By Dalia Benson (‘19)

In the last 20 years, 41 people in the United States and Canada alone have died while riding duck boats. Many of these vessels sunk during storms, while others crashed on the road because of their low land speeds and large blind spots.

On July 19, 2018, a duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. The vessel, which carried 31 people, capsized during a storm with high winds. Unfortunately, 17 people died due to their not so fun day on the lake.

What do duck boats have to do with Jewish Lions from San Diego? On some school trips, San Diego Jewish Academy students and teachers have ridden these duck boats as a form of entertainment and tourism. Who knew that these vessels were also potentially dangerous?

In 2017, the current senior class traveled to Washington D.C. on their 11th-grade student trip. There, students explored parts of the nation’s capital on a duck boat tour with the company D.C. Duck Tours. When asked about their experience, many students said that they felt quite secure while aboard. Josh Nachassi (‘19) remarked, “I don’t think these boats are at all dangerous,” and Annabelle Simble (‘19) agrees. “I felt safe,” she says. “They have been running a long time, and they have the engineering to make them safe.”

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 2.39.24 pm
Class of 2019 riding on a duck boat during their Washington D.C. trip last year. Photo: Moriah Seymann (‘19)

Duck boats were originally designed as transportation for amphibious units in World War II.  Nowadays, however, they primarily used to give tourists some fun. “It is interesting that what we used in war is now used for entertainment,” states Tikva Velasquez (‘19). While there haven’t been many major improvements on these boats since the war, necessary ones, such as life jackets, have been implemented. Seth Novom (‘19) says, “they were not designed for safety but I think some recent updates have made them safer.” However, these changes may not have made these boats safe enough.

SDJA history teacher, Dr. Cunningham, accompanied the juniors on their voyage to Washington D.C. and rode the boat alongside his students. He states that he did not know about the dangers associated with duck boats. “Knowing the dangers I think it is likely that I would not have encouraged it,” says Dr. C, “but honestly I did not really look deep into their issues. Had I known I would have done more research.”

After the tragedy that claimed 17 lives in Branson, Missouri, the question some may ask is whether or not these duck boats are safe for our students. Daniel Acks (‘19) says, “I think that they are OK to ride for recreational use as long as they are in good condition.” His classmate, Josh Nachassi (‘19) agrees, saying, “I won’t let fear of death prevent me from living.” Overall, knowing of the tragedy in Branson, students will be more cautious and informed when it comes riding duck boats. Still, many will not let the fear of a tragedy hinder them from experiencing a fun day of touring the land and sea. Given the school’s excellent safety record on student trips, we expect nothing less than smooth sailing in the future.

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