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7 Must-Haves for Marine Coolers and Our Top 6 Choices

Let's talk coolers and give you some pointers to help you find the cooler that will last and make your life on the water that much easier.

April 2, 2020
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A day of boating starts with a checklist of items needed for the day and at the top of the list is food and drinks! You don't want to go hungry and you’ve got to stay hydrated in the sun. But how are you going to pack all of that? Most of us will grab our trusty cooler and we are ready for the water. However, not all cooler are “boat ready,” have you heard of a marine cooler?

When looking at the best options for a cooler to bring on the boat, there are a few key things you’re going to be looking for, this is where the "marine coolers" deliver vs a traditional all-purpose cooler.

The 7 Must-Have Features of a Marine Cooler

1. This one almost goes in the "duh, of course!" category but a cooler has to have enough insulation to keep ice for a long time, especially if you’re on a long trip or a multi-day trip, you don’t want to fill up your coolers with ice daily. The average price of a 20lbs bag is $5, you do the math and you'll find a good cooler will actually save you money.

2. Next, let's talk about size and capacity. Based around what the cooler's intended purpose is, you'll need a cooler to fit the designated space (size) and have the internal space (capacity) to hold your precious cargo. The most common size you'll see on-board an average center console or bay boat is 65qt to 75qt though some larger boats may have coolers as big as 350qts.

3. You’re going to want a cooler that doesn’t slide around the boat, you want something that will stay secure. This is where coolers with rubber feet or bottoms come in handy as they’ll provide friction that will keep the cooler from sliding. These rubber feet also help elevate the bottom of the cooler off the floor of the boat so there will be less heat transmission, thus meaning better ice retention. And as an added bonus, the weight of a full cooler is typically enough to stop it from moving around, even on the trailer.

4. You wear non-marking shoes to keep your boat clean and your cooler should also have non-marking feet as well. You'll want to consider making sure the rubber feet on your cooler are non-marking and won’t damage your boat's nonskid over time. Marine coolers are designed with this purpose in mind.

5. You need a cooler that is structurally strong, it will double as a seat a lot of times on smaller boats, maybe on the bow as a fishing platform, or a cutting board when chopping bait or cleaning fish for that delicious shore lunch. Not only will it see a good deal of use on the boat but you'll likely take it camping or hunting, you want this thing to be able to withstand anything you can throw at it, several companies have even turned Grizzly bears loose on their coolers to show how durable they are.

6. You’re on water all day, if you’re on the coast your boat is in saltwater, you want your cooler to withstand water and be rust free. Any metal component in the cooler needs to be made out of corrosion-resistant stainless steel components that can withstand the elements. You don't want your cooler hinges rusting after one season, but you should always wash down after use anyway to ensure its longevity.

7. Your cooler needs to be able to drain off excess water. Keeping cold water in your cooler can help keep ice solid and help keep the cooler cool for the next round of ice, however, when putting fish on that ice you’ll likely want to drain out some of that water on occasion to avoid a pungent smell. Easy drains on 1 or both sides that are easily accessable makes this task fast and easy.

Pro-Tip: If you look at cooler ice retention time frames and you're not getting ice retention that long it's probably because you aren't properly using your cooler.

  • You first need to take a few steps to prep your cooler. The most important is "priming" your cooler, the night before put a decent amount of ice in it so it's nice and cold the next day.
  • Next you want to make sure everything entering your cooler is cold, not room temp or warm, you want it cold so make sure all your drinks are in the refrigerator the night before.
  • If you're going for a long trip, say camping, freeze some of your meat and thaw before cooking, this helps act as ice and keeps everything colder longer.
  • If you've got extra water bottles freeze several and put those in the night before, these will prime your cooler but they'll also begin to melt. Next day remove them, fill with bag ice, then place your bottles back in and then begin packing everything else.
  • Blocks of ice last longer than ice pieces, Try freezing ice in a water pitcher or metal bowl and use that so you can use less ice pieces.
  • Lastly, if you can, don't pour ice out of the bag. Ice tends to keep longer when left in the bag as it acts more like a large block.

Taking these cooler specialties and putting them into play, we’ve comprised a list of six coolers we think are the top coolers that you should consider having on your boat.

