US House of Representatives passes new safety regulations for DUKW boats

DUKW boats subject to new regulations. Photo (USCG)
DUKW boats subject to new regulations. Photo (USCG)

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation requiring new safety measures for DUKW boats, the amphibious landing craft commonly repurposed for tourist trips.

DUKW boats, also known as duck boats, were designed and built in WWII for military use. A number were later converted for commercial service, carrying tourists on brief land and water itineraries. DUKW boats have been implicated in several fatal accidents, including two tragic sinkings.

The DUKW Miss Majestic went down on a lake in Arkansas in 1999, with the loss of 21 lives. The National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) and the Coast Guard found that the vessel lacked enough reserve buoyancy to remain afloat and upright when flooded. Additionally, the canopy and side curtains on the Miss Majestic restricted passengers’ ability to escape. The NTSB made 22 recommendations after the sinking, but 13 were never implemented – including recommendations that the Coast Guard should better regulate reserve buoyancy and the use of fixed canopies.

On July 19, 2018, the DUKW boat Stretch Duck 07 sank during a sudden wind storm on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, killing 17 out of the 31 people on board. Reserve buoyancy and a hard-to-escape canopy were among the contributing causes of the casualty count.

Last week, as part of the annual Coast Guard reauthorization bill, the House passed language that would address these risks. The act would require the Coast Guard to draft regulations requiring adequate reserve buoyancy, ensuring that DUKW boats remain upright and afloat if they are flooded. Other new rules would include a return-to-port requirement for rough weather, annual safety training for crew, and a ban on seatbelts while under way.

Interim requirements – taking effect immediately on passage of the act – would restrict the use of canopies, require better bilge pumps, and minimize the number of through-hull penetrations. The proposed new rules the safety of DUKW boats now go to the Senate, where the Coast Guard reauthorization bill is now under consideration.

“This is the first meaningful action to improve safety on DUKW boats in 20 years,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said on Friday. “I especially thank Reps. Peter A. DeFazio, Sam Graves, Salud O. Carbajal, Bob Gibbs, André Carson and Julia Brownley for championing these provisions and their efforts to improve maritime safety for all.”

The language would also require the Coast Guard to respond to NTSB safety recommendations within 90 days, the same timeline required for other transportation regulators like the Federal Aviation Administration. The NTSB has previously accused the Coast Guard of responding slowly on passenger-vessel safety issues.

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