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Cleaning and Disinfection Techniques Q&A for Boaters

Is there one best way to clean or disinfect a boat, trailer or associated equipment?

The most effective way to ensure that a boat or trailer is not transporting aquatic invasive species is to carefully inspect it for clinging invasives, remove any plants and debris identified and thoroughly drain and dry it. During hot, dry summer periods it will usually take about 5 days to completely dry a boat. Drying boating equipment during wetter, cooler periods of the year will take more time. Drying times based on the location in NY and time of year can be estimated at (see link to the right). Should you not be able to dry your boat completely, various disinfection techniques are described on the DEC website.

Series of images to clean, drain, and dry boats

I am hearing much about mandatory boat inspection and boat washing programs. What can you tell me about these programs?

Image of pressure washing a boat.
Pressure washing is a technique that can be used to clean

Boat inspections, whether conducted by a boat owner or by a lake steward or other designated individual at a boat launch, are a great way to ensure that boats and trailers are AIS free before they launch or leave a site. Boat washing is a technique that can be used to clean boat hulls and is particularly effective in removing AIS such as zebra mussels that can firmly attach to boat hulls. Proper boat washing entails the use of hot water (140° F), high pressure and a contact time of at least 10 seconds to kill and dislodge the attached mussels. This technique should not be confused with the rinsing of boats with tap water that saltwater anglers commonly complete to remove corrosive salt from boat hulls. Mandatory inspection and boat washing programs are commonly used in western states to combat the expansion of zebra and quagga mussels into large reservoirs important for hydroelectric, drinking water and irrigation. Mussel colonization can complicate the movement of water through canals, dams, pipes, etc. Unlike the states east of the Mississippi where these species are common, zebra and quagga mussels are not yet found in abundance in these western states.

Are there any drawbacks to boat washing programs?

Hot water, high pressure boat washing units can be expensive and beyond the ability of the average boat owner or lake association to afford. These units also require trained staff to operate. Used incorrectly, they can damage boats. Complete disinfection also requires that all water holding compartments, as well as the engine cooling system be flushed with hot water. Users should check to make sure that 140 ° water is compatible with pumps and engine components before disinfection. Flushing inboard engines can be difficult and may require a marine technician to complete. Complete disinfection on larger recreational boats may require 30 minutes or more to complete.
On large bodies of waters with multiple access points it may not be feasible to wash all boats entering or departing a lake. Long lines at boat launches, typical on busy summer weekends at boat launches, will get even longer resulting in many frustrated boaters and decreasing interest in participation in the program. The waste water from washing operations which will include gas, oil and other contaminants will also need to be disposed of in a manner consistent with DEC regulations. If not properly contained, boat wash wastewater and removed AIS can flush into the adjacent waterbody.

What about self-service car washes? Are they effective for removing AIS from boats and trailers?

Car washes typically do not heat water to the recommended 140° F and may not have sufficient pressure to dislodge zebra mussels. Depending upon water temperature, a contact time of at least 30 seconds is recommended.

Are there any other alternatives for immediate disinfection?

Image of steam cleaning a lawnmower with a household steam cleaner.
Household steam cleaners can be used to disinfect
small boats and equipment.

Household steam cleaners can be effectively used to disinfect small boats and are particularly effective for live wells, bait wells and bilge areas that may be difficult to pressure wash. Larger commercial units can be employed for larger boats or in situations calling for the disinfection of large numbers of boats. The smaller units can usually be purchased for under $200.

Are there any chemical disinfectants that are effective on AIS?

There are no disinfectants available for use by boat owners that are specifically labeled to kill all aquatic invasive species. There are, however, a number of household disinfectants and chemical compounds that can be effective against various AIS and fish diseases.

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