We have developed a restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) genetic map in oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) for use in breeding programmes. A segregating population of 98 individuals was probed with 84 informative low copy clones (mainly PstI genomics). This yielded 103 scorable loci, of which 97 could be linked into 24 groups of two or more markers (n = 16 for oil palm), encompassing a total of 860 cM. The high level of linkage between markers (95%) suggests good genome coverage and very little segregation distortion of markers was observed. The mapping population, which was generated by the selfing of an important breeding palm (A 137/30), also segregated for the shell thickness character (Sh), enabling mapping of the gene conferring this major commercial trait. The nearest RFLP marker (pOPgSP1282) was located 9.8 cM from Sh in the mapping population and 6.6 cM away in a related (A137/30 × E80/29) smaller population (45 palms). Strategies for conversion of RFLP markers to a PCR format were explored and two important markers were shown to generate allelic variants following PCR amplification and restriction digestion of PCR products. The application of this map to oil palm breeding programmes is discussed.Key words: oil palm, Elaeis guineensis Jacq., RFLP, linkage map, shell thickness.