Legislation introduced to improve duck boat safety

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced legislation last week to improve the safety of duck boats, following the tragedy on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., last summer that claimed 17 lives.

Sen. Hawley’s legislation would authorize previously-outlined National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations, including provisions to require the use of life jackets and equipping all operating duck boats to be more buoyant in the case of emergency flooding.

“Missouri still mourns the lives lost on Table Rock Lake last summer,” Hawley said in a statement. “Sadly though, this tragedy wasn’t the first of its kind. For decades now, the NTSB has been making recommendations to make these rides safer, but Congress has failed to act. It’s my goal to change that by introducing this legislation today. We have to protect safety on the water.”

The NTSB made their recommendations three years after a 1999 duck boat tragedy killed 13 in Arkansas. Hawley’s legislation goes a step further by barring duck boat operation in severe weather conditions. Once enacted, non-compliant duck boats would be prohibited from operating until they meet the necessary requirements outlined in the bill.

Hawley’s bill directs the Coast Guard (USCG) to require duck boats be outfitted with passive reserve buoyancy to ensure that they remain buoyant even in the event of flooding.

The bill also includes enhanced safety requirements including:

  • Removal of canopies that can restrict horizontal or vertical escape in the event of sinking and require personal floatation devices to be worn.
  • Install independently powered electric bilge pumps able to remove water.
  • Install not fewer than four independently powered bilge alarms.
  • Verify watertight integrity of any vessel at the outset of each waterborne departure.
  • The bill prohibits the further operation of non-compliant APVs (amphibious passenger vehicle).
  • Operators must inform passengers that seat belts may not be worn during waterborne operations and a crewmember must visually check that each passenger has unbuckled his or her seatbelt.


The bill also directs the Coast Guard to implement severe weather emergency preparedness requirements for APV operators including:

  • Limiting the weather conditions in which APVs may operate.
  • Requirements for vessel operators to check the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast before getting underway and periodically while underway.
  • Requiring operators to leave the water or proceed to safe harbor if the NWS issues a watch or warning for wind speeds exceeding the vessel’s certification.
  • Vessels must have a weather radio at the operator station which can be activated by a NWS warning.


Text of the bill and a one page summary can be found on Sen. Hawley’s website.

About the author

David Krapf

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.


  1. Avatar

    No matter what you do to these vehicles they will not be safe. And granted nothing is 100% but even with these additions they are still not acceptable for commercial use. The people that ride on these things have little understanding of their inherent problems.
    They were a stop gap vehicle for the military and do neither activity they were designed for very well. They are underpowered and have horrible braking And steering system, they are ALSO underpowered and handle horrible in the water with limited Sea keeping ability. Just remove them from commercial use and be done with it.

  2. Avatar

    Removing the canopies will serve 2 purposes. It becomes much easier to escape in the event of a sinking, and passengers will not want to be aboard when the weather is bad. The operators will not want to take their passengers out in inclement weather either.. The original DUKW was invented and built by Rod Stephens of the naval architect firm Sparkman and Stephens. On the day of his demonstration for the Army generals, the weather was bad. There was a boat in trouble offshore. The weather was bad enough that the Coast Guard would not go out to save the boat. Rod took the DUKW out and rescued to passengers on the boat. The generals were impressed and ordered the DUKW for the US Army.

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