BRANSON, Mo.– The National Transportation Safety Board says Ripley Entertainment Inc. is at fault for a duck boat sinking on Table Rock Lake two years ago that killed 17 people.

Here is a list of the 19 official findings:

  1. The bilge pump and steering operations were not a factor in the sinking.
  2. Impairments by drugs or alcohol were not a factor in the sinking.
  3. The National Weather Service provided accurate and timely forecasts, watches and warnings, not a factor in sinking.
  4. Ride the Ducks did not effectively use their weather information to the best of their ability, and access risk to operations is a factor in sinking.
  5. Ride the Ducks should have suspended water-born operations of last tours of the day in anticipation of imminent severe weather, is a factor in sinking.
  6. Ride the Ducks should have had more guidance on when to suspend operations due to weather (‘go-no-go policy’), which is a factor in sinking.
  7. The captain of Stretch Duck 7 did believe he could safely get back from the water tour to the dock.
  8. The captain’s decision to head towards the exit ramp was appropriate.
  9. The bow hatch (air intake) in the front of the boat let water into the engine department, is a factor in sinking.
  10. The boat sank so rapidly as a result of uncontrolled flooding because of a lack of subdivision in the vessel.
  11. Had the Coast Guard implemented safety recommendations from the NTSB on adding reserve buoyancy to the vessels, the boat likely would not have sunk.
  12. The Stretch Duck 54 was able to exit the lake due to being under the same conditions because it was a different type of duck boat with better features (bow hatch, buoyancy, etc.)
  13. The closed curtains on the starboard side during sinking made it harder for passengers to escape and likely caused some fatalities.
  14. Donning life jackets when the boat was sinking could have made it harder to escape, and could have resulted in additional fatalities.
  15. Actions by crew and passengers aboard the Show Boat Branson Belle prevented more fatalities.
  16. The response by EMS was timely and effective.
  17. Improved training is needed for small passenger vessel operators to know and better understand weather conditions.
  18. Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) didn’t adequately address NTSB recommendations to remove canopies and likely increased the number of fatalities.
  19. NVIC does not account for circumstances in the accident, including operations during approaching severe weather and escape options for passengers, which needs to be updated.

Here is the probable cause statement:

“The NTSB determines that the probable cause of the sinking of the amphibious passenger vessel Stretch Duck 7 was RipleyRipley Entertainment Inc./Ride The Ducks of Branson’s continued operation of water-born tours after a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Table Rock Lake, exposing the vessel to a derecho (line of widespread, fast-moving severe storms), which resulted in waves flooding through a non-weather tight air intake hatch on the bow. Contributing to the sinking, was the Coast Guard’s failure to require sufficient reserve buoyancy in amphibious vessels. Contributing the loss of life, was the Coast Guard’s ineffective action to address emergency egress on am passenger vessels with fixed canopies, such as Stretch Duck 7, which impeded passenger escape.”

There are three types of Duck Boats. Stretch Duck 7 was the oldest type and led to many reasons why it sank, and Stretch Duck 54, who was on the water at the same time and farther away, made it back to the dock safely.

The chairman of the board said there were many similarities between the 2018 sinking of stretch duck seven that killed 17 people and the sinking of Miss Majestic in Arkansas in 1999 when 13 people died.

According to the NTSB, the improvements recommended after Miss Majestic sank were ignored by the coast guard, and the NTSB believes if the recommendations had been followed, 17 people might not have lost their lives.

In 2002, the NTSB says it recommended canopies be removed from duck boats and that duck boats implement reserve buoyancy.

The canopy suggestion is based on the idea that wearing a life jacket would have pushed people upward into the canopy when they needed to go down to escape.

On April 22nd, 2020, the Coast Guard released a safety information bulletin that canopies and side curtains on amphibious vessels can hinder passenger escape in an emergency. This is the first instance of the Coast Guard agreeing with the NSTB regarding guidance on canopies and side curtains.

The NTSB says the National Weather Service appropriately warned for the storm. Standard protocol says the boats should not operate on the water when winds are greater than 35 mph. The highest winds that day were 73 mph.

There were a total of four boats that were on the water when the Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued. All made it back except 7, which left less than 2 minutes after 54, but took a shorter water tour route.

During a question and answer period, the decision to take the duck boats on water following a severe thunderstorm warning was questioned.

However, the board went on to say that the captain believed he could do the water tour before storms arrived and claim the captain’s behavior was appropriate as the captain headed for the exit ramp around 7 p.m. after encountering severe weather.

The safety board did not put any blame on the captain. They say the captain was not technically at fault for the accident because no one gave him updated information about the storm despite being solely responsible for the safety of passengers when on the water. If the captain of seven was at fault, the captains of the other three boats on the water would have had to be at fault too.

Why the boat sank: 

  • The bow hatch (air intake) on 7 was spring-loaded and could be opened with 3 pounds of pressure. When the water started coming on top of the front of the boat, it forced the hatch open and water went into the bottom of the boat. Due to a lack of subdivision, the water kept rising up into the cabin where the passengers were. 
  • One of the curtains was opened, one was left shut. Between the curtain and the canopy, people were trapped inside. They could only get out the port side and the windshield which had been pulled off from the force of the water. 
  • Overall, the NTSB says Ripley Entertainment is at fault because they should have stopped all of the last tours for the day (the four boats) because they knew severe weather was approaching.

The NTSB released hundreds of documents on April 27, on their website relating to the tragedy, including meteorologist reports of the storms that played a role in the sinking of the duck boat.

The Coast Guard’s interview

Here are a few of the documents that were discussed at the meeting:A study of the hard drives found from the boat

A video study of the incident

The interview with the captain of the duck boat

To see more of the files to be reviewed in the meeting, click here.

Pictures from the different files: