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Ducks Boats: An Accident Waiting to Happen?
A photo of the “Miss Majestic” displaying the canopy modification added to an original DUKW.

Ducks Boats: An Accident Waiting to Happen?

The recent tragedy which unfolded on Table Rock Lake in Missouri is just the latest in a string of catastrophes involving these so-called ‘vessels or duck boats,’ technically labeled as an amphibious passenger vehicle. In this latest catastrophe, 17 people perished on July 19 when a duck boat operated by “Ride the Ducks” sank in rough weather.

Duck boats were originally constructed as amphibious landing vehicles designed to transport soldiers and equipment during World War II. More than 21,000 duck boats (then known as DUKW’s) were constructed for use during the war. 

Duck Boats - An original DUKW in use during the war.
An original DUKW in use during the war.

After the war, many of these DUKW’s were sold as surplus and then used as commercial passenger vehicles and are still in use today.

On May 1, 1999, the converted DUKW “Miss Majestic,” sank on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Of the 21 people on board, 13 passengers, including 3 children, died. In its report of the incident, The National Transportation Safety Board noted that the “continuous canopy roof that entrapped passengers within the sinking vehicle” contributed to the high loss of life. The NTSB further stated that if “the vehicle had not had a canopy, the passengers would not have had a barrier to vertical escape. They would not have been trapped inside the vehicle, and fewer passengers might have been killed. The Safety Board, therefore, concludes that the canopy on the Miss Majestic was a major impediment to the survival of the passengers.”

Duck Boats - Miss Majestic Duck Boat
A photo of the “Miss Majestic” displaying the canopy modification added to an original DUKW.

On July 7, 2010, a stalled duck boat was struck by a barge under tow, resulting in the deaths of two Hungarian tourists and injuries to more than 25 people. As in both the Table Rock Lake and Lake Hamilton tragedies, that duck boat also had an enclosed canopy.

Duck Boats - Photo depicting the 2010 duck boat immediately before impact.
Photo depicting the 2010 duck boat immediately before impact.

Former NTSB chairman Jim Hall, who served under President Bill Clinton, said the Thursday sinking on Table Rock Lake seemed eerily similar to the 1999 duck boat incident that killed 13 people in Arkansas. Hall said duck-boat tours are essentially unregulated amusement park rides. “My feeling after seeing this one is that the only thing to do in the name of public safety is to ban them,” Hall told USA TODAY. “I think it’s the responsible thing to do to ensure (riders) are not put at risk.”

If you have been injured aboard a vessel, don’t hesitate to call or contact the attorneys at Friedman, James & Buchsbaum LLP immediately (212-233-9385) to ensure your rights are fully protected. Don’t delay, because the shipowner and your employer already have attorneys working for them, let us get to work for you!

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