You’re riding in a vehicle with dozens of other people, when it suddenly veers off the road and into a body of water. It sounds alarming, but it’s an experience tourists pay for all the time when they board a “duck tour.”
Duck boats—vehicles that can operate on land and in water—have been operated as tourist attractions in harbor, river, or lake cities in the U.S. since 1946, many using surplus military amphibious landing vehicles from World War II. And while the majority of duck tours go off without a hitch, there have been exceptions with sometimes deadly results.
Since 1999, there have been 12 incidents in the U.S. involving duck boats, resulting in 44 deaths. The most recent of these has also been the deadliest: the July sinking of a duck boat on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., which killed 17 people and injured as many as 11.
Several lawsuits have already been filed against the company that operated the boat, including one for $100 million.
The accident, of course, made international headlines and has raised concerns in other cities, and even calls to ban the attractions. Jim Hall, the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, compared the vehicles to “unregulated amusement park rides.” Because the vehicles don’t fall completely within the “boat” or “bus” categories, oversight of them has been unclear, according to a USA Today article.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the Branson accident, “has complained in the past about a lack of oversight and sometimes conflicting regulations over the vehicles,” says USA Today. Maintenance and condition are also concerns, especially for the World War II-era duck boats.
“Duck boats are death traps both on water and on land,” Andrew Duffy, a Philadelphia lawyer who has represented families in accidents involving the vehicles, told USA Today. “They should be completely outlawed.”
The Missouri accident has some worried about the safety of Austin’s own duck tour attraction, the Austin Duck Adventures. An employee told KVUE-TV recently that there has never been an accident on the water with their boats.
The Austin attraction, which takes riders out onto Lake Austin, uses a different kind of vehicle from the one in the Missouri accident, a newer Hydra-Terra boat, “advertised as unsinkable,” according to KVUE. Hydra-Terra boats have better safety protocols, including larger windows that allow easier escape, the employee said. They are also not permitted to go on the water in bad weather conditions, unlike the Missouri duck boat, which capsized during a thunderstorm. The boats in Austin are also inspected annually by the Parks and Wildlife department.
Riders with safety concerns should make sure, before boarding a duck boat, that it has adequate safety gear, such as floatation devices, and a clear and easy means of escape. And if there’s a thunderstorm, stay on dry land.
If you are involved in a duck boat accident—on land or on water—you may be entitled to compensation for injury or damages. Contact the qualified attorneys at the Evans Law Firm for your free consultation.