Captain of Deadly Missouri Duck Boat Charged in Federal Court


I spent 27 yrs. running T boats on my chief mates license.
I saw some crazy things. If you are in charge of the vessel big or small, you can be considered the captain.


Sure, I think everyone understands that, but the devil is in the details.

One point here is for a ship captain in the case of of a mishap in a ship’s boat commanded by a junior officer the captain has high legal exposure. I’ve got no problem with that. Full authority, full accountability.

But in the case of the Duck Boat operation unlike the situation on the ship there is a legal firewall between the boat captain and his boss that protects the person that is actually in charge of the operation.

The shore-side supervisor has considerable protection from legal liability because of quirks in maritime law and public perceptions that is not in accordance with his actual responsibility for an incident. Full authority but little or no accountability.

EDIT: I understand that in theory the duck boat captain has the authority to call off the operation but the fact that three boats launched into the lake that day tells us in practice it’s a different matter,


McKee has a service record of 17 years. That tells a lot, he probably learned already a long time ago to humor the office boys otherwise he would not had lasted that long. You can may be cancel a ride once or even twice but then you can walk and there goes the mortgage and kids education… His position is in that respect, as I figure it, not so very different from that of El Faro’s Michael Davidson.


I’m not sure that the assumption that the company wanted to take on more risk and the captain less is correct.

In the Duck boat case I think likely had both the supervisor and the captain fully understood the weather situation they both would have agreed to cancel.

I suspect the captain was trusting the supervisor to keep an eye on the big picture, weather, scheduling etc while the captain focused on entertaining the passengers.


the fact of the matter is that charging the driver of the boat without charging the management is the great travesty of justice here. The driver did not operate solely on his own initiative, he operated on direction of others. If he must be tried then so must his bosses or he is only a pathetic scapegoat sacrificed to protect the hides of others who really bear the responsibility for that needless tragedy.


I agree that the management needs to be the subject of legal action, though to what extent I don’t really know.

It seems to me like everyone is trying to take the responsibility away from the operator (captain-ish tour guide) for this. I for one hold him primarily responsible though. I know that the moment when I sign on to my ship, for better or worse, I become ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING that can go wrong and injure or kill someone. I am the one that has to answer for it in the courts, and if it goes badly, than I am the one that will sit in prison for it. Just because my license is an unlimited oceans and this guy had a baby license doesn’t make him any less responsible for his cargo (passengers).


The can all be held responsible with a multimillion dollar civil judgementthat compensates the victim’s families.

Criminal charges are not appropriate for ordinary negligence.


I see the point you’re making here and I agree mariners should be held accountable. I’d have no problem if this “captain” had his ticket pulled, but the same thing should happen to the other two boat operators out there that day.

But there’s another point to be made here.

If I was asked to set up a system to insure that those boats were never used in seas over 1 foot and winds over 35 kts I would not simply leave it up to individual captains. That’s obviously a bad idea in this case and we know for a fact that system will fail in rare but possible weather events.

I doubt if that company even had a formal system to monitor the weather, that’s a big mistake.


Dumb question… under subchapter T, are voyage plans required? I know when I do one for pre-departure, expected wx is one of the blanks I fill in.


I am not aware of any voyage plans on T boats. Most local tugs don’t do them either.


We only have data on three captains (100% of the boat operators that day failed take proper action) but I would guess that about 99.9% of people hired to run a duck boat on a lake in Missouri are going to be “what you see is what you get” with regards to the weather. If it’s nice they are going in.


How would they even check the weather on a duck boat?


Probably just the wx channels on the crappy VHFs they have.


Even with a good way to check the weather unlike a single ship, boat operation go / no-go decisions are still going to have to be coordinated with shore-side. Otherwise what if some boats canceled, some changed up the schedule and others ran? One decision is going to have to be made for all boats, just for practical reasons.

Also in an area known for derchos it would be imprudent for the company to assume that each boat operator is going to make the right call every time.

Another factor is that for the sake of smooth operations decisions effecting schedules should be made as early as possible minimize disruptions. Waiting for the boat operator to arrive at the launch site to make the call is going to be too disruptive to operations.

Having a single operation manager for all the boats is the only approach that makes practical sense.


The Master of the vessel violated his COI and knowingly put his vessel in danger causing the death of 17 people.


The television reports that predicted the storm the night before, weather and radar apps on a smart phone.


No…no…wait…I think you can still reach Peggy Dyson from there on the MF/HF.


My guess is that the misinterpretation of a radar phone app is going to be found as one cause or important factor in the loss here.


You are probably correct there. Something that has bothered me about this whole thing from the start is why didn’t the captain 1) turn the Duck around earlier when the weather on the lake started deteriorating or 2) just head directly for shallow water near the shore when the boat was foundering instead of trying to reach the ramp? Surely there should have been enough warning to get all 4 tires solidly on the mud and these vessels were made just for that purpose.


A person’s decision making process changes when under stress. Far fewer options will even be considered.

The most likely option chosen will be something that has done before. Any tactics that had been used before would probably be considered, if it’s not been done before it likely will not even come to mind.

in any situation where we have things to achieve, we
do not have infinite amounts of time and usually have
a strong sense of diminishing returns (see section on
Making decisions). In making sense of things, we usually
stop when we have enough information to decide on
a course of action that seems plausible. Our preference
is for a working level of understanding rather than a
search for absolute truth. For example, when faced with
uncertainty or too much information, an Officer of the
Watch (OOW) will simplify their information needs to
support a decision that seems workable in the time
available. This may or may not turn out to be sufficient
to deal with the reality of the unfolding event.

That from the MCA - The Human Element a guide to human behaviour in the shipping industry

The link was posted by @Tellarian on this thread: Karl Weick - An Analysis of the Tenerife Air Disaster

Had the captains practiced grounding the boats in shallow water before then incident then that would have greatly increased the likelihood that grounding short of the launch area would have come to mind in an emergency.