Coast Guard recommends duck boats remove canopies

The Coast Guard wants duck boat operators to remove canopies, side curtains and overhead framing to help passengers and crew escape in an emergency.

The recommendation issued Wednesday is based on preliminary findings in the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) looking into a duck boat sinking that killed 17 people near Branson, Mo., in 2018 — the deadliest duck boat accident ever. The Coast Guard also said it will consider further safety measures for duck boats at the end of the MBI.

The advisory (Marine Safety Information Bulletin 15-20, “Recommendation for DUKW Passenger Vessel Canopy Removal”), which is voluntary, is similar to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation late last year urging the Coast Guard to require canopy removal as well as sufficient reserve buoyancy for the amphibious passenger vessels.

The Coast Guard said “owners and operators opting to remove canopies” should have the service do an inspection and stability review before resuming operations.

The NTSB is scheduled to discuss the probable cause of the accident at a virtual board meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday (April 28). (Webcast: http://ntsb.windrosemedia.com/)

The vessel, Stretch Duck 7, was carrying 29 passengers and two crewmembers for what was usually a 20-minute ride on Table Rock Lake on July 19, 2018, when a strong thunderstorm swept through with winds over 70 mph.

The NTSB has said the lake was under a severe thunderstorm warning issued about half an hour before the duck boat entered the water.

After 13 people died in 1999 in the duck boat Miss Majestic accident in Hot Springs, Ark., the NTSB issued a number of duck boat safety recommendations to the Coast Guard including requiring the vessels to have enough reserve buoyancy to float even if flooded. If not, they should install new canopies that don’t restrict escape. And if canopies have been removed and reserve buoyancy is inadequate, passengers should be required to don life jackets before leaving the dock.

In response, the Coast Guard said it issued Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 1-01 “which laid out an equivalent level of safety” to other Subchapter T vessels for items such as modification to the side curtains.

“Lives could have been saved, and the Stretch Duck 7 accident could have been prevented had previously issued safety recommendations been implemented,” NTSB chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, said in a statement about the agency’s most recent suggestions.

The NTSB has no enforcement power, though it does have the power of persuasion.

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Why not incorporate floatation material in the canopy such that when the duck goes down a large number of lightweight rafts with handholds are found floating around amoungst the disappointed tourists.

  2. Avatar
    Norman Spector on

    The USCG has failed to adopt many of the recommendations that the NTSB has made regarding duck boats dating back 20 years now.

    -1999 Arkansas – 13 killed
    -2010 Philadelphia – 2 killed
    -2018 Missouri – 17 killed

    After all three incidents, the NTSB stated that the canopies contributed to the death of the passengers aboard and recommended the Coast Guard require them the be removed. They have not. In a feeble, toothless, and cowardly move by the agency that is tasked with saving lives, they now ‘recommend’ their removal – not require. How many more deaths will there be the next time? I would argue that the USCG would share the blame for any future deaths contributed to the canopies. This is truly embarrassing for the Coast Guard. I would love to hear the reasoning for not adopting the NTSB recommendation for the third time.

  3. Avatar

    You can make everything as safe as possible, but can’t overcome poor judgement. The captain knew of the weather warning 1/2 hour before he went out.The Dukw was designed to be able to have the passenger compartment flood and still float. This particular vessel was not water tight and should have been modified so it wouldn’t sink in those conditions, and should never have had side curtains. Giving the Dukw’s more reserve buoyancy would have prevented the Dukw would not have sunk. I knew the original designer of the Dukw. HIs name was Rod Stephens, brother of the famous naval architect Olin. He told me that his original demonstration was done on the coast of New Jersey and the weather was so bad that the coast guard would not go out to rescue a boat in trouble offshore. Rod took his Dukw out and rescued the the people off the boat. The generals watching immediately placed an order

  4. Avatar

    The dukw was involved in the rescue of a CG boat aground in Province town MA during a severe storm. I personally would not board a Duck if small craft warnings were posted.

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