Merrell Designs

chuckenhChuck Merrell was a Seattle based boat designer who passed a few years back.  Some recent questions on the Yahoo Shantyboat Forum reminded me of his old website and his blog.   Thanks to “Heath” and the Internet Wayback Machine here is the background on his shantyboat-esque designs:


(Scroll Down to see Gypsy and Walden Variations)



PEANUT started out as a concept in economy and had been sitting in my preliminary drawing file for about a year. What I wanted to create was a floating permanent residence for a single retired person or “friendly” couple. No doubt of it, the living area is compact, but certainly magnanimous in comparison with sailboats or even most powerboats. I wanted to design a house-raft which could be built out of the cheapest of the cheap materials (or alternatively made from the best stuff) and last for generations with minimal routine maintenance. Somewhere in the dim mists of my mind I thought I might build one for myself and later sell plan sets, but it was my friend George Parker who really got the ball rolling.

George is an airline pilot, nearing retirement age. He suddenly found himself sans significant other and knocking around in a big, expensive house in an upscale neighborhood. After the dust settled and the “wound licking” subsided he realized on one sunny day last summer while dutifully mowing his lawn, that he no longer had any interest in living in Yuppie Del Acres. He stopped in mid-mow, leaving the mower in the middle of the yard, jumped in his car and drove to the marina to sit in the cockpit of his sailboat, have a beer and a think.

Enter me, wandering down the dock. When the greetings were said and the conversation got earnest, George said: “If this sailboat wasn’t so small, I’d sell out and move aboard. I’m sick of spending zillions keeping up appearances and to this moment, nobody’s rung my doorbell and given me a hundred-dollar bill for being a credit to the community! I wanna live on the water.”

Peanut immediately jumped to mind, but I’ve learned not to try and fit a person to a boat rather than the other way around. I asked George what he thought he wanted and sat back and listened. Turned out that when he finished his want list, he was pretty much describing Peanut. Anyway, here’s what came out of our brainstorming session, and the plan shown here is what George’s Peanut will be like.

George wanted a houseboat that he could build and which would sit in the water nearly forever with no attention to the bottom or whatever was holding it up. As Titanic buffs know, any boat can sink, but unless there is a raging flood, or the sun goes nova a “barrel boat “, one floating on foam filled plastic drums, will go the distance. In fresh water, there’ll probably never be a problem and in salt water there are of course considerations, but I’ve outlined some good solutions in the how-to-build-booklet that comes in the plan set.

One thing that worries people about barrel boats is what keeps the barrels in place? Well, the answer is that properly designed the floats stay in place from the pressure of flotation. On Peanut for example, the upward force exerted on each barrel in it’s frame is between two and three-hundred pounds. Or to put it another way, it’s the same force required to pick up a Chevy motor block sitting on the ground. However, having said that, the barrels on Peanut are secured by one web strap per barrel so that the boat can be craned out or lifted with a travel-lift, so even a large wake, wave or towing short distances can’t possibly flip the barrels out. The best news is that poly drums are cheap (around $25.00) and sometimes free if you know where to look, foaming them costs a little, but can be done by an amateur builder, and is essential.

Another of George’s requirements was that the boat be easily transportable on a custom or light flat-bed trailer. At 8’6″ across the eves, Peanut is street legal in all states, and if properly built, could be towed behind a 3/4 ton pickup almost anywhere with no road damage. Take the barrels off, secure them inside and a move of almost any distance would be easy.

The original Peanut was drawn shorter, but extended then to 30′ which opened up more room for the desk/computer center (George writes and does occasional consulting work for the FAA) made for a bigger head compartment and on the other side allowed a full-size refrigerator freezer and bigger bureau.

The double berth is raised, allowing a large storage space underneath, which also houses a small 30-gallon water heater. As configured in the drawing, this Peanut is primarily a marina live-aboard, but in a remote area away from shore power and water, it would be easy to make it self-contained.

As far as building economies are concerned; there are some quite inexpensive materials fairly new on the market that will cut exterior construction costs sharply and still be worth using and last for a long time with little exterior maintenance. For roof treatments products include elastometric systems which not only are strong, last for years, but also are easily maintained when the time comes. Also worth considering are certain imported exterior waterproof and vapor proof panels that cost a fraction of what would normally be employed. Suggestions and solutions are listed in the bill-of-materials and the instructions.

One feature worth noting: A 2′ x 2′ floor trap which can be opened if you need to inspect the underside of the boat, or perhaps bait a hook, attach it to the underside of the door, or drop a crab ring or shrimp trap and if you’re in the right place, dinner might be a fait’ accompli. Peanut is a boat-home designed with a place for everything and everything in its place and will make for comfortable, cozy and uncluttered living.

