How safe are duck boats? Deadly accident on Missouri lake renews concerns

A capsizing that killed at least 11 people during a thunderstorm on a Missouri lake is the latest deadly incident involving duck boats in the past 20 years.
by Scott Stump / / Source: TODAY

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter

The deaths of at least 11 people after a tourist boat capsized in a Missouri lake on Thursday night have brought renewed attention to the dangers of duck boats.

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected in Branson, Missouri, on Friday morning to determine what happened after a duck boat capsized and sank during a thunderstorm on Table Rock Lake, leaving at least 11 dead, seven others in the hospital, and six people still missing.

Duck boats, which are a popular tourist attraction in cities across the country, have been involved in incidents in which at least 26 people have died over the past 20 years.

NTSB investigators will look to determine if thunderstorms and 65-mile-an-hour winds were solely responsible for the Ride the Duck boat capsizing on Thursday.

"In perfect conditions, generally you don't see problems, so when you start to look at events like this with rough waters and storms, any boat operating in those conditions, the margins of safety are eroded,'' former NTSB chairperson Deborah Hersman told TODAY Thursday.

"You don't want to be out on the water, particularly with people who can't swim or children, in conditions like this."

The bus-like amphibious vehicles, which were first used by the U.S. military in World War II, are able to transition from land to water.

"There's been a lot of criticism of the boats over the years,'' Hersman said. "The design of them dates back to World War II, and so I think the investigators will look at that."

Safety advocates have called for added regulations and sometimes outright bans of the use of duck boats following deadly incidents over the years. They have noted that the duck boat's design creates blind spots directly below and in front of the driver.

Thursday's tragedy is the latest one involving a duck boat over the past two decades.

Thirteen people drowned in an Arkansas lake in 1999 when a duck boat sank without warning before anyone could put on a lifejacket, which the NTSB blamed on "inadequate maintenance."

Two people died in 2010 when a duck boat filled with tourists stalled on the Delaware River near Philadelphia and was hit by a barge, sending 37 people into the water.

In 2015, five college students died in Seattle when their charter bus was hit by a duck boat on the Aurora Bridge.

"The Miss Majestic event in Arkansas is one that they're probably gonna be looking at what they saw there to understand if some of those issues are the same,'' Hersman said. "Clearly the buoyancy of the boat, how fast it sunk, that was an issue in Arkansas, as well as the survivability of the passengers.

"They found that that canopy on the duck boat made it harder for people to get out of the sinking boat."

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
MORE FROM today