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KDKA Investigates: Duck Boat Safety Concerns In Spotlight After Tragedy

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- They're a tourism mainstay here and across the country, a pleasant way for families to see the sights of a city on both land and on water.

But the recent tragedy outside of Branson, Missouri, and a number of other fatal accidents have sparked cries for a nationwide ban, and sharpened the criticism of they're detractors.

"These boats are 75-years-old. They're prone to many different problems, and they're just not safe," said David Riesmeyer, a former boat captain.


Deployed on D-Day during World War II, the military discontinued them when many sank before reaching the beach at Normandy. Designed for 24 standing GIs, Riesmeyer - a former U.S. Army amphibious watercraft operator - says the boats have been retro-fitted with seats and are carrying 30 or more passengers, which makes them very unstable.

"It very easily could tip," says Riesmeyer. "What happens is they'll rock from side to side, and being that the sides of those boats are so low, that the water will slosh over the sides of the boat and that's why they go down so easily."

Chris D'Addario, co-founder of Just Ducky Tours, says he's safely transported more than two million passengers over the last 21 years in Pittsburgh without incident, noting that each vessel is rigorously inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard for safety, including stability.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

"These are stability tested. Everything on these vessels, the seats, the size of the seats, the heights of the seats have all been worked into a stability test," he says.

Riesmeyer argues the boats are basically trucks encapsulated with metal that's only 3/16th of an inch thick.

"It's basically just sheet metal," he says. "So, sheet metal can be easily pierced by a big log going down the river that's partially submerged."

While D'Addario believes the boats are safe, proper boat maintenance and proper training of the crews is what is most important. Though he can speak for operators where tragedies have occurred.

"Those tragedies do weigh on all of us. It makes us very sad, but I would never put anyone at risk in our port. I care about this business; it's been my life and my business partner's life for 21 years. We feel very comfortable, not only with our safety record, but what we'll continue to do going forward," D'Addario said.

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