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R.I. boater turns passion into profit

Rick Audette started building pumpout boats, in part, because of his own desire for clean water

Rick Audette started building pumpout boats, in part, because of his own desire for clean water

Rick Audette has been building specialized pumpout boats for nearly 15 years, and says he’s sold more of them than any other builder in the country.

“I was in this business before anyone else was,” says Audette, who is 59, and owns the Marine Boatbuilders Co. in Warwick, R.I. Audette founded Marine Boatbuilders in 1992 in an effort to combine his work with his passion for boating. At that time, Audette says, building pumpout boats was relatively uncommon. “No one really knew what pumpout boats were back then or how to make them,” he says. “I had a mold built and got to it. I started figuring them out. I later began collaborating with a friend of mine, Joe DaPonte. He builds the boats and I sell them. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since. We’ve learned together every year how to make the boats better and better.”

Audette sells 19-, 20-, 23- and 31-foot models that cost between $50,000 and $146,000 — engines included — to towns, states and municipalities all over the country. “It’s the way my boats are designed that sets them apart from other pumpout boats,” Audette says. “They are seaworthy, and built to be pumpout boats. They’re not converted recreational boats. I don’t skimp on anything.”

Marine Boatbuilders’ pumpout boats are made from a modified concave vee-hull design for additional stability in choppy seas. A 230-gallon fiberglass holding tank below the waterline is standard on the 19-foot model, and a 950-gallon holding tank below the waterline is standard on the 31-foot model. An Edson Electric pump under the console is used to run the sewage tank. The vents, and the intake and discharge pipes are also under the console, leaving the deck uncluttered.

“These boats are all signed off by a naval architect engineer,” Audette says. “I know my boats are good and they’re safe, and I’ve sold a ton of them.”

In 2004 Audette says he sold 23 pumpout boats, and expects 2006 to be even more successful. He says he’s inundated with new orders and expects to build about 45 this year. In November Audette sold a 23-foot, 400-gallon pumpout boat to the Essex (Conn.) Harbor Management Commission. The boat will be used this season to pump out boats in the towns of Essex, Chester, Deep River, Lyme and Old Lyme.

“The demand for pumpout boat service is increasing,” says Joel Severance, president of the Connecticut Harbor Management Association. In 2004 he says, the service in Essex performed 910 pumpouts in the five towns, removing 20,005 gallons of waste. In 2005 the service removed 37,772 gallons of waste in 1,689 pump outs.

“That’s waste that might have wound up in the Connecticut River or Long Island Sound, but didn’t,” Severance says. “Providing this free service is a win-win situation. Boaters love it, and marinas and yacht clubs like us providing it, too. And it doesn’t hurt when you have a pumpout boat that was made for that work, not some center console that’s been converted. I think the new boat will prove to be an excellent purchase.”

In addition to pumpout boats, Marine Boatbuilders also makes patrol boats, work boats and floating restrooms. The restrooms have a 650-gallon capacity, are solar powered and use only a minimal amount of water. Audette says Marine Boatbuilders is the only company in the United States that makes floating restrooms completely of fiberglass. The restrooms are priced between $65,000 and $85,000.

As a longtime boater himself, Audette says he’s glad his pumpout boat business is helping to improve the environment.

“I feel like I’m doing something to help clean up our waterways, where we boat, fish and swim,” he says. “I’m glad to see boaters not wanting to use the water as a toilet. This is a business that people have become passionate about, and I like that.”