NTSB report blames cellphone, laptop distraction for "Duck Boat" incident that killed 2, injured 26

Multitasking sinks ships. From gcaptain, the maritime professionals' blog:

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) today determined that the mate operating a tugboat near Philadelphia on July 7, 2010, failed to maintain a proper lookout while towing a barge up the Delaware River. The investigation revealed that the mate was inattentive to his duties while navigating the vessel because he was distracted by his repeated use of a cell phone and lap top computer while communicating with his family who were dealing with a family emergency.

In the accident, a 250-foot-long sludge barge was being towed alongside a 78.9-foot long tugboat (which had 5 crew on board). The barge collided with an anchored amphibious passenger vehicle (carrying 35 passengers and two crew members), which sank in about 55 feet of water. Two people on that passenger vessel were killed; 26 passengers and a crewmember suffered minor injuries.


  1. What a horrible, senseless tragedy. Although the victims were Hungarian, it seems the news portals here in Hungary haven’t taken notice of this yet. Right now they seem consumed by the death of Peter Falk…

  2. I would think that the cellphone/laptop was NOT the distraction, but that the family emergency was…

  3. “he was distracted by his repeated use of a cell phone and lap top computer while communicating with his family who were dealing with a family emergency.”

    “Two people on that passenger vessel were killed”

    I’m just imagining the exponential cascading failure of being distracted dealing with the family emergencies resulting in an accident that causes further family emergencies.

  4. I hope you did not mean “Multitasking sinks ships” as a joke because the Duckboat can go on land and water.

  5. I have a family member who was a relatively senior US Coast Guard officer in the 8th District, which covers a big part of the Mississippi River drainage (so lots of states, lots of river miles.) After holding that position and hearing about every duck-boat safety incident that occurred in the district she’s nearly fanatical in her opposition to any family members or friends ever getting aboard one. And since I became aware of her position on the matter and started paying attention, I have to admit — there do seem to be a surprising number of fatal duck accidents considering how relatively few boats there are..

  6. Is the DUKW to be condemned because if you run over it with a barge fifty times it size, it has a tendency to sink?

    1. The duck is to be condemned for the flawed operational procedures it employed that led to a fatal accident, as determined by the NTSB.

  7. I’m just waiting for one of the folks from the Vancouver riot thread to pop in and find a way to blame the victims of this event, too.

    1. The NTSB determined that both the duck and the tug were at fault and contributed to the accident.

  8. People employ operational procedures. A DUKW is an object. Just about anything can be dangerous if you’re using it wrong.

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