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We long knew that coolers are particularly popular among boaters, so we had to dedicate a post to them sooner or later. The time has come – today, we’ll talk about choosing the best boat cooler!
In This Article
Since every boater has different needs, we will showcase both hard and soft coolers on our top.
But because boating can be tough, we’ve placed an emphasis on hard coolers, especially high-end rotomolded ones (though we have a budget, non-rotomolded picks as well).
We’ll feature our Best Marine Cooler ranking in a second – first, let’s talk about what makes a good cooler for a boat.
So let's get started!
Best Marine Cooler – Our Hard and Soft Top Picks
|Picture||Name / Capacity||Top Features||Ice Retention|
|item-title||Hard Marine Coolers (jump to reviews)|
|Yeti Tundra Coolers|
20 - 330 quarts
• 3" PermaFrost
• T-Rex™ Lid Latches
• Coldlock™ Gasket
• Neverfail™ Hinge System
|4 - 14 days*||Check Price|
|editors-choice||Editor's Choice||Cordova Coolers|
20 - 128 quarts
|• Eco Foam Insulation|
• Quad-core rubber gasket
• Aluminum handles
• Top Mount Lid Latches
• Built-in Raised Tray
|4 - 12 days*||Check Price|
21 - 293 quarts
• IGBC Certified
• Up to 10 days Ice Retention
• Dry ice compatible
• First and original high-performance cooler
• Warranty: 10 Years
|4 - 14 days*||Check Price|
|Igloo Leeward Coolers|
50, 72, 124 quarts
|• 6 tie-down slots|
• Side Gear Tracks
• Padded and non-slip lid
• IGBC certification
|2 to 7 days*||Check Price|
|Coleman Coastal Xtreme|
28, 70, 120 quarts
|• Xtreme 5 Technology|
• Have-A-Seat Lid
• Hinged lid with four molded cup holders
|1 - 4 days*||Check Price|
|item-title||Soft Marine Coolers (jump to reviews)|
|editors-choice||Editor's Choice||Yeti Hopper M30|
|• Closed-cell foam insulation|
• Magnet closure
• High-density fabric
|up to 48 hours||Check Price|
|Coleman Marine Soft Cooler|
|• Odor-resists liner|
• Water-resistant material
• Tie down D-rings
• Heat-welded seams
|up to 36 hours||Check Price|
|Norchill Marine BoatBag|
12, 24, 48 Cans
|• Waterproof tarpaulin shell|
• G8TRSkin Liner
• Fusion welded liner
• Dual temperature insulation
• 1,000 denier
|up to 24 hours||Check Price|
* Depending on the size selected
What Makes The Best Boat Cooler?
Highly durable body
First up, a marine ice chest should have a durable body. More precisely, it must be rust-proof, be capable of withstanding salt water, and preferably have UV protection to prevent fading and physical degradation from the sun.
It would also be nice if the cooler was sturdy enough to allow for sitting or provide support for casting.
Because we think durability is the most important thing in marine coolers, most of our hard-sided cooler picks are rotomolded.
Rotomolded coolers have thick corners, more or less consistent thickness throughout their body, and are nearly indestructible – ideal for marine uses.
Stability is a must in a cooler for a boat as well.
There are many things that impact stability in hard coolers. Most importantly, here are the features that you should be looking for:
- Tie-down points via which the cooler can be anchored to your vessel.
- Non-slip feet.
- A large, wide base.
Next, a good marine cooler should have great insulation and retain ice for a good amount of time – perhaps for days.
We wouldn’t say that days of ice retention are a must-have in boat coolers. How long your cooler should retain ice will depend on your needs. If you are fishing, you probably won’t need more than 1-2 days of ice retention. For longer trips, look for something better.
If, however, ice retention is the deciding factor, makes sure you pick up the best ice retention cooler possible.
Size is pretty important with boating as well. Coolers are available in a wide range of sizes – from as small as 20-30 quarts to as large as 300 quarts! Generally, bigger is better, but there are a few points to remember.
On one hand, since boats have limited onboard space, you don’t want to get a cooler that’s too large – it simply will either occupy too much space or won’t fit in your kayak or boat at all.
On the other hand, you may want to have a bigger cooler to store more catch or to carry more drinks, food, or ice with you.
If you have space, then we’d recommend that you get at least a 50-quart cooler. If your boat is very small though, then determine how much you are willing to dedicate to a cooler and pick a cooler that’s sized just right.
Ideally, a good marine ice chest will also be easy to clean. It should have a flat, easy to wipe surface, and its material should be stain-resistant and odor-neutral. These rules apply especially if you are going to fish.
Lastly, consider what kind of features & accessories the desired cooler comes with. Among the more convenient features for boating would be a fish ruler (a nice thing for anglers), bottle openers, a tabletop lid (that has ridges along the edges to secure your items), cup holders, cutting trays, or large drains for quick draining.
There are also coolers that are compatible with cooler-mounted rod holders – very handy. Alternatively, you can always buy third party accessories later, like this cooler rod holder for example.
This video, although a bit old, gives some good practical advice on choosing boat cooler.
What about Soft Marine Coolers?
Note that the features we’ve talked about are important in marine soft coolers as well.
Pay special attention to cleaning – soft coolers have fabric shells, and fabric can be much more difficult to clean than plastic. The simpler and smoother the shell is, the easier it will be to clean.
For durability, look for a soft cooler whose shell has a higher denier rating (which shows the thickness of fabric fiber).
And for insulation, coolers with welded seams would be the best – such coolers are leak-resistant and have much better insulation than non-welded coolers.
Marine Cooler Reviews
YETI Tundra Coolers – Best Cooler For a Boat (Hi-End Option).
YETI Tundras are among those coolers that we can confidently recommend for any use, including marine applications. So if your needs aren’t limited to just boating, a Tundra boat cooler could be the one for you.
Beware though – YETI Tundras are premium coolers and are quite expensive. YETI is trusted and loved by thousands of people, so you should be safe with them, but know that they aren’t the best for budget buying.
There are much smaller coolers in the series too if you don’t need that kind of size, as well as one wheeled model – the Tundra Haul (perhaps not the best for boating though).
As for specific sizes, YETI recommends the Tundra 105, which boasts a smaller footprint, taking up much less precious space.
Then, one level up, we have YETI Tundra 110, another marine sized cooler, which YETI specifically recommends for whitewater rafