Dangerous Waters: A Summary of Duck Boat Accidents

Last month, the nation was shocked when a duck boat sank in Branson, Missouri. The accident took 17 lives and injured 7 other people. The duck boat was operating with 31 people aboard for a tour of Table Rock Lake when a sudden and severe storm brought winds reaching 65 mph, causing the boat to capsize. The boat was owned and operated by Ride the Ducks, a company that operates duck boat tours throughout the nation. The branch of Ride the Ducks that operated tours in Branson was owned by Ripley Entertainment.

The extent of the tragedy compounded as news emerged that one woman lost nine of her family members in the accident. Duck boats are inherently dangerous, and Ride the Ducks knew this—an inspector warned them of design flaws that could cause the duck boat to fail a year before it would do that very thing. However, this tragedy is the most recent and deadly in a long line of accidents involving duck boats.

A Brief History of Duck Boats

Understanding the history of duck boats is key to learning why they have such a dangerous design. While duck boats are used today as tourist attractions, they were designed for use in World War II. Originally known as DUKW boats, these vehicles were designed to deliver troops and supplies from the water to the shore as quickly as possible during an invasion. Originally produced by General Motors Company, the DUKW 353 was able to carry 5,220 pounds of equipment or 25 soldiers. Duck boats made the process of unloading troops and equipment drastically more efficient with their land-efficient set of six wheels and their water-fairing propeller.

However, when the allies attempted to deploy DUKW boats to Omaha Beach on D-Day, the weather revealed their design flaws. The massive operation took place on a day with uncharacteristically rough waters. When each DUKW was dropped into the choppy waters, each was loaded with ammunition, weapons, and troops. Only one boat made it to the beach—the rest sank, taking soldiers and supplies with them. While the boats were effective in calm waters, the unexpected conditions on D-Day proved they could be dangerous in the wrong conditions.

The United States would ultimately produce close to 20,000 duck boats. Duck boats used in tours today are either refurbished retired military vehicles or replicas based on the same design. While they were effective and helped the Allied war effort, one thing is certain: they were never developed with civilian use in mind.

Duck Boat Accidents

With the above history in mind, the accident in Branson, Missouri looks increasingly inevitable. The scale of the tragedy in this accident has made the public aware of the danger of duck boats.

However, this is not the first duck boat accident to ever occur. Here is a timeline of recent duck boat accidents:

  • 1999 – A deadly accident occurred on May 1 in Hot Springs, Arkansas when 13 people were killed during a tour of Lake Hamilton. A loose rubber fitting allowed the boat to take in water and sink. This was the worst civilian duck boat accident until the July 2018 Branson, Missouri tragedy.
  • 2002 – A duck boat sank in Ontario, Canada on the Ottawa River. Four people were trapped in the boat and drowned.
  • 2010 ­– A tugboat on the Delaware River in Philadelphia collided with a duck boat, killing two students on vacation from Hungary. Ride the Ducks owned the vehicle and paid an undisclosed settlement to the families of the victims. The duck boat had stalled and the tugboat's pilot did not see it.
  • 2013 – In Liverpool, England a duck boat sank. Thankfully, all 33 people aboard were able to escape. A government investigation into the incident noted the danger of duck boats.
  • 2013 – In London, England a duck boat caught fire on the Thames River. The 30 people aboard had to be rescued from the river. Reports from passengers mentioned how difficult it was to escape from the boat.
  • 2013 – On May 5, a duck boat caught fire in the San Francisco Bay. All 14 passengers were rescued from the water. We reported on the incident at the time it occurred.
  • 2015 – On May 8, a Philadelphia duck boat, also owned by Ride the Ducks, struck a woman and killed her as she was crossing the street. The driver of the duck boat did not face any charges. Ride the Duck ceased operations in Philadelphia in 2016.
  • 2015 – On September 24, a Seattle duck boat collided with a bus. The driver of the duck boat stated that he lost control of the vehicle, causing him to swerve into oncoming traffic. The accident killed 5 college students.
  • 2016 – A duck boat struck and killed a woman on a scooter in Boston on April 30. The incident triggered a series of safety reforms focused on duck boats.
  • 2018 – The Branson, Missouri accident that claimed the lives of 17 people and injured 7. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Ride the Ducks as a result.

Duck Boats Were Not Designed for Civilian Use

When they were made, duck boats provided an invaluable service to the people that needed them. However, the vehicles were still prone to dangerous failure in rough waters. Over the last 20 years, repeated incidents have identified duck boats as lumbering land vehicles and deadly boats. Our duck boat lawyers think enough is enough. We are currently representing a 15-year-old girl who was traumatized by the horrific experience of the Branson, Missouri duck boat sinking. As this young woman begins to process the events of that day, we strive to help her on her first steps towards recovery.

If you or someone you know has experienced a duck boat accident, call Arnold & Itkin today at (888) 493-1629. Our attorneys have won billions for clients and take pride in a dedication to victories in the courtroom. Consultation is free and, if we take your case, you do not pay unless we win.

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