Duck Boat Tragedy: How to Protect Your Attendees

July 23, 2018

It is difficult not to focus on the 17 people who died—including nine from the same Indianapolis family that included three small children—in the July 19, 2018, duck boat tragedy near Branson, Missouri, that was the result of a storm swamping and capsizing the commercial recreational vessel.

What struck me as I read this article from People and later heard in interviews with survivor, Tia Coleman, was her recounting what she remembers being told on the boat: that the passengers didn’t have to wear life jackets.

In emails and calls with colleagues and friends who have been on duck boats, and in looking at photos on websites of different cities’ duck boat operations, I saw some photos where life jackets were visible above the seats but no photographs of people in the boats on the water where anyone was wearing a life jacket.

Later, listening to the investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) talk about the storm that was predicted, I learned that another duck boat that went out about the same time returned before the storm worsened. After also reading what a former NTSB chair said about safety of this company’s product, I put my professional (and personal) risk management hat squarely on to better assess the situation.

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Consider that this could have happened to you or your family while on vacation or to those attending your meetings, whether as a sponsored activity or as one recommended by you, fellow planners and colleagues or your supplier partners, which may include but are not limited to DMOs, hotels or DMCs.

Tyra Warner Hilliard, Ph.D., Esq., CMP, who shares my passion about risk and contingency planning, and I talked. We came up with a list of questions meeting planners should consider when booking transportation and in particular boats for events.

For now, consider these five areas, each with a few questions, to include in your RFPs regarding boats, cars and buses, and also for hotels and off-site venues, items often taken for granted by meeting and event planners.

In next week’s Friday With Joan newsletter, scheduled for delivery by Meetings Today to subscribers on Friday, August 3, 2018 (subscribe here), a more fully developed checklist and additional information will be provided.

Assessing Transportation Risk: 5 Key Areas for Planners to Consider

1. Safety:

  • What incidents have occurred in or on your facility or mode of transportation where safety may have been endangered for workers and guests? What has been done since then to correct any deficiencies?
  • How and by whom have the vehicles been inspected?

2. Driver/captain training, in particular for boats like “duck boats”:

  • Are the land driver and the boat captain the same person?
  • How is this person or how are the two trained in land and boat and water safety?
  • How regularly are all drivers/captains drug and alcohol tested?

3. Instructions to guests:

  • What standard instructions are given to guests for both land and water safety?
  • Are life jackets suggested to be worn for all water transport?

4. Communications:

  • With whom and how do those piloting the vehicles, on land or water, communicate?
  • What is the back-up communication in the event the initial communication is not available?

5. Insurance and waivers:

  • Are guests/passengers required to sign agreements of behavior before boarding?
  • What is included in the waivers, if any, to be signed?
  • What insurance is required to be held and by whom is it held and what does it cover?

As mentioned, stayed tuned to the August 3, 2018, edition of Friday With Joan for a blog post on transportation risk and a more thorough checklist of important items to consider. We'll also post relevant links here once available.

Editor's Note: Check out the August 2018 edition of Friday With Joan here.

[Ask the Expert: Should I Cancel My Event Following a Tragic Incident?]

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About the author
Joan Eisenstodt | Contributing Blogger, Friday With Joan Author and Industry Expert

Joan Eisenstodt, a meetings entrepreneur since 1981, has been honored by multiple hospitality and meetings organizations for her educational work in and for the industry. Her passion for helping bring people together meaningfully, safely and ethically is the focus of her writing and teaching.