Pittsburgh duck boat owner proud of safety record

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The owners of a company that leads duck boat tours in Pittsburgh rushed to calm fears Wednesday after a similar boat in Philadelphia was hit by a barge and capsized, spilling more than 30 people into the Delaware River, injuring 10 of them and leaving two missing.

Michael Cohen, co-owner of Pittsburgh's Just Ducky Tours, said his company is an independent, local venture. They are not affiliated with Ride the Ducks, the Georgia-based company that operated the duck boat in Philadelphia.

"We're a six-boat operation and we are very hands-on," Mr. Cohen said. "We are extremely proud of our record regarding safety."

Ride the Ducks holds duck tours in several cities across the nation, including San Francisco and Seattle. It was not clear Wednesday night what caused the collision in Philadelphia, which happened while the duck boat was waiting for help after battling mechanical problems and a fire.

The boats and drivers used by Ride the Ducks, Just Ducky Tours and similar companies must be licensed and regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard, although Mr. Cohen said passengers are not required to wear life vests.

Mr. Cohen said Just Ducky Tour boats are inspected daily before they leave on tours, held by a mechanic to a rigorous checklist. Their vessels, which hold up to 32 passengers, also are inspected annually by the Coast Guard. Mr. Cohen said that since he and his business partner founded Just Ducky Tours in 1997, their boats have not been involved in any collisions. They employ nine boat drivers, all of whom have a commercial driver's license and are licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.

Duck boats, which can operate on land and in water, were designed by General Motors and the U.S. Army during World War II. Their nickname is a modification of their manufacturer's code, DUKW, which is not an acronym.

Mr. Cohen said Just Ducky Tours operates "original World War II" DUKW boats that have been refurbished and outfitted with contemporary technology.

Unlike some companies, he said, Just Ducky Tours requires a second crew member to accompany the driver, narrate the tour and serve as a lookout.

Associated Press reports indicated that two crew members were on board the boat in Philadelphia.

Vivian Nereim: vnereim@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1413.


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