Duck Boat designer lacked mechanical or engineering qualifications
The designer of the Stretch Duck 7, the duck boat that sank last week in Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, lacks any training or certification in mechanics, design, or engineering. DCReport first published this information, found in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Seattle, Washington after a duck boat collided with a bus in 2014. The court documents reveal that the designer, Robert McDowell, came up with the design for the stretch duck boats after consulting with “a transmission person, as well as the maintenance people at the local Penske Truck group and the U-Haul down the street,” according to the lawsuit.
These amphibious vehicles are modified from World War II vessels, with 15 inches added to the frame to fit more people. Mechanics, not qualified engineers or welders, cut the chassis in half to weld 15 feet of frame from a surplus truck to create the “stretch” duck boat. McDowell’s Ride the Ducks company created 12-18 of these vehicles a year starting in 1996. According to the Seattle lawsuit, the company failed to keep documentation of the origins of the “ancient parts” used in creating these vehicles.McDowell sold Ride the Ducks to the Herschend Group in 2004. Ride the Ducks International was created. Then, after regulators fined the company and its subsidiaries $1,000,000 for failing to comply with federal safety standards, the Branson, Missouri operation was bought by Ripley Entertainment Inc. in the fall of 2017.
Safety of duck boat design questioned by lawsuits and lawmakers
The attorney for the Seattle duck boat crash survivors and the families of the people who lost their lives told reporters that it’s “highly likely” the Stretch Duck 7 in Branson was made the same way as the duck boat involved in the Seattle crash. Karen Koehler went on to state that despite different “batches” of duck boats being made, the stretch duck boats are all essentially the same.Since the capsizing and sinking of the Stretch Duck 7 last week, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has spoken on the Senate floor about the need to for stronger safety standards for duck boats. She compared the duck boats to an “enclosed bus” and a “sinking coffin.” She is drafting legislation to address her concerns about the design and oversight of the safety of duck boats.The July 19 tragedy killed 17 people, including 9 members of the same family and the captain of the boat. It is one of over a dozen incidents involving duck boats in the past 25 years. The Branson tragedy is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. If you have ridden the duck boats and have photos or videos showing safety or design issues, please send them to Emily@VBAttorneys.com to be included in our ongoing investigation of this tragedy.