Just Ducky fleet with a full load of tourists makes
its turn in the Ohio River to head back to shore
during a morning tour.
— The first time Massachusetts native Chris D’Addario
visited Pittsburgh in 1996 searching for a place to launch
a quirky sightseeing business offering land/water tours
from amphibious vehicles, he was shocked.
was nothing like the smoky, dreary city he had expected.
"I couldn’t believe how nice it was," he said.
"I was thrilled. I was amazed. I said, ‘This place
and his high school chum Michael Cohen also had been
considering sites in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Savannah,
Ga., for their start-up but it was former Pittsburgh Mayor
Tom Murphy and his team who offered the most support.
didn’t chase us away," D’Addario said. "It
was not like that in other cities."
permit granted by the city helped secure start-up funds
from the former National City Bank to open Just Ducky
officials "gave us an opportunity that no other city
was willing to give a couple of young guys from out of
town," he said.
the beginning, "Just Ducky" wouldn’t be the
words used to describe how the business was doing. When it
opened in July 1997, mechanical problems with the business’
single refurbished World War II land/sea military vehicle
kept it out of commission for nearly half the season.
top of that, customers weren’t exactly lined up for
tickets. "There were days where most of the time no
one wanted to get on the duck boat," D’Addario, 46,
said. People would say, "‘Are you kidding me? The
rivers are filthy."
started a business in a city where people didn’t like
said it was nice to watch as residents came to embrace the
city’s rivers in more recent years instead of viewing
them with scorn.
the help of the RiverLife organization formed in 1999 to
encourage riverfront development, Pittsburgh residents
"have a much better respect for how wonderful the
river system is in this great little city," he said.
Ducky has now grown to a fleet of seven, 30-passenger
vehicles with a staff of between 60 and 65, including
drivers, narrators, office personnel and mechanics.
pedestrians have become accustomed to seeing the brightly
colored, odd-looking wheeled boats weave through the
streets as passengers wave and eagerly recite the required
greeting: "Quack, quack, quack."
past season, 70,000 people took a tour from Just Ducky,
which typically operates seven days a week from April 1
through November. Tickets are $23 for adults, $15 for
children and $5 for kids age 2 and under, with refunds
offered if a tour is canceled because of dangerous weather
or fast-moving currents.
plans to bring an eighth boat into service for the 2016
season and is in the process of negotiating to expand Just
Ducky’s current location at Station Square.
similar tour operators in other cities have had some
serious and even fatal accidents — including two fatal
accidents just this year on roadways in Philadelphia and
Seattle — D’Addario said he’s proud of his company’s
18-year record of safety.
had little things happen — a fender bender here and
there," usually involving impatient drivers who
sideswipe the tour vehicle while trying to pass it, he
do everything we can to keep ourselves out of harm’s
way," such as "crawling along" city streets
at 15 mph, keeping close to shore and following a
designated route in the water. At least one crew member on
each tour — either the captain or the narrator — must
have first aid, CPR and life-saving credentials, D’Addario
comes first," he said.
of the most memorable times for D’Addario was when
another namesake for flightless feathered fowl, the
Pittsburgh Penguins, won the Stanley Cup in 2009. The team
asked Just Ducky to use its vehicles to carry players and
their families through Downtown streets during the victory
duck boat D’Addario was driving had Evgeni Malkin and
his family on board.
streets were lined with people. It was the coolest thing
ever," D’Addario said.
bulk of Just Ducky’s business — about 65 percent —
comes from local residents, not tourists as he initially
had expected. Local bookings include birthday parties,
school field trips, family reunions, business lunches and
learned how proud Pittsburghers are of the city," he