Passenger Vessels

Duck Boats Auctioned, Era Ending

The notorious 2018 accident on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., in which an amphibious duck boat sank in a surprise squall, killing 17 passengers, has effectively ended the duck boat era. The Branson operator of the attraction, Ripley Entertainment, never reopened. A spokeswoman for the Branson Chamber of Commerce confirmed that the attraction, called “Ride the Ducks” in Branson, permanently closed in 2018. Generations of visitors to Branson and other lake vacation spots had enjoyed the boat rides since a handful of post-World-War II entrepreneurs turned surplus military vehicles into tourism attractions.

The duck boats (military designation DUK-W) were surplus amphibious landing vehicles originally developed for the armed services during and shortly after World War II. Now they are being auctioned off en masse as operators flee the field. Including the Branson passengers, 40 people have died aboard the boats in the past 20 years.

With that potential liability staring them in the face and insurance companies refusing to renew, duck boat operators all over the country began unloading their stock. In August–September 2019, Pittsburgh tour operator Just Ducky announced that it was ending its duck boat business after 22 years of continuous operation. The auction of its boats and equipment was handled by auction house Harry Davis & Company. At the time, the business’s co-founder told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the company’s insurers would not renew.

The latest auction of 19 duck boats took place in Seattle through July 8, according to the online publication The Drive. The lot included models from Jeep, Kaiser, Studebaker, American General, and GMC, all of whom made versions of the amphibious vehicle to the same specification.

So who is buying these vehicles? Some are in better condition than others. One transportation magazine joked that these vehicles offer fans or collectors “the financial pain of restoring a car and a boat at the same time.”