANSIS manager, Rochelle Sturtevant at or (734) 741-2287.
    • Ohio: See Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force expert list for person to notify: ANS Task Force Invasive Species Experts Database. The person to contact (ODNR/OSG/GLANSIS) varies based on the type of AIS collected.
    • Wisconsin: Notify the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. On the WDNR Invasive Species page, select “Report” for next steps (forms, contact information, etc.).

Seek Out Additional Information and Resources

A wide range of AIS resources are available to marina operators and boaters. Contact your state natural resources offices or Sea Grant program for resources, including publications, signs and curriculum materials.

Next: Unit Review