Driving a Duck Boat – all it’s quacked up to be – and more


Doug Perry, of Alameda, stands in front of an amphibious vehicle where he works for Ride the Ducks, a company that takes tourists on a tour on the streets and in the waters in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

ALAMEDA JOURNAL: March 8, 2012

You think you’ve got a tough commute? Try driving a boatload of people around San Francisco — then ending up in the Bay.

Alamedan Doug Perry works for Ride the Ducks, the company that takes tourists on those curious white boats on wheels. They’re actually updated versions of World War 2 amphibious vehicles that motor down city streets and then take to the water like — you guessed it — ducks.

Driving one is harder than it looks.

“A buddy of mine took a tour with me and he said ‘I can’t believe all the things you have to keep track of,’ ” says Perry. For starters, you have to have your captain’s license. “You have to have 360 days on the water, and you have to take an exhausting test that takes two or three days,” he says. “You have to know your light signals and sound signals and navigation rules and fire management.

Then, you have to have your Class B bus driver’s license. Perry got that especially for this job. “These things are big. Not like a car — this thing is huge by comparison. It’s a challenge to drive, but that’s half the fun.”

Thankfully, Perry’s a quick learner, because he’s also got to be a comedian, a trivia expert and a deejay, of sorts, playing music that complements every part of his tour. It takes all this and nerves of steel as he drives two dozen passengers around town quacking with those plastic party horns shaped like duck bills.

“I really enjoy it,” says Perry. “I just love the interaction with people, and Ride the Ducks gives me an opportunity to do that every two hours with a whole new group.” Of course, Perry has always been a people person. “I’ve been in sales, owned my own businesses and was a buyer for Macy’s.” he says. Still, driving a duck, he admits, was not on his bucket list.

But his attraction to the sea led him to his newfound career. He’s taught sailing lessons for 15 years and has been a member of the Encinal Yacht Club for 30 years. “I have a hard time being away from the water,” he says, remembering how hard it was when he moved out to Danville to be near his fiancĂ©. “I told her it was too hot and too far from the water, so she sold her place and we moved back here.”

The duck boat rumbles through North Beach blasting “That’s Amore;” it crosses Market Street to the sounds of Jefferson Starship singing “We built this city;” it plunges into the Bay and bobs merrily along to a Caribbean party beat. All the while, tourists are laughing and blowing their beaks at the urging of Captain Doug.

For a guy who is semiretired, this job is as stimulating as it gets. It’s all it’s quacked up to be, and more.

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