Duck tours are tours that take place on purpose-built amphibious tour buses or military surplus DUKWs and LARC-Vs. Duck tours are primarily offered as tourist attractions in harbor, river and lake cities.
The first "duck tour" company was started in 1946 by Mel Flath and Bob Unger in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Flath's company has changed ownership since, but it is still in operation under the name Original Wisconsin Ducks. His family continues to operate a duck company called the Dells Army Ducks in the Wisconsin Dells Area.
DUKWs operated by Boston Duck Tours have been used eleven times since 2002 for "rolling rallies" to celebrate sports championships by New England-based local pro sports teams. There have been six for the New England Patriots (2002, 2004, 2005, 2015, 2017, 2019), four for the Boston Red Sox (2004, 2007, 2013, 2018), one for the Boston Celtics (2008), and one for the Boston Bruins (2011). The Duck Boats were first planned to be used for the New England Patriots in 1997 however they did not win Super Bowl XXXI. While much of the parade routes over the years consisted of the DUKWs staying on land, some featured the DUKWs traversing both the land and across the Charles River.
Windsor Duck Tours operates a new build version of on a DUKW type Amphibious Passenger Vessel (APV) called a Seahorse which looks like the old Wartime DUKW but has many new safety features. There are plans for new tours using the Seahorse APVs both at the Falkirk Wheel and in Glasgow.
Viking Splash Tours in Dublin operate 6 Dukws in Dublin City using a Viking theme as a basis for the tour encouraging passengers to wear Viking helmets and 'raid' the city by roaring at 'the Celts'.
Almost all have since been repainted and given modern diesel engines, and some have enclosed tops, making them more resemble conventional buses. Others are warm-weather only, open-air vehicles, with an optional canopy. Most require a bus-type Public Service Vehicle license and a passenger-use boat license.
In Australia at the Rainforestation Nature Park at Kuranda in Queensland a fleet of DUKWs are used to take visitors through a typical rain forest environment. The DUKWs travel along a tight twisty track through the forest before entering a small lake where their amphibious capabilities are demonstrated.
San Francisco's 'Bay Quackers' operated from 2004 until 2011, splashing into San Francisco Bay near AT&T Park in modified DUKWs. They were targeted in a lawsuit by 'Ride the Ducks' for use of the quacker kazoos in a sound mark infringement case, however the lawsuit was later dropped.
There was also a Duck offering rides at Instow in Devon. It was built on Jersey in 1998 and operated as a ferry taking passengers to Elizabeth Castle until 2006. The operator in Jersey had three – the other two have gone to Krakow and Berlin.
London's "London Duck Tours limited" owned 13 vessels prior to 2017, of which some saw action in D-day. They were operating DUKWs in the UK but closed on 18 September 2017.
On May 1, 1999 a DUKW called the Miss Majestic sank in Hot Springs, Arkansas, killing 13 of the 20 people on board. The NTSB listed the cause of the accident as a loose rubber seal near the drive shaft.
On June 23, 2002, the Lady Duck, a custom-built vehicle converted from a Ford F-350 pickup truck, sank while on a cruise on the Ottawa River in Ontario, Canada. Six passengers, the driver, and the tour guide escaped, but four passengers were trapped under the sunken vehicle's canopy and drowned. A review found problems with regulating such vehicles and defects in the makeshift design and the emergency procedures.
On July 7, 2010, a regulated and modern Ride the Ducks amphibious bus (based on the original DUKW design and using an original DUKW chassis), was disabled by an engine fire and later run over by a barge, being towed by a tugboat called the on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. The operator of the tug pushing the barge was on his personal cell phone. Before the accident the Ride The Ducks captain made numerous calls to the tug to get the tug to change course. Those calls were heard and rebroadcast by other vessels, but there was no response from the operator of the tug. Thirty-three passengers and two crew members were quickly recovered, but two passengers, a 20-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl, both part of a tour group from Hungary, were killed. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the accident was the tugboat mate's (responsible for driving the tug at the time) inattention to his duties. The tugboat mate was sentenced to 366 days in federal prison.
On May 8, 2015, a modern Ride the Ducks boat with an original DUKW chassis struck and killed a woman crossing the street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's Chinatown section. Witnesses at the scene say that the woman was distracted by her handheld tablet device and walked into the street against the red light and was struck while in the boat's front center blind spot. Although the police determined the driver was not at fault, the victim's husband sued the company and the city, saying that the blind spots of the vehicle and the placement of the traffic light contributed to her death. The lawsuit was settled in 2017 for an undisclosed amount.
On September 24, 2015, a modern Ride the Ducks vehicle with an original DUKW chassis in Seattle, Washington crashed into a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge, killing five passengers on the bus, critically injuring eight, and seriously injuring eight more. Punitive damages were disallowed from the resulting civil suit. The city and state settled their lawsuits surrounding the safety of the bridge for $4.4 million.
On April 30, 2016, in Boston, Massachusetts, the Penelope Pru, a modern Boston Duck Tours vehicle with an old military jeep chassis based off the original DUKW design struck a motor scooter as both vehicles were turning right onto Beacon Street adjacent to the Boston Common. The 29-year-old woman operating the motor scooter was killed, and her male passenger was injured. A post-accident visibility study found that the motor scooter was not visible over the bow of the amphibious vehicle when the two vehicles were very close, but was visible in two convex blind spot mirrors mounted to the bow.
In 2010 a bearing collapsed on a DUKW belonging to The Yellow Duckmarine which resulted in four passengers, including an 80-year-old person, being taken to hospital with injuries.
On 11 October 2011 a motorcyclist was critically injured after a Seattle 'Ride The Ducks' vehicle hit and dragged him at a red light. Ride The Ducks has been involved in two other collisions in recent years, in December 2010 and June 2011, when different Duck drivers rear-ended passenger vehicles at Third Avenue and Pike Street and at Aurora Avenue North and Denny Way. No one was injured, but both Duck drivers told officers they didn’t see the cars because of the height of their own vehicles, according to the collision reports.
On 30 March 2013 a duck boat of The Yellow Duckmarine in Liverpool sank in the city's Salthouse Dock during a tour. All passengers were safely transferred to a pontoon before the vehicle began to sink. In June 2013 another duck boat, operated by the same company, sank in the Albert Dock as it came to the end of a tour of Liverpool. Passengers were forced to jump into the water as the vehicle rapidly took on water. Some were rescued by vessels while others swam to the side of the dock. Out of the 31 people on board, 27 were treated in hospital for minor injuries. The incident resulted in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency withdrawing all safety certificates for the craft owned by Pearlwild and their entering administration. Pearlwild are also under investigation by the North West Traffic Commissioner over the operation of the Duckmarines during 2012.
On 29 September 2013 a duck boat on the River Thames in London caught fire. Thirty people were rescued, a number of them after having jumped into the River Thames to escape the fire. An investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch determined that the fire had been caused by ignition of additional buoyancy foam added to the DUKW following the Liverpool incident, due to obstruction of airflow within the mechanical compartments and friction between the foam and moving parts.
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- Boston Duck Tours, LP v. Super Duck Tours, LLC, 531 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2008).
Media related to Duck tours at Wikimedia Commons