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Wisconsin Dells duck boat operators won't change operations

Posted at 3:49 PM, Jul 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-22 17:27:09-04

WISCONSIN DELLS -- Officials at the two amphibious vehicle tour operators in the Wisconsin Dells say they have no plans to change the way they are operating.

Seventeen people were killed, and at least 14 other injured on Thursday when a similar tourist boat sank in stormy weather on a Missouri lake.

Original Wisconsin Ducks general manager Dan Gavinski and Army Ducks general manager Jason Field say their companies have operated safely for decades. They're known as leaders in the industry, and have invited other companies to come see how they operate.

The operators say the vessels don't get more than 100 feet (30.5 meters) from shore, and can return to land in about a minute. They say tours are postponed if bad weather is forecast.

The companies say they operate dozens of World War II-vintage boats, not modified versions like in Missouri. Modified versions typically hold at least 10 more people, and go faster.

"Our prayers go out to the people affected and the community," Gavinski says. "It's horrific. But I can't understand how it happened. We would never have a duck boat out in conditions like that."

Gavinski says Original Wisconsin Ducks owns about two miles of land, along the route they take visitors on.

"Along the Wisconsin River we can be out in seconds," he says. "We also have an entry and exit at Lake Delton that are about 300 yards apart, so we can get out of the water in a very short time."

The Local police department calls the duck boat companies in the Dells whenever there is a weather watch or warning, and drivers follow weather radar closely. 

Duck boat drivers in the Dells go through three to six weeks of training, and the amphibious vehicles get checked regularly to make sure every part is working properly.

Bottom line though, every company is different and there is no universal set of operating rules or standards. In the Dells, the duck boat companies are monitored by the Wisconsin DNR, and follow U.S. Coast Guard guidelines. But that varies by state. 

Across the board, duck boat companies have to have an adequate amount of child and adult life preservers on board, but people are not required to wear them.

The most recent accident we could find in the Dells happened four years ago, when a pick-up truck hit a duck boat. The duck boat driver was not at fault, and there were no serious injuries.