Local man creates wheelchair- accessible boat for disabled veterans

By: 
CHARLIE DENISON
Senior Reporter
Friday, October 25, 2019
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Earlier this year a client with Warriors and Quiet Waters used the wheelchair-accessible drift boat built by Brett Nienhuis of Big Fish Boatworks.

Photos courtesy of Warriors and Quiet Waters

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A disabled fisherman is wheeled into a boat.Brett Nienhuis takes great pride in the wheelchair-accessible boats he makes. His father and grandfather (both disabled veterans) inspired the concept.

Photo courtesy of Brett Nienhuis

Brett Nienhuis of Big Fish Boatworks is at it again, putting his own spin on drift boats to give disabled veterans an opportunity to go out on a fishing trip they otherwise wouldn’t experience.

This past spring, Nienhuis customized a drift boat for Warriors and Quiet Waters, making it wheelchair-accessible.

“I built a door on the front quarter of the boat, which allows for a person in a full-size wheelchair to be wheeled into the boat,” Nienhuis said. “It’s a one-piece, waterproof-sealed, patented design.”

Nienhuis said this is the third wheelchair-accessible boat he’s made, and he’s happy to do it, as he wants to give those who are wheelchair-bound the opportunity to spend some time on the water.

This idea came to Niehnuis out of respect for his father and grandfather, who were both disabled veterans.

“Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away before I made any wheelchair-accessible boats and my dad hasn’t been on one, but they are the reason I’m doing this and they are the reason I have a passion for boats and a passion for fishing,” said Nienhuis. “I wouldn’t have anything to do with boats if they hadn’t started taking me out fishing when I was 5 years old.”

This being the case, Nienhuis wants to give back to those who have served the country, particularly those who are disabled.

“I appreciate all veterans for their selflessness,” he said. “I appreciate them for their willingness to give something to the country nobody else is willing to give.”

Thanks to organizations such as Warriors and Quiet Waters, Nienhuis is getting the opportunity to bring joy to the veterans he so admires. In the spring, a disabled veteran got to go on his latest wheelchair-accessible boat. 

Seeing photos from the trip brought joy to the local shipwright. 

“Warriors and Quiet Waters sent me three 8 x 10s of the veteran in my boat smiling and fishing. You can’t get a better feeling than that,” said Nienhuis. “These pictures mean the world. They’re hanging in my living room.”

Nienhuis said creating the wheelchair-accessible boats is tremendously rewarding and he’s pleased to see more requests coming in for them.

“I’m getting several inquiries for these boats from the east coast,” he said. “It means a lot to be able to do this for veterans.”

Warriors and Quiet Waters is a Bozeman-based nonprofit that uses fishing to help reintegrate veterans into society. 

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