Thursday, December 5, 2019

Invasives Viewpoint: Make Boat Inspections Mandatory

boat inspection station provided by adk explorerYes, everyone should be educated and make sure their boat is clean, drained and dry, inspected and decontaminated, to stop the spread of invasive species and preserve Adirondack Park lakes, ponds and rivers. The park is a national treasure we must protect for future generations, as our ancestors did for us. That means taking seriously our obligations to protect clean water, native wildlife, aquatic life, allowing people to live in harmony with the wilderness.

Some suggest that this could be done with education and voluntary programs alone, without a law, regulations or enforcement. We can all wish that were true, but it isn’t.

The Adirondacks now have a park-wide network of free voluntary boat inspection and boat washing stations. But at some of those, including popular entrances into the park, only a small fraction of the boats coming into the park are stopping. The percentage that stopped at the new station on the Northway this summer is estimated at less than 10 percent. Why? They are not required to. Education alone will not work.

Existing law should be strengthened to make boat inspections mandatory. When someone is transporting a boat to a water body in the park, the driver should be obligated to stop at an open boat inspection station, just as trucks currently stop at weigh stations.

Invasive species infestations harm the environment, the economy and recreation. Prevention is always easier and less expensive than trying to remove a troublesome invader later on. It is a conservative approach. In most cases, removal isn’t possible.

New York Environmental Conservation Law §9-1710 requires that boaters take reasonable precautions to remove harmful, non-native plants and animals from watercraft when transported in New York State. It is due to expire on June 1, 2020.

The law was first approved five years ago with a sunset provision so it would expire in 2019, if the Legislature felt it had been ineffective or onerous. The Legislature renewed the law last year, for one year, to allow a limited amount of time to determine how to strengthen the law and reduce the frequency that boaters bypass inspection stations.

The law has helped educate boaters and should be renewed, but would work better if inspections were mandatory in the Adirondacks.

Some will question how mandatory inspections could be enforced on remote sections of forest preserve, or when traveling between distant bodies of water within the park. Some will argue that we can’t strengthen protections without strengthening enforcement and funding. These are distractions from progress. Our lawmakers can strengthen invasive species protections with the resources we have now, better protecting our waters, preserving property values and aquatic recreation.

We believe that the vast majority of boaters will comply with the law if inspections are mandatory and well-publicized. A few weekends of conservation officers monitoring popular boat launches would spread the word that the state was serious about compliance.

Lake George and Loon Lake (Chestertown, Warren County) are New York’s only locations where pre-launch inspections are currently required. Inspectors in those locations have slammed the door on new infestations, but not on boaters. The rest of the park still remains vulnerable.

The longer we wait to act, the more aggressive, nonnative plants and animals will invade our aquatic ecosystems. The damage and the cost will only increase until we take action to stem the invasions. It’s time to act!

This essay by Adirondack Council’s John F. Sheehan is a companion piece to “Invasives Viewpoint: Add Boat Inspectors, Educate Visitors” by Thomas E. Williams, owner of Paradox Consulting Group based in Hudson. Mr. Williams’ essay will appear in the Adirondack Almanack on Monday.  This essay was written for “It’s Debatable,” which appears in each issue of the Adirondack Explorer.

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Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.

16 Responses

  1. Marty says:

    I don’t argue with the need to control invasive species in our waterways. Required mandatory inspections seems pretty unworkable however. First are you proposing that all watercraft: powerboats, canoes, kayaks, rafting outfitters etc be inspected? Will I be expected to search out an inspection station or just if I happen to pass one? I might be canoeing on several waterways on the same day pretty unlikely I would search out an inspection station between launches. How can this possibly be enforced?

    We can certainly do a better job of education – signs at remote launching sites, washing stations at campgrounds and marinas etc. But mandating inspections every time you enter or leave a body of water just won’t be complied with. By the way truck weighing stations are closed more than they are open so that was a bad analogy.

    • John Sheehan says:

      As a boater, you are currently obligated to prevent the spread of species from one water to another. How you do that is up to you. A mandatory program would require you to stop at an open inspection station before launch in the Adirondacks. Proof of inspection would be a seal between the boat and trailer. Rangers/ECOs could simply do spot inspections at random water bodies, similar to firewood transport inspections at camp grounds, to ensure that compliance becomes a priority.

      • Boreas says:


        I think part of the misunderstanding here is semantic. There is a difference between mandatory inspection (by officials or groups) and mandatory cleaning (by boat owner) with spot inspections. I can go along with spot inspections, but don’t know how you would do mandatory inspections across the state, as all waterways need to be protected.

  2. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Marty’s right, it sounds like just one more law/regulation that’s almost impossible to administer and in the remote areas, fairly impossible to comply with. More education of the boating public seems to be a better solution.

