BRANSON, Mo.– For the first summer since the deadly duck boat sinking on Table Rock Lake killing 17 people in 2018, a new duck boat company is operating in Branson, touting a new vessel design one owner claims is custom-built specifically for tourism.
OzarksFirst toured Branson Duck Tours, located on the Highway 76 Strip across from the Grand Country Inn.
The locally owned and operated team has no affiliation with Ripley Entertainment— the company connected to the popular tourist attraction Ride the Ducks — whose duck boat sank amid hurricane-like winds on July 19, 2018.
Branson Duck Tours’ vessels feature a noticeably different design, sitting higher out of the water to improve buoyancy.
In 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a final investigation into the accident, revealing the probable cause of the sinking was that Ride the Ducks Branson proceeded with water tours after the National Weather Service issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Table Rock Lake. The NTSB recommended to the U.S. Coast Guard that amphibious vessels should not operate with side curtains or canopies to prevent future loss of life in emergency situations. The Coast Guard later agreed with that recommendation. The Ride the Ducks vessels had both.
Branson Duck Tours vessels have canopies, but no side curtains. Owner Richard Corby said from his understanding of a 2021 report from the Transportation Research Board, the recommendation to remove canopies on amphibious vessels does not apply to Hydra-Terra amphibious automobiles with improved reserve buoyancy like the boats Branson Duck Tours operates.
“The roofs are really important because it’s been over 100 degrees here for the last three weeks,” said Corby. “Heat stroke is a real possibility in these temperatures, so it’s very very important not just to consider one thing that could happen, but to consider any emergency that could be a potential problem for our customers.”
Corby told OzarksFirst the company employs three captains — each with their own 100-Ton Master Captain’s License from the U.S. Coast Guard to emphasize safety as the top priority. Corby said captains are in constant communication with the National Weather Service and follow strict weather protocol.