Our Top 6 Choices with Pricing

1. YETI Tundra 65 ($349.99): The YETI has become a household name and there’s good reason for that, they changed the world's view of what a cooler's performance looks like. It’s ready to board your boat with clean colors that will match most hull colors. Easy to use latches make getting inside even on cold days effortless. The lid is also smooth and flat making it a good seat, fishing platform, or cutting boat in a pinch. It also includes non-slip feet, a neverfail hinge system, and tie down slots to keep it in place on your boat or in your truck bed. One thing to consider is that it does not have a pressure release system.

2. Cabela’s Polar Cap 60 ($299.99): Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops are known among all outdoorsmen and women as one of the top retailers for all things outdoors. They’ve engineered their own lines of coolers that very closely compares to other big names you may see. The Polar Cap line of coolers is limited in color options but not in features. While they come in a little larger than a YETI their handles make a two person carry quite easy. With these new cooler designs, pressure build up tends to be an issue and the lid won’t open. Cabela’s has solved that issue with a pressure release button, when your lid is sticking you know you’ve got a solid seal however, you want to open it easily, so you press the button a few times and lift the lid as easy as you ever have. Like the YETI, the Cabela’s cooler offers a very large flat lid that also has a light texture to help slipping when using it as a seat or fishing platform but also isn’t going to get damaged easily if used as a cutting board. This cooler also features non-skid rubber feet, large rubber latches with bottle openers, stainless steel components, and a large drain plug. Some downsides to this are the feet are not quoted to be non-marking, it’s a bit bulkier, and the latches can be stiff.

3. Pelican Elite Cooler 70 ($359.95): Pelican is known for their durable cases to pack anything valuable while traveling. They offer a line of coolers and that is getting increasingly better each year. Their Elite coolers offer non-slip and non-marking, so you’ll keep your deck super clean. The latches are a push pull latch different from rubber tail style on most coolers. Pelican also lists a Lifetime Guarantee online to back their coolers. One thing that may be positive to some may be a negative to others and that’s the incorporation of integrated cupholders in the lid. These will be great for the family who needs extra drink space however, the angler is not going to want to use this as a platform as it will not be flat and could end badly if stepping into a cupholder while fighting a fish. Just one of those "you gain some, you lose some."

4. Engel 65 Hard Cooler ($309.99): The Engel 65 keeps a very simple design a lot like the YETI, the latches are slightly different, they flip up and hook on metal prongs. The Engle features raised feet keeping the bottom of the cooler off of the warm deck of your boat, helping it retain ice for longer. It’s also capable of keeping dry ice without damaging the cooler and it comes with a10 Year Warranty. Lastly it features a large flat lid that can be easily and comfortably used as a seat and a standing platform for fishing. The downsides is the feet are not advertised as non-marking and the handle design is lacking ease.

5. Igloo Leeward 72 ($249.99): The Igloo brand has been around for ages and with the cooler being reinvented, they have had to make some major changes but have managed to keep their famous Igloo look while also building a very good and affordable cooler. The Igloo features a lockable lid, anti-skid/non-marking bottom, rubber grips, and tie down loops. It does not however lift the bottom of the cooler from the ground to avoid thermals from the ground and it’s also not going to be a great platform or seating cooler as the top is nowhere near flat. It will however, make a decent cooler for those looking to spend less money but still have a great looking cooler with a non-marking bottom and good overall performance.

6. Ozark Trail 73 ($174.95): The Ozark Trail brand has been a very big budget competitor of YETI and was one of the first brands to bring competition to YETI’s new market product. The Ozark Trail features a much cheaper looking design but still retains that quality and strength with stainless steel components and one piece mold. It features non-marking feet but they do not elevate it quite as high as others so this can hurt ice retention. The top features a fish ruler and cupholders but like the Pelican, this can be a slight turn off if looking to use this cooler as a platform for fishing.

Looking at this list of coolers, you’ve got several options to choose from all within a relative price range. If you’re looking at price and want to spend the least but still get a great cooler, the Ozark Trail is right on par. For the ultimate cooler, you may be looking at the YETI as it’s got all the features you could want in a cooler but keeps the design clean as “less is more.” Those looking for a cooler that they can beat up, take in the boat but also take into the woods during hunting season, may look at the Cabela’s cooler. It’s bulkier but built like a rock and can withstand quite a bit of wear. Whatever your decision, we know if you choose one from this list, you’ll have a cooler that will last years, hold ice for a long long time, make your life a little easier, and best of all look great on your boat!