About Us

Who we are

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders (NBBB) is a complete new-build shipyard and full-service repair facility with 50+ years of experience on Whidbey Island in Washington State. NBBB specializes in steel and aluminum vessel construction, repair and major conversions. NBBB 12-acre shipyard is capable of complete vessel construction from production engineering to turn-key delivery, with full service production departments to include: Ship Fitting, Production Welding, Pipe Systems, Electrical, Joinery, Machine, Paint and HVAC, Operators, and production support. NBBB’s vessel construction portfolio demonstrates our dedication to quality craftsmanship, vessel performance, and passion for boatbuilding.






Where we began

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders Brochure

NBBB has been building boats on beautiful Whidbey Island since 1964. We are located in Freeland, WA where we produce state-of-the-art vessels; tugs, ferries, fire boats, fishing vessels, barges, dinner boats, along with many other sophisticated ships.

However it didn't all start on Whidbey Island, in fact Nichols Brothers evolved from Nichols Boat Works which was incorporated by Mark Nichols and son Frank Nichols in 1939 at Hood River, Oregon, on the Columbia River. It wasn't until Frank moved to Whidbey in 1964 with his wife and 11 children. At the time Whidbey Island had virtually no industry other than farming, but Frank stuck to what he knew, boat building. Whidbey Island offered; people accustomed to working hard, honestly, and with a sense of community commitment. This formed a shipyard based upon a family-like company culture.   In 1972 two of Frank Nichols' sons, Matt and Archie took over the family business. The shipyard's ambitions and capabilities rapidly grew. Modular construction cut costs which in turn enabled NBBB to expand facilities, machinery and their workforce. NBBB now had the construction capacity for boats up to 360 feet. Nichols began aggressively going after contracts in a variety of types of vessels from work boats to passenger vessels.   The most dramatic innovation grew out of Matt Nichols' insight that there was a market for a new kind of passenger vessel, light, fast, sea-kindly, and fuel efficient: the aluminum-hulled catamaran, which NBBB introduced to North American waters as the high-speed catamaran.

In 2008 an investment group purchased NBBB; now, Ice Floe, LLC dba Nichols Brothers Boat Builders remains the family-like company as before. Firmly rooted on Whidbey Island and committed to the small community of South Whidbey and surrounding areas.

What we build

Nichols Brothers EmployeesNichols Brothers specializes in versatility. We build an astonishing variety of vessels. We lead in adopting innovative marine technology to serve our customers' needs.

We build monohulls and catamarans in steel and aluminum. We have built ferries designed to cross rivers at 3 knots, and a Navy transport capable of more than 50 knots. We have built boats with Z-drives, Voith Schneider propellers, and working paddlewheels. We have even built one sailboat an extraordinarily large and impressive one.

Nichols Brothers introduced the high-speed catamaran to American waters. In 1983, an Alaska cruise company approached us with a need for an excursion vessel adapted to the unique conditions of the Yukon River: a draft of less than 6 feet, enough power to easily cruise upriver against 6- to 7-knot currents, and economical operation while carrying up to 210 passengers. Australia's International Catamarans provided the design.

High-Speed CatamaranSince then, Nichols Brothers has launched 45 high-speed catamarans. Their speed, passenger comfort, and fuel efficiency adapt to a constellation of diverse uses: commercial cruise operations, diving overnighters, commuter ferries, and military troop carriers. The largest of these vessels, the 144-foot Catalina Jet, is currently in use carrying up to 450 passengers from the California mainland to Catalina Island. At 35 knots, it makes the crossing in an hour.

The U.S. Navy's X-Craft, launched in 2005, is the most advanced vessel Nichols Brothers has yet built. It has a deceptive bargelike look slab sides with a flat sheer and a stubble of a pilothouse poking up at its forward port corner. But it packs a prodigious powertrain: two 5,500 BHP 16-cylinder diesels for everyday cruising, and a pair of 34,000 BHP gas turbines for speeds of more than 50 knots. The flight deck accommodates two H-60 Seahawk helicopters, and the cargo deck below can transport troops, vehicles, or up to 12 cargo containers. The Navy is still evaluating projected uses, which may include battle force protection, anti-submarine warfare, amphibious assault support, and humanitarian aid.

Other unusual Nichols Brothers boats include Empress of the North, a big (360 foot) sternwheeler designed to cruise both the Columbia River and the Inside Passage between Seattle and Juneau. The functional sternwheel alone drives the boat at 6 knots, and twin Z-drives mounted just forward of the paddlewheel can power it up to 14 knots and provide critical maneuverability in high winds and tight quarters. The Tole Mour, a three-masted, steel-hulled schooner launched in 1988, was originally commissioned as a hospital ship for the Marshall Islands. She now operates as a youth sail trainer and ocean education vessel off Southern California. With a displacement of 340 tons and sparred length of 156 feet, she is the largest active tall ship on the West Coast.

Despite these excursions into the big, fast, advanced, and exotic, Nichols Brothers still builds vessels that spring directly from its roots, honest, hard-working tugs, fireboats, dredges, barges, monohull ferries, and commercial fishing boats. What we've learned from the most challenging projects improves even the most modest boats.

Every commercial boat comes with a unique set of requirements for its specialized job and the environment in which it operates. We draw on deep experience to tailor each vessel perfectly for its work, whatever and wherever in the world it is.

How we work

Nichols Brothers Boat Yard

Nichols Brothers Senior Management Group focuses on three topics that continue to contribute to the growing success of the company; Customer Loyalty, Employee Faithfulness, and Community Support.

It is significant to NBBB to establish and maintain a professional relationship with all past, present and potential customers. It is important to provide our customer with the best experience during construction of their vessel. NBBB strives to meet every customer's delivery schedule, quality expectations, and budget.

NBBB also invests in its employees. Nichols Brothers has a number of skilled tradesmen who have been with the company for well over 30 years. These employees amongst NBBB Journeymen are training the next generation of boat builders. We have an in-house state recognized apprenticeship program that ensures our personnel are meeting and exceeding NBBB expectations and regulatory demands. We pride ourselves on our projects reputation; of quality craftsmanship; excellent performance in speed, fuel and environmental efficiencies.

Our community is important to us. We have learned over the last 50+ years that when you support your community, your community supports you.   Over the years we have lent a hand out; reuniting an abandoned young orca with its pod, by supplying a crew and catamaran to transport the orca to British Columbia; We provided a shelter and build site to Whidbey Island Rowing Association when in need for storage of their shells; When we planned for expansion in 2006, we faced a lot of concerned neighbors, but after hiring a team of consultants to alleviate its impact and installing a $2 million stormwater filtration system we eased the fears of all community residents and gained their support.   We have been in need ourselves. In 1979 our shipyard fell short of cash, people from all over Whidbey Island dug into their own pockets and raised $600,000 to help NBBB with a bridge loan. Once back on it's feet financially NBBB paid back the money, with interest.

Overall our family-like company culture plays a role while creating and upholding customer, employee and community relationships. We have repeat customers that make our business strong, dedicated employees that enable us to take on any project, and a community that bestows in not only to us but to our families as well.