Self-taught businessman with no engineering credentials designed Missouri duck boat, records say


By Kristine Phillips
July 26, 2018
Twitter @kristenegWP

The 17 people who were killed last week after a duck boat sank in Missouri were riding in an amphibious vehicle designed by a self-taught businessman who had no formal training in engineering or mechanics, according to court records.

Robert F. McDowell owned and ran Ride the Ducks in Branson, Mo., for nearly three decades. In the 1980s, he came up with the idea of redesigning the company’s amphibious passenger vehicles by stretching them by 15 inches, and by the mid-1990s, Ride the Ducks was manufacturing what’s called “stretch” duck boats, according to court filings from a pending lawsuit filed against the company over a fatal crash in Seattle. Fast-forward to 2018, one of those boats built based on McDowell’s design, carrying 29 passengers and two crew members, sank to the bottom of Table Rock Lake amid torrential storms.

It remains unknown whether McDowell’s design was a factor in the boat’s sinking. A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident, confirmed that the vehicle that sank was, in fact, a “stretch” boat and said its design and how it was built are part of the ongoing probe.