Fred Shell—Designer, and builder of Shell Boats since 1983

Born:  Detroit, Michigan, the great-grandson of a ship captain who owned and took charge of a fleet of sailing ships on the Great Lakes.

First Boat: Age twelve, built a 10’ Chris Craft pram from a kit, over 50 years ago, but I will never forget it!

Education: Bachelor of Architecture, UC Berkeley.

Shell Boats are built using unique and very effective methods, which are the result of years of research and development. Roots go back to the early American skiffs, Dutch vlets and the Norwegian holmsbupram of centuries ago. The synthesis of these time-tested, simple construction methods with modern materials - epoxy, stainless steel fastenings, and marine plywood - produces a handsome craft, which is strong and durable as well as economical to build and maintain.

Shell Boats are designed by first building a prototype - by eye, as the Norwegians have built the holmsbupram for centuries. No detailed plans, offsets or molds are used. The prototype is meticulously hand crafted and temporarily assembled without glue. The hull is built right-side up, allowing the builder (and designer) to see exactly what is going on. When it is completed, the boat is disassembled and patterns are made of all the pieces. Our kits and finished boats are cut using these patterns.


Most of our designs are glued lapstrake construction. The bottom is flat and there are three or four planks on each side. This produces a well-rounded cross section, with good initial and ultimate stability.

The planking and deck wood used is marine grade Meranti plywood, clear grain, suitable for varnishing. Where solid wood is needed, a good grade of ash, pine or spruce is used. All spars are spruce. The fastenings and hardware fittings are stainless steel or bronze.

All masts are unstayed and some folding. The rigs are very simple to set up - the boats with single sails can easily be rigged in less than five minutes. (Although we recommend allowing five extra minutes to talk to all those people who will lust after your boat and want to know if you built it yourself, etc. etc.)  We sew our own sails which (for white sails) are included in the price for all kits. Please see order page for color option Our kits are specifically designed for the amateur builder. You will be able to build a boat you can be proud to own even with limited woodworking experience. A cordless power screwdriver is the only power tool you’ll need.

Each kit includes all the necessary parts, including all fastenings, hardware and sails. An epoxy kit is available for each boat. With the epoxy kit and boat kit you will have nothing else to buy except sandpaper, paint and varnish. For some designs plans are available for those who wish to start from scratch. 

All of the pieces arrive pre-cut, pre-beveled and pre-drilled. Planks over 8’ long will have been previously scarfed together at our boat shop, and will arrive full length. Penciled guidelines are drawn on the pieces to indicate where each piece attaches to another. The pieces are labeled with black pencil (on hidden surfaces, in case you choose to varnish) and the locations of pieces are marked with red pencil.

Builders of our lapstrake designs will find it easy to “clamp” each plank joint together by first coating mating surfaces with epoxy, then using screws to draw the laps together, which eliminates any need for special clamps. Although construction of your boat can be undertaken at a leisurely pace, it is also possible to produce a quality boat, which you and your family can be proud of, in a very short time.

Kits can be economically shipped almost anywhere - we have shipped them as far away as Japan and Alaska. The current shipping cost (via truck line) in the U.S. averages between 15 and 25% of the kit price.