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Philly Duck Boats May Return with New Safety Precautions after Tragic Accident

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March 20, 2011

A popular Philly duck boat attraction is set to resume operations with new safety precautions in place if the city approves the company’s request.

After a horrific incident last July in which two tourists died after the sinking of a duck boat on the Delaware River, the company involved named Ride the Ducks, has made changes to the way it operates and has asked for approval to resume its tours from the city.

A duck boat (DUKW) is an amphibious truck, often converted from WWII military use or built based upon that design for tourist transportation tours.

The New York Times reports that in July 2010, a fire in the engine room of one of the Ride the Ducks tour boats prompted the captain to cut the boat’s power and left it stranded in the Delaware when a barge pushed by a tugboat ran over the duck boat, sinking it with 37 passengers and crew aboard. Despite quick response by the Coast Guard and Philly Police and Fire Departments, two young tourists age 16 and 20 drowned.

The company has been working with the Coast Guard to develop a new safety plan, including ways to minimize interaction between small boats like the duck boat and larger vessels such as barges, says a Philly.com article.

The tours will now depart from the Race Street ramp and travel only to Pier 5 near Arch Street instead of all the way to the Independence Seaport Museum. Changes in route also include keeping the boat within 100 feet of shore instead of 300 feet. They will not operate if a large vessel is within ½ a nautical mile and approaching the tour route.

The tour operators must also keep a 25-foot rescue vessel, capable of towing the duck boat to safety, ready and waiting near Pier 5 in case of another mechanical emergency.

In the July accident, the duck boat’s horn did not work because the engine was off, preventing the stranded boat from alerting the barge. Ride the Ducks has now modified the operation of the horn to be independent of the engine.

Despite the new safety precautions, city officials have not given the approval for duck boat tours to resume.

Ride the Ducks also operates tour boat attractions in Branson, MO and San Francisco, CA.