Newcastle’s Mikie Coffman is hen to Seattle’s Ride the Ducks brood
August 5, 2011
By Quinn Eddy
As general manager of Seattle’s Ride the Ducks, Newcastle resident Mikie Coffman gets a hefty dose of quacking on a daily basis.
“It’s nonstop fun. You have to be half crazy to work here,” Coffman said.
Originally from Redmond, Coffman moved to Newcastle five years ago. In college she studied political science at the University of Washington.
“At Ride the Ducks, I wear a lot of hats,” Coffman said. “Wherever they need me I’ll be there.”
The only things you won’t see Coffman doing is driving a duck or helping mechanically. All captains must be United States Coast Guard certified and have a current commercial driver’s license. When it comes to captains, Ride the Ducks prefers them as wild as possible.
“We like our captains one step away from being committed,” Coffman said.
Ride the Ducks captains go through an intensive two-month training program.
“We overdo our training so they know everything about the vehicles,” Coffman said.
Located across the street from the Space Needle on Broad Street, Ride the Ducks offers scenic tours of the city in an amphibious vehicle called a duck, which is capable of traveling on both land and water. Each duck can hold up to 36 riders.
On a Ride the Ducks tour riders will experience 60 minutes on land and 30 minutes in the water. Sights seen include all of the major downtown landmarks, including the Seattle waterfront, Safeco and CenturyLink fields, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, the downtown shopping district and the Fremont neighborhood.
For the water portion of the tour, the duck splashes into Lake Union. Riders get the chance to check out Gas Works Park and the “Sleepless in Seattle” houseboat. During the tour, captains play music and tell stories about the city.
“It’s really an entertainment venue,” Coffman said. “There’s never a dull moment. We call it a party on wheels.”
The ducks themselves are World War II surplus DUKWs built between 1942 and 1945. The 2 1/2-ton amphibious vehicles were used in crucial battles, such as D-Day, and were used during the Korean War for ship-to-shore deliveries. Twenty thousand were built during World War II, with much of the labor done by women. Without the ducks, ships would have been forced to unload cargo into smaller boats that would then need to be unloaded once they reached the shore. With the DUKW, ships could load cargo at sea and drop it off at its exact destination on land.
“We’ve had people that worked with these during wartimes on our tours,” Coffman said.
Ride the Ducks started out in 1997 as a joint venture between her father Brian Tracy and his business partner. They originally started with just one vehicle, but today Ride the Ducks has 17 ducks running 85 tours a day between two departure locations. Coffman started out at Ride the Ducks as the business’ first ticket-booth employee.
Recently, Ride the Ducks was paid a visit by late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. Other famous faces seen on a duck include Keith Urban, J.J. Abrams, Cindy Lauper and Ray Allen.
“Any new Mariners recruit gets a ride on a duck,” Coffman said. “It’s a great way for new players to experience the city.”
According to Coffman, Ride the Ducks employees get all sorts of outrageous questions from riders.
“One time, someone asked if the duck goes up the Space Needle,” Coffman said. “Someone asked if we get wet. When told they won’t, they replied, ‘How do we not get wet if it goes underwater?’”
When asked about her favorite group of riders, Coffman immediately thought of the Red Hat ladies. The group is a women’s club for active senior citizens.
“They really know how to have a good time,” Coffman said. “Captains are always having to remind them to keep their arms inside the duck.”
The idea for Ride the Ducks came from the use of the vehicles for tours in other cities across the country.
“The original duck tour was in the Wisconsin Dells,” Coffman said. “Branson, Mo., and Boston also have these tours.”
If a duck experiences mechanical problems or a flat tire, Ride the Ducks has a full maintenance team on standby.
“They’re really like a pit crew. They do a fabulous job,” Coffman said.
As a means to give back to the community, Ride the Ducks gives to the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Twice a year, they hold Starlight Charity Days where all proceeds go to the children. There is also a free tour where a duck picks up passengers at Swedish Medical Center for a tour just for ill children.
“It’s unbelievably rewarding. We look forward to raising money for such a worthy cause.” Coffman said.