Coolers need to stand up to a lot when they’re outdoors, but there’s a big difference between that afternoon game and the wear and tear of an outdoor environment like a boat. You can’t just slap any old cooler onto your boat or dock and expect it to hold up.
A marine cooler is built to handle the wear and tear of fresh and salt water plus harsh sun. It can handle keeping your drinks cool during one trip and your fish another. It’s built to withstand a lot of abuse and last year after year without fail, so you never have a stinky mess on your hands.
We’ve put together a list of our favorite marine coolers that can withstand just about anything. Plus, we’ve answered some questions you may have about how to choose and how to care for your cooler. Let’s break it all down in our best marine coolers review.
What Makes A Marine Cooler Different?
Boat life is a harsh environment for your gear. You may love sitting out on the deck, but anything you leave under the harsh effects of the sun will eventually wear down under UV exposure. Plus, if your environment includes salt water, that can also tear away the surfaces of your gear much sooner.
Even if you aren’t on a boat, just being near the water can reduce the overall lifespan of a regular cooler because of that same UV exposure and possible exposure to salt water. It’s vital that you get a cooler built to withstand these very specific conditions because otherwise, you’ll be replacing your cooler every six months and still experiencing some failure to perform.
How Do I Choose A Marine Cooler?
Marine coolers stand out because they have to be tough, no exceptions. This isn’t where you want to bargain shop or just “get by” with your cooler. You need a robust, reinforced, downright beefy cooler that can perform well through harsh conditions. Consider these things when you’re looking for the perfect one.
Roto-molded coolers are great for marine life. They use a unique process whereby the mold is rotated as the plastic is poured, creating a stronger exterior with fewer weak spots. Rotationally molded coolers are highly durable and resist cracking. Plus, they have protection against UV damage that can degrade the surface causing it to flake and eventually crack.
Hardware should be rust-resistant stainless steel or a durable plastic or rubber blend that won’t dry out and snap during use. The hardware on standard coolers often fails first, so here you want materials built to last a lifetime. Hinges should be molded into the exterior by overlapping tabs and single pin connections to prevent failure.
The interior should be food safe and antibacterial to resist odors and mold. If there’s a drain spout, durable plastic or rust resistant materials prevent degrading the area around the drain and causing leaks. Ideally, it wouldn’t have condensation potential.
Soft-sided coolers aren’t ideal for a marine environment, but there are a few outliers that can handle a day out on the water. If you opt for a soft-sided cooler, make sure it’s heavy denier nylon or polyester, or TPU coated to resist UV, punctures and remain waterproof. The zipper will also need to be watertight to avoid disasters.
If you’re outside all day on a boat or near the water, there’s rarely shade. Your cooler will have to perform to the maximum even in strong, direct sunlight. If your cooler doesn’t have maximum ice retention, you’re going to be disappointed.
You need at least two to three inches of insulation. Pressure injected, commercial grade insulation is solid and fills the interior with no weak spots to create consistent temperature coverage. If you choose a soft cooler, it should have closed cell insulation made from rubber or other durable material.
Capacity Versus Size
You want the cooler to have as much room as you need to hold all the things you could ever want, but it’s not going to do you much good if you can’t fit it onto your boat. You’ll have to balance your need for capacity with what you can actually fit on your boat.
This isn’t the time to switch to a less effective cooler just to be able to fit more. However, you will have to consider the amount of ice you’ll need, the actual capacity and the size dimensions before choosing the cooler. You may have to make concessions with storage capacity to get it to fit or pick a suitable soft-sided cooler.
Coolers that are easy to clean should top your list because marine life can mean some serious grime. If you’ve got to use bleach to get it totally clean, that may not be the cooler you want. Ideally, it should rinse clean with just a strong burst of water, which prevents stripping the finish and is more convenient overall.
