About those drain plugs: Don't forget to put 'em back in

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 2014 - 3:54 PM

The law says take them out. Now a device is available to help boaters remember to put them back in.

The black plastic Plug Dock is shown holding a brass boat plug and orange kill-switch tether. The engine won’t start until the tether is connected near the engine.

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Harkness,

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Most of Minnesota’s 2.3 million boaters know they must remove their boat’s drain plug after they tow their craft from the water to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

And those plugs can’t be reinstalled until a boater is readying to launch at a landing.

The problem is remembering to do that.

Some boaters have done so only after noticing water flooding into their boats.

“I’ve come close [to forgetting], and I’ve worried about it, but I haven’t actually done it,’’ said avid boater Jon Harkness of Maple Grove.

But the thought of accidentally sinking his 18-foot runabout got him ruminating. Harkness invented a device that he says is an almost foolproof way to store a boat plug and also remember to reinstall it.

“It just kind of came to me,’’ he said. “I thought why not store it in a place where you also retain your kill switch tether, so you can’t start your engine without remembering to put your plug in?’’

The result: Plug Dock, a small plastic device that holds both the drain plug and the kill-switch tether. It’s attached with adhesive to a conspicuous place on a boat.

“Every boater who removes his drain plug is faced with two questions: Where am I going to store it, and how will I remember to put it back when I launch my boat?’’ Harkness said. “This little chunk of plastic answers both questions.’’

Harkness, a patent attorney, and his partner, Dan Martinson of Medina, who is in the plastics business, started producing and peddling the devices this spring.

Wildlife Forever, a nonprofit group based in Brooklyn Center, is helping distribute them to lake associations and government agencies as part of the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers campaign, with the idea that they be given away free at boat inspection sites.

They’re also available for purchase at Hallberg Marine in Wyoming, Minn., and through the company’s website, www.plugdock.com.

Harkness thinks he has invented a better mousetrap, and hopes to get the devices — which sell for about $10 — into other retail outlets. They hold either a half-inch threaded plug or 1-inch expandable rubber plug.

“We feel it’s a neat product to remind folks to pull their plug — it’s a no-brainer concept,’’ said Pat Conzemius, Wildlife Forever conservation director.

Wildlife Forever has started offering Plug Docks at discount to lake associations.

“We’re not in this to make money, we want to get folks to change their behavior,’’ Conzemius said.

Minnesota Sea Grant in Duluth bought some that will be distributed in the Duluth and Lake Superior area, Conzemius said.

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  • The black plastic Plug Dock device is shown holding a brass boat plug and orange kill-switch tether. The boater can't start the engine until the kill-switch tether is connected near the engine. Photo courtsey Jon Harkness

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