How Duck Boats Became the Official Vehicle of Boston Championships

Duck Floating

Tomorrow, the World Champion Boston Red Sox will take part in their third victory parade in less than a decade. Like the two previous parades, the vehicle of choice for the “rolling rally” will be the now-famous Duck Boats. Though typically used for amphibious tours of Boston, the Duck Boats have carted the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics all around the city of Boston. It has become a fixture of the victory celebration.

But how did this tradition start? We spoke to Tony Cerulle, Chief Engineering Officer or Boston Duck Tours to find out where this all began. Before they were tour vehicles, the Duck Boats were military vehicles. The original name was DUKW, an amphibious assault vehicle and troop transport built by GMC for use in World War II. The designation means the following:

D: GMC letter for a vehicle built in 1942
U: Utility
K: GMC letter for front driven front wheels
W: GMC letter for vehicles with two powered rear axles

The Duck Boats were used everywhere from Guadalcanal to the Normandy landing, but they were only meant for use through the war. The platform, based on a “Deuce and a Half” military vehicle, was not envisioned for long-term service. But many found homes as tourist vehicles around the country. According to Tony, a trip to the Midwest brought the Boston idea to life.

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Duck Splash

“Our founder, the late Andy Wilson was tired of his career as an investment banker,” explained Cerulle, “He was visiting his aunt in Graceland in 1991, and saw a local Duck tourism company. When he returned to Boston and saw all the trolleys, it hit him like a lighting bolt.”

Wilson searched the country for a company that could sell them enough Ducks to operate tours. They found “Ride the Ducks” of Branson, Missouri, who found and outfitted the amphibious vehicles. After the first round of Ducks needed to be updated and, in some cases, replaced, Wilson went to the source.

Duck Statehouse

“We found some civil defense units, and units from fire departments and private owners.” said Cerulle, “The suspension, engine, transmission, interior, electrical system, tires and rims, rear deck, etc all had to be modified.”

Acording to Tony, they are Coast Guard inspected, and adhere to CG regulations, as well as Department of Public Utility regs as a bus.

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The opportunity to transport champions first arose in the winter of 2002. The Patriots had just won their first Super Bowl, and officials approached the various trolley companies in Boston.

Duck Parade

“The City of Boston asked local trolley companies as well as us what they’d charge to carry the players in the parade.” Explained Tony, “We said we’d do it for free which I guess was good enough to get it!”

When the next Championship came (Sox or Pats?), the other Boston trolley companies offered to give the camps a ride for free, but the city declined, opting for Duck Boats.

“Since security is such a huge concern,” said Tony, “using the same company again makes sense because they know what to expect from us.” The city would go on to call up the Ducks seven times from 2002 to 2011, and the eighth time tomorrow.

Celtics Parade

Tony also believes that the city prefers the Duck Boats because of the high visibility that the open deck military vehicles offer.

But they are not parade-ready. The WWII Ducks need to have the seats removed, banners hung, and in some cases, confetti machines installed. There is also a newer crop of boats that the company uses for tours and parades.

Bruins Parade

“On the newer style Ducks” said Cerulle, “We have to remove some seats to install a platform we made to allow the players to be above the roof line so they can be easily seen by the fans.”

There have been plenty of championship rides in the last decade, but for Tony, the first Red Sox parade was the best: “It was a long wait for them to win the World Series (85 years) and since my wife is such a huge fan, and she got to ride on a Duck in the parade, she was ecstatic about it”

Tomorrow, for the eighth time since 2002, the Duck Boats will fire up and the now-iconic amphibious vehicles will roll through Boston carrying champions. By now, it’s as if a championship is not complete until a trophy takes a ride on a Duck Boat.

Image Credit: Boston Duck Tours, Fennway100, UniversalHub, MelroseMirror

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