Covid-19: Montana Watercraft Inspection Station Sees Rush Of Canadian Boaters Heading North; Already 3 Mussel-Fouled Boats Intercepted

Inspectors at the Dillon, Montana watercraft inspection station had a busy start to early season boat inspections, with Covid-19 news prompting Canadian boaters in the United States heading north for the border.

Located south of Dillon (southwest Montana) on Interstate 15, the watercraft inspection station is staffed by crews of two seasonal FWP employees who check for aquatic invasive species on boats traveling north.

Normally this time of year, watercraft inspection stations see a few snowbird boaters returning home.  Traffic increases in June when vacationers come to Montana towing recreational boats. 

However, 2020 has been anything but normal. The Dillon station opened on March 14, earlier than any previous year.  They have already intercepted three mussel-fouled boats. Last year, they stopped three mussel-fouled boats the entire season.

About 75 percent of the boats inspected so far this season have been on boats registered in Canada.

“The amount of boat traffic we were seeing at Dillon was like summertime traffic,” said AIS area supervisor John O’Bannon. “The coronavirus news caused Canadian boaters to rush for the border and that kept us really busy for the first two weeks.”

Boat traffic has decreased over the weekend to more typical numbers.

Persons bringing boats into Montana are required to get inspected before launching and must stop at all open watercraft inspection stations they encounter. FWP has implemented measures to protect inspectors and boat owners from COVID-19. Inspectors regularly clean and disinfect equipment and tools, specific tasks are assigned to each inspector so equipment isn’t shared, and inspectors maintain a 6-foot distance from the public during the inspection.

“We can conduct the inspection with no contact between the inspector and boat owner,” said O’Bannon. “But we need their assistance to do things like take off the boat cover and open compartments that must be examined.”

If an inspection can’t be completed, the boat is locked to the trailer to prevent it from launching and an inspection is arranged for another time. If the boater is destined for another state or province, the destination authority is notified to allow for a follow-up inspection or decontamination.

To find a watercraft inspection station and to learn more, go to or call the FWP Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau at 406-444-2440.


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