EDITORIAL: World War II duck boats don't belong on the water

Sep. 19—Can World War II-era duck boats be made safer for tourists?

Of course.

But that's the wrong question. The question we should be asking is this: Can World War II-era duck boats be made safe for tourists?

The answer to that is an emphatic, screaming, vehement "No!" Or whatever adjective it takes to drive home the point: Retrofitted World War II-era amphibious boats do not belong on the water with passengers.

We've argued for a long time that the boats — with their heavy metal frames, heavy chassis and transmissions, lack of reserve buoyancy and low freeboard — are inherently unsafe, sink quickly and leave passengers little time to react in an emergency.

But that's only the half of it.

Just as the older boats have proven unsafe, the regulatory process has proven ineffective. Nay, indifferent.

The U.S. Coast Guard recently issued new rules for the World War II-era duck boats, but that was five years after 17 people died when one of those boats sank in Table Rock Lake, and 24 years after a similar accident in 1999 in Arkansas claimed 13 lives.

That earlier accident generated a number of proposals and recommendations, but no real change.

The interim rules, posted last week, require removal of window coverings and canopies, or installation of a canopy that doesn't keep passengers from escaping if the boat floods or sinks. The Missouri vessel, and an Arkansas duck boat that sank in 1999, killing 13 people, had overhead roofs or canopies that the National Transportation Safety Board warned act as nets that trap passengers against the roof when the boats sink.

The new rules also include requirements for passengers to wear personal flotation devices, requirements for alarms and pumps, and they strengthen inspection regulations.

All these appear to be designed to aid passengers when the boats take start to sink. What's to keep them from sinking in the first place?

That it took five years to get this far — and we didn't get very far — is shameful.

Now the new rules apply only to the repurposed World War II-era Army vessels that were designed for cargo, not for passengers on vacation.

According to the AP, there are only 16 older duck boats in use for passengers and they are operated by three companies, but one of those is in Arkansas.

Branson Ride the Ducks never reopened after the accident, and there are no plans to resume, said Suzanne Smagala-Potts, spokesperson for Ripley Entertainment. A new duck boat attraction opened in Branson in 2022, but with vessels "custom-built for tourism, that have a great safety record," according to a statement from the operator, Branson Duck Tours.

Take it upon yourself to ask questions about the age of the boats before going, their safety features, and the company's track record.

Passengers trusting to the industry and the regulators to protect them are being foolish.