When he was young, Richard Brochu’s parents wanted him to become an engineer. Brochu had other plans. He knew he wanted to do something to help people. As a lifelong boater and fishing enthusiast, he decided to start the Florida Fishing Academy in 2006. The nonprofit uses a fishing curriculum to teach kids lessons like hard work and the need to protect the environment.
Brochu decided to further that goal recently by commissioning a solar-powered, handicap accessible boat for the school. The boat, which is being built by FAE Consulting, will be the first of its kind in the region. It will have 48-foot pontoons and is capable of holding 75 people.
Roger Messenger, senior associate and photovoltaic specialist for FAE, says he was impressed by Brochu’s “community spirit and determination to build a green’ boat.”
Brochu presented the idea of a design including two outboards engines and two direct-current motors. The boat is intended to run on either electric or diesel. To make it work, Wray designed a system in which the solar panels send D.C. power to the inverters, which then send the current to lithium ion batteries. The batteries run the D.C. motors, and if there is enough extra power, they will also run the electronics, including the navigation system. A power plug can be hooked up to the dock on cloudy days or when the battery is running low. With its current design, the boat is capable of running three hours a day for the electronics and one and a half hours of motoring from the batteries. Right now, the plan is to utilize the diesel outboards only when Brochu is out at sea.
Brochu also wanted to have the ability to allow handicap individuals to have the experience of the ocean and fishing. The boat will have a dive platform designed for wheelchair access and custom rod holders that can be used by individuals with less upper body strength.
Currently, FAE is finalizing the permit package, which will be submitted by Brochu soon. Once it is approved, Brochu will have to hire a certified marine and solar installers to put the solar components together. Once it all comes together, the boat will help Brochu to triple his capacity.
Brochu, a former police officer-turned contractor, has been operating the Florida Fishing Academy in Palm Beach County since 2006. “When I started the program, I wanted to really learn about fishing myself,” he says. “I had to look into the issues surrounding fishing and its effects on the environment. I started to realize how overfished we are and that if we don’t do something now, my kids and their kids will not have the same resources. I really learned how much we don’t know about our resources.”
The program focuses on afterschool care with elementary school students and follows through with job placement and training for high school students and young adults. “Because of my background in law enforcement, I wanted to give kids something to do to keep them off the streets and keep them occupied. I also wanted to show them, that if they didn’t go to college, they could still have a good career doing something they love, whether it’s fishing charters, working on motor yachts, or even fishing tournaments,” says Brochu.