NTSB welcomes duck boat safety rules in defense bill

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(WASHINGTON) — National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy welcomed maritime safety improvements in the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023, which President Biden signed into law on Dec. 23.

The legislation advances NTSB recommendations for amphibious vessels known as DUKW boats and requires the U.S. Coast Guard to provide an initial response to new NTSB recommendations within 90 days.

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Stretch Duck 7, a modified World War II DUKW amphibious passenger vessel, is shown on July 25, 2018, after it was recovered from Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo. Seventeen people died when the boat sank during a storm. NTSB photo by Brian Young

“We applaud lawmakers for their bold action to improve DUKW boat safety, something the NTSB has been concerned about for more than 20 years,” Homendy said. “But it shouldn’t take an act of Congress to address known safety issues for any vessel, and it certainly shouldn’t take decades.”

DUKW boats, also known as duck boats, were designed and built in the 1940s for military use during World War II. Some were later converted for commercial service. They are unique vessels with special challenges that must be addressed to ensure passenger safety. They require greater reserve buoyancy, canopy removal and other modifications before waterborne operations and training for crews.

The NTSB first identified these safety issues in 1999 with the sinking of Miss Majestic in Hot Springs, Ark., where 13 people died, and recommended corrective actions. They were not acted on and again the NTSB made recommendations following the 2018 sinking of Stretch Duck 7 in Branson, Mo., where another 17 people died.

The act mandates that the Coast Guard initiate rulemaking within six months requiring:

• Reserve buoyancy through passive means and watertight compartmentalization.
• Identification of limiting environment conditions, such as weather, in which DUKWs may safely operate.
• Proceeding to harbor in case of wind warning.
• Maintaining and monitoring weather radio.
• Informing passengers not to wear seat belts in water, performing visible seat belt checks and maintaining a log recording actions.
• Annual training for operators and crew.

The legislation includes an interim requirement, within 180 days, to require removal of canopies and window coverings, require passengers to wear life vests, re-engineer vessels to minimize hull penetrations, and require bilge pumps and LED lighting.

The legislation also brings the Coast Guard in line with Department of Transportation agencies, which are required to respond to new NTSB recommendations within 90 days.

“The reporting requirement increases transparency and ensures accountability on NTSB safety recommendations by the U.S. Coast Guard, which as the marine industry regulator, is best positioned to improve safety,” Homendy said.​

– National Transportation Safety Board

By Rich Miller