Study plans are not necessary, because what you see here is what you get. The plan package contains all the important dimensions and construction details and is priced $75.00 (US) or $110.00 (Canadian) Postpaid. Merrell Watercraft, P. O. Box 80264, Seattle, WA 98108-0264 (206) 764-1298

Ed Builds a Peanut! (Click to follow Ed Sasser’s Progress)



Below is shown the “WALDEN” variation of Peanut.  The boat has been widened to 10′ which allows a little more elbow room, and also allows room for a proper toilet compartment, large shower and a “restaurant sized” dining booth which will seat four.  This’ll also  provide a great place for coffee drinking, a nice work surface or just a place to prop up and read the Sunday papers.   This is the boat that I’ll build for my own use, and will start working to pre-fabricate the parts within the next few weeks.  Hopefully I’ll finish the boat, launch and move aboard this summer (98′), so stay tuned for a hyperlink page of detailed construction photos as we progress with the project.

walden2 (1)



Plain Jane was a sudden commission. That is to say that suddenly the client called, then came in right away, said that he wanted to build a houseboat. He had firmly decided this. But, he couldn’t find anything up to date from the materials and construction standpoint that he liked. He knew what he didn’t want, namely a highly developed and affected design with lots of complications and joinery problems built in which would increase the cost, skill level required to build and maybe double the building time. He used the phrase “somewhat nondescript and vanilla in character”. I translated that to name the design Plain Jane and completed the profile and layout arrangement in about eight hours. I think you’ll agree that the completed (and approved) boat takes very good advantage of space and arrangement and would suit a single live aboard or a couple.


In addition to having an ergonomically well designed living area of between three and four hundred square feet, he also wanted a boat that was capable of being less “house barge” and more street legal. What that means is that the boat has to be able to be transported from place to place on its own bottom, maneuvering under its own power and be self contained as to holding tanks or sanitation system, electrical, running lights etc. The boat more than likely will be slipped or moored in one place, probably a marina for years at a time, but has to have the above to satisfy the “powers that be” and their definition of a boat as opposed to a house barge.


That being the case, Plain Jane will be fitted out, as would be any other large powerboat. The owner/builder of Plain Jane will be living aboard the boat on a large river in a marina in the Midwest, but may eventually move the boat to a retirement moorage on the Gulf.


Plain Jane is designed to draft twelve inches, and when complete will displace about 28,500 pounds when sitting on her lines. I drew the ends of the boat so that in addition to making the boat slide through the water with minimum of effort, overloading the boat and increasing the draft a couple inches (as might be bound to happen) won’t have much effect on performance. Power will be from an outboard, preferably a four-cycle engine in the range of 50 to 70 H.P. The reason for choosing an outboard is obvious. The boat will be in one place for years, so there is no reason to have any unneeded appendages or equipment permanently in the water subject to corrosion, electrolysis or deterioration. It was for this reason that we decided to discard the idea of an out drive even though the installation would be neater. The removable control console will be mounted in the center of the bow, but generally will be stored in the two and one-half foot deep crawl space below decks. This space will also provide room for general storage as well as access to all parts of the hull and installations below the floor level.


The hull of the boat will be built of steel, and when fabrication is complete will be sandblasted and heavily coated with zinc rich epoxy primer inside and out and the hull exterior will be finished with a coal tar epoxy and appropriate bottom paint. If the builder chooses, the hull can be launched at that point and construction finished afloat.


Thickness of the exterior walls was drawn as six inches per standard architectural design, but this can be reduced to four and one-half inches by constructing the walls of pre-fabricated foam filled panels in the shop which are made to snap together for assembly. This method is my choice, because not only will this speed construction, a high quality control standard can also be maintained. (See detailed construction plans and construction manual.) In addition to the walls (and roof as explained below) the floor should also be built of prefabricated insulated panels as detailed in the construction plans.


The roof of the boat can also be prefabricated over curved forms and pre-insulated and made to snap together after the walls are erected. When in place, the roof would be sheathed with a polypropylene fabric set in epoxy then coated with material that has been successfully used to protect mobile homes. Inside headroom is designed as 7 feet 3 inches on the centerline, and 6 feet 3 inches at the sidewalls, which will give adequate drainage. (See construction details.)
Standard housing construction materials will be used wherever possible. Notice that no heating or cooling equipment has been suggested on the layout. The reason for this is because there are many possibilities available and finally should suit the intended application and the climate where the boat is to be used. Also, note that parquet flooring has been shown in the main traffic area and in the galley, but I personally would install parquet, tile, linoleum or hardwood flooring throughout and use throw rugs where appropriate. The reason that this would be my choice is that wall-to-wall carpeting installed on boats often over time becomes a haven for molds and dust which can sometimes cause allergic reactions in those permanently living aboard. Throw rugs can be easily removed, the floors washed with disinfectant and the rugs cleaned and treated with anti-fungus solutions. It is also a good idea that the paint used on walls (particularly if latex based) also contain anti-fungal/anti-mold additives.


Fabricated carefully and taking the recommendations of the construction details and assembly manual into consideration, this boat can be built quite inexpensively but provide a long lasting comfortable home afloat. The best part is; if you want to change the neighborhood, all you need to do is untie the house and take it elsewhere, no muss, no fuss!

PDF Version of this Boat

Originally posted 2013-07-29 08:49:32.

A website about Shantyboats and affordable living on the water. More than 800 stories to date, and growing.