Quacking Around San Francisco

Ride the Ducks DUKW, on dry land

Some things are easier to make accessible than others. On the one hand, it’s pretty easy to put a ramp up to a building, or to make sure that there are grab bars by the toilet. But then there are those things that I call “access challenges”; and I got a chance to check out one of those yesterday on a San Francisco Ride the Ducks tour.

For those of you unfamiliar with duck tours, they are conducted in amphibious vehicles called DUKWs (hence the name). Largely used by the U.S. military in WWII, these six-wheeled “trucks” transported soldiers and supplies over water and land.

A portable manual lift allows everyone to enjoy the tour

Today many tour companies have modified these old vehicles to provide land and water tours. I’ve checked out a number of these tours, and even had one tour operator laugh at me for asking if their DUKWs were accessible. I distinctly remember him saying, “There is no way on God’s green earth that you could ever make one of these accessible. They’re just not made for those people.”


Well, apparently nobody told the good folks in San Francisco about that, because they’ve come up with the most accessible DUKW I’ve ever seen. The key was building the DUKWs to be accessible, instead of trying to modify existing vehicles.

You see, the traditional way to board a DUKW is by a narrow staircase that lowers in the back of the vehicle; something that obviously won’t work for anyone with mobility issues. But the San Francisco DUKWs are built to accept a portable hand-crank lift. Wheelchair-users are boarded first, and when the lift reaches the top, they simply roll off into a dedicated space complete with tie-downs. And when the wheelchair space isn’t being used, the removable seat is replaced.

It’s an excellent design, and I especially like the hand-crank lift, as it’s easy to operate and free of the glitches and mechanical problems that plague power lifts.

Captain Grumpy quacks us up with another duck joke!

And the tour is a real hoot too. As we moved along though North Beach, Chinatown and Mission Beach, Captain Grumpy (his grandkids named him) regaled us with bad duck jokes, encouraged us to use our wacky quacker noisemakers to quack to songs, and shared some little-known bits and pieces of San Francisco history with us.

And then we splashed down into the bay

and tooled along past the RO/ROs at a whopping 5 mph. These “roll-on/roll-off” military vehicles, are part of the US military ready reserve force; and even though I’ve taken many a bay tour, I’ve never heard about them before.

Cruising on the Bay

But to be honest I learned a lot of things on the tour. For example, I now know which San Francisco socialite coined the term “Sugar Daddy”. (Alma de Bretteville Spreckles)

And I also know what you get when you have a cow and two ducks — milk and quackers!

In the end, part of the fun of the tour was watching the passers-by react to our quack happy little group. We even got an enthusiastic round of applause for our quacking rendition of “Take Me Out To the Ball Game”, from the fans in front of AT&T park.

Sadly the one-and-a-half -hour tour ended too soon. But hey, I can always take it again! And so can you. Thanks to the people at Ride the Ducks, everybody can ride!

Ride the Ducks ticket booth, on Taylor Street, across from Fisherman's Wharf

For more information about the Ride the Ducks tours, drop by their ticket booth at 2770 Taylor Street, next to Applebee’s and across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf. Although advance reservations are usually recommended for the accessible tours, they can usually accommodate folks if they have space. It’s best to buy your tickets in advance, but if that’s just not possible, go by the ticket booth early in the day to check their availability.

Oh, and say hi to Captain Grumpy for me!!