  3. Boreas says:

    I have to agree with the posts above with regard to MANDATORY inspections. That is going to require a gargantuan workforce and inspection system. Perhaps a better alternative would be random inspections of incoming boats/trailers at as many launches as possible – similar to the above mentioned truck stations. Information, precautions, and penalties(?) would be spelled out with boat & trailer registration materials. Then deny access and/or ticket (?) anyone with a contaminated boat or trailer.

    You could also do something similar at contaminated lakes (with cleaning stations) with boats exiting the water and not cleaning. To me it would make sense that the “violation” would occur when the boat/trailer carries the invasives beyond the launch as well as when a boat puts in. It is conceivable that on a rainy day, invasives could be spread to other waterways without the boat ever being launched. Fragments and organisms falling off trailers could wash into storm drains, streams, etc. and make their way to a clean body of water on the way home.

    Certainly a complicated problem with no easy answers. Even with mandatory inspections 100% of the time at 100% of the launches with 100% of the boaters, it is unlikely that aquatic invasives can be effectively controlled. Nature says invasive species will usually find a way to expand their range with or without our help.

    • John Sheehan says:

      Inspection/decontamination doesn’t have to happen at the launch. There is already a network of stations on major highways into the park. Better signs and an education campaign similar to the one vs. forest fires and trash might make some real headway.

  4. adkDreamer says:

    Another ridiculous and misleading article from John Sheehan. Isn’t it telling that although the laws John quoted above have been on the books for a number of years, a recent FOIL response from both the DEC Police and NYS Police yielded absolutely no tickets or fines recorded for violations of these aquatic invasives laws. None.

    Net effect of the law: Nothing.

    Great! Let’s make some more laws. Who cares? They are not enforced anyways, but the pontification of them makes them feel so good.

    • John Warren says:

      There is no state requirement for boat inspections.

    • hurricane hiker says:

      No tickets doesn’t mean the law is not changing public behavior to utilize the voluntary stations, it means DEC/ NYS is not pursuing enforcing the law, such as spot checks at launches w/o inspection stations on site. Also since the law was passed/ regs promulgated inspections are up in the park.

  5. William G Ott says:

    Most of us who come to this site probably have two things in common. We love the woods and don’t like people telling us what to do. Most of us would not knowingly infect a water body. This law is mainly for the those who do not know or even care. It is also to help educate us who do care.

    My water craft is just a 17 foot lightweight canoe. However, since I portage it to remote ponds, there would be a chance of me being a culprit in infecting a pond that may not be visited very often. My awareness of invasive plants has come in large part from John Warren’s articles published here.

    So, then yesterday I visited a DEC site on invasives. There must have been 17,000 plants listed,so I quit. Then today I found another site that is much more helpful. ( For aquatic species there is a page with 11 species with nice photos – I printed and laminated it to be with me in the canoe.

    I did have my canoe inspected this year, and it was a positive experience.

    • John Sheehan says:

      Thank you. I too have had my boat inspected, more than once. It was totally painless and cost me nothing except a few minutes of boating time. I found this to be a negligible price to pay when the alternative is contaminating one pristine lake after another.

  6. Balian the Cat says:


    You’re never going to make it as an internet commentator if you insist on being civil, helpful, and reasonable.

  7. Smitty says:

    I suspect that by far the greatest risk is from motorboats and trailered boats, where there are lots of nooks and crannies for invasives to attach and where visual inspection of the underside is not likely to happen. These are the watercraft that need boat inspection. Not so much canoes and kayaks. I live near the Star Lake boat washing station. Pitifully few boats stop here. And people on Star Lake are very concerned about the likelyhood of invasives getting into Star Lake and costing much money to control. Mandatory inspections for motorized or trailered watercraft seems like a reasonable way to prevent much bigger problems down the road.

    • William G Ott says:


      I am will always be civil, helpful, and reasonable. I was voluntarily inspected on Rt3 at Sunny Lake Rd before heading up the Oswegatchie River last summer. That experience plus the reading of these posts are changing my mission in the woods. It has always been to fill my canoe with trash on my way out. I am adding to that the search for invasives. This spring I will be looking at Streeter Fish Pond, the Riley Ponds, the Crooked Lakes, and all the other places I hit in 1994. It gives me a resolve to repeat a long ago trip.

      I am heading south here in a few days and then north in early May. I probably won’t check in here till next spring. Bye.

    • John Sheehan says:

      It is possible that a microscopic form of an invasive species could attach itself and go unnoticed, but you are right that bilge water and engine intakes are more likely to harbor an unwanted hitchhiker. Trailered boats are the primary targets.

  8. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: “Certainly a complicated problem with no easy answers.”

    Ban boating on lakes! This would be a surefire way to possibly preserve at least some bodies of water for our progeny. Just think how unselfish it would be to comply to an outright ban.

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