Non-slip feet are a must to secure the cooler in addition to any tie downs. Plus, molded tie-down spots prevent ropes from slipping while you’re out. Other accessories that are nice to have are front storage or the ability to hang accessories to molded sections on the front and sides. Locking kits secure things like bait and game and prevent bears from accessing what’s inside.
How Do I Care For My Boat/Marine Cooler?
You never want to use harsh cleansers to get your cooler clean because that can degrade the lining and finish over time. Ideally, if you handle any messes right away, you’ll only need a strong spray of water to get things clean.
If that doesn’t work, using mild dish soap and a wet rag can help clean up any persistent grime without scratching the finish or leaving a harsh smell. It’s also better for your lungs. If you must use bleach, be sure to dilute it well so that you don’t injure your skin or damage the cooler.
Store your cooler after it dries completely so that you don’t have a mildewed mess when you open it back up again. Avoid storing the cooler anywhere unprotected from sun and wind when it’s not in use.
How Do I Prep My Boat/Marine Cooler?
Hard-sided coolers and some soft-sided coolers need a little bit of preparation to get the most ice retention out of it. Premium insulation can absorb ambient temperatures over time causing your ice to melt as the insulation cools down if it’s been in a hot garage for weeks before use.
To prepare, fill your cooler with ice the night before you need it and close the lid. In the morning, drain any excess water and top off with fresh ice. Your cooler’s insulation will have absorbed the temperature of the ice overnight and should give you a huge head start on that ideal ice retention. If you’re planning to be out all day or multiple days, this step is critical.
The Best Boat And Marine Coolers
Here are our top picks for best marine and boat coolers. They were chosen for durability, UV resistance, and ice retention times as well as having varying sizes for you to choose to fit your specific situation. Let’s take a look.
Our Top Pick – Pelican Elite
The Pelican cooler is an aggressively styled, roto-molded cooler from a company known for its tactical gear. It features a durable, UV resistant exterior and an ice retention rate of up to ten days. It’s a rough and tumble cooler with a matte finish that doesn’t show scratches or wear and tear (not that there is any).
It has three inches of pressure injected, commercial grade insulation with no weak spots. It creates uniform insulation and prevents any leaks through the lid with a freezer gasket style lid that locks into place. Reinforced, easy pull latches resist cracking while molded tabs overlap to create a no-fail hinge at the back.
We aren’t huge fans of the handles on some coolers, but Pelican’s handles are molded directly into the sides, so they’re comfortable for solo or tandem carrying. A wide drain spout at the end helps keep the cooler clean and gets rid of excess water so you can top off with ice if you need to after ten days.
It’s on the heavy side, but it comes in seven sizes from 20 quarts all the way up to 250 quarts. Quart estimations are true to size but be sure to check all the sizing before you purchase. Pelican tends to be on the beefy side especially regarding clearance with the lid size. They’re all certified grizzly proof and have a locking kit.
- extra-long ice retention
- grizzly proof
- durable exterior
- large for the capacity
Runner Up – Yeti Tundra
Yeti Tundra is Yeti’s most extensive hard-sided cooler line. It features the softer styling Yeti is famous for, and ice retention of up to nine days. The exterior is made from rotomolded plastic, and it’s crack resistant as well as resistant to UV damage. It’s a big name in tough coolers and one that lives up to the hype.
The insulation is three inches of pressure injected, premium insulation that has no loose spots. A freezer gasket lid seals in the cold with T style latches made from a durable rubber blend. The hinges are overlapping and molded to the body and the top, connected with a single pin for a never fail hinge system. The handles are molded into the body of the cooler on most sizes with the smallest size using a reinforced, stainless steel arm for single carry. The cooler features non-slip grip feet with molded tie downs to help secure the cooler on all but the smallest one.
It comes in 12 different sizes from 35 to 350 with a wheeled version in between the 65 and 75. The numbers aren’t an accurate indication of quart size, however. They’re about a third less than what the number suggests, so check the capacity carefully before you make your decision.
