Philadelphia’s ‘Ride the Ducks’ tour boats have abruptly shut down

UPDATE: “They’re death traps,” says a lawyer who’s sued the company before, and is again.

A Ride the Ducks boat in 2011 in Philadelphia.

A Ride the Ducks boat in 2011 in Philadelphia.

Natalie419 / Flickr

Updated 10/6/16, 6:30 a.m. 

Philadelphia’s ‘Ride the Ducks’ water-to-land tour operation has shut down for the foreseeable future due to soaring insurance costs, the company announced late Wednesday, a move a Philadelphia lawyer who’s sued the company called “good news for those who are concerned about the safety of tourists and pedestrians.”

On the “news” portion of its web site, the company said:

As of October 5, 2016, Ride The Ducks Philadelphia has suspended operations indefinitely.

As the nation’s largest amphibious tour operator and licensor, our mission is “serving through sightseeing”; we offer guests an experience that is fun, informative and engaging so that we can serve our employees and communities.

Due to circumstances outside of our control including a 330% increase in our insurance premiums, continued operations in Philadelphia are not financially feasible at this time. We enjoyed serving the people of Philadelphia since 2003, serving over one million guests during that time.

We are working with the 42 full and part-time employees from our Philadelphia location offering severance and outplacement assistance.

Please direct any inquiries to or call 678-456-5328. We regret having to close our operation and send good wishes and brotherly love to the people of Philadelphia.

A communications consultant said the company would have no further comment on its shutdown.

On May 8, 2015, a Ride the Ducks boat struck and killed a tourist from Texas during Friday evening rush hour. Elizabeth Karnicki, 68, was crossing the street at 11th and Arch. Eyewitnesses said Karnicki crossed against the light; her family’s lawsuit says a poorly set up traffic light was partly to blame.

Philadelphia attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi, of the law firm, Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, is representing Karnicki’s family in their lawsuit against Ride the Ducks. In a statement sent late Wednesday evening, Mongeluzzi said the announcement of Ride the Ducks suspending operations wouldn’t affect his pending lawsuit against the company, which is in the pre-trial discovery phase.

“Through our extensive experience representing victims of duck boat disasters we’ve determined those vehicles are fatally flawed; they’re death traps on the water due to their hazardous canopy design and on land they are engineered to restrict the peripheral vision of the operator, creating significant blind spots,” Mongeluzzi said. “A city without duck boat tours is a safer city.”

The Karnicki incident came five years after an accident involving a duck boat on the Delaware River that killed two Hungarian tourists who were 16 and 20 years old. It led to a $17 million lawsuit (from Mongeluzzi) and criminal charges.

Duck tours have existed in Philadelphia since 2003 but since the ’60s elsewhere. From 2006 through 2008, Ride the Ducks reported to the NTSB having a total of 32 accidents on Philadelphia’s roads that didn’t lead to any injuries. The NTSB has not kept track of any crash data since then.

MORE INFO — Duck Boats 101: Why they’re still on the road and water, and who makes sure they’re safe

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Chris Krewson is the executive director of LION Publishers, a national nonprofit association that serves local journalism entrepreneurs build sustainable news organizations, and the founding editor of Billy Penn. He lives in Havertown.