- wide range of capacities
- includes a wheeled option
- softer styling
- numbers don’t indicate the actual capacity (it’s smaller)
Best Budget Alternative – Igloo Marine Ultra
The Igloo Marine has a capacity of just five days under ideal conditions and features handles that aren’t as durable as they could be. There are no locks or latches to secure the lid, so you’ll have to be careful not to tip it over or take it into known bear country.
That said, it’s nearly a third of the price of most of our higher end coolers on the list. It has UV protection and reinforced hinges for the lid. The liner on the inside is antimicrobial and resistant to mildew and odors. Plus, the hardware is rust resistant and can withstand salt or humid environments.
Five days for a cooler is nothing to sniff at. If you don’t go off for more than a day and you need a budget cooler for an afternoon of fishing, or you need to sit by the lake and haul your fish, this is an excellent cooler that won’t let you down. It comes in 11 sizes from 28 quarts to 162 quarts.
- ultra-thermal insulation
- rust-resistant hardware
- no lid latches
- reduced ice retention rate (by half other coolers on the list)
Best Soft Sided Cooler – Otterbox Trooper LT 30
If you have very little space and need an ultra-portable cooler, the Otterbox Trooper is an excellent alternative to large hard-sided coolers. It’s convertible from a shoulder to a backpack carry and features a durable TPU coated nylon exterior that’s puncture and UV resistant. It’s also waterproof.
The interior uses food safe lining that’s antibacterial and resists mold and mildew. It’s leak proof and premium, closed cell insulation keeps your contents cold for up to three or more days at least. The exterior has a bottle opener and an accessories attachment that allows you to hang gear like a GPS or cell phone right on the front.
The opening is wide and allows you easy access to everything inside. It holds 30 quarts, which won’t get you very far if you’re fishing for large fish, but as an easy to carry, small cooler for a day at the lake, this one fits the bill. It’s a good alternative or back up cooler to have when you’re traveling light and don’t need a lot.
- shoulder or backpack carry
- accessories attachments on the front.
- ice retention of up to three days (maybe one more with ideal circumstances)
Best Extra Large Cooler – Grizzly 400
Grizzly’s 400 cooler is a massive storage unit for those of you with large boats or who go deep sea fishing. It has a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects. The roto-molded exterior is highly durable and crack resistant despite the massive size of the body.
The interior features two inches of pressure injected insulation that can keep your contents cold for up to ten days. Molded hinges overlap with a single pin for a never fail hinge system. Hardware is rust resistant and durable, so you shouldn’t have to change anything out even in wet or salty climates.
It has a two-inch drain plug and full-length drain channels for easy cleaning, no tipping required. Non-slip, non-marking rubber feet plus molded tie-downs make it the perfect cooler for your nice boat without worrying about damaging the hull. It weighs 94 pounds completely empty, so be aware that it’s quite an investment, but if you’re doing any kind of deep sea or backcountry fishing, this is going to keep your catch from spoiling.
- full cooler for big game and deep sea fishing
- full-length drain channels and two-inch drain plug
- impractical for all but the largest boats/hunting parties
Marine and boat coolers need to be tough on their own and the ones we chose fit the bill nicely. They resist environmental damage, rust, and wear and tear by being the absolute toughest coolers on the market. We think you’ll be really pleased with your decision to upgrade your cooler when you aren’t replacing a rusted, cracking cooler every six months and losing valuable catch in the process.
Make sure you take the time to prep your cooler thoroughly before you decide to head out so that you get the best ice retention the cooler can offer. This stands between you and lukewarm drinks, spoiled game and bait, and just a miserable time.
Whether you choose a small personal cooler that can go on just about any boat or sit next to you on the dock, or you prefer the larger coolers for your entire party, your boat just isn’t complete without the perfect cooler to complement it. Get back out on the water and stop worrying about what will happen to your supplies. They’re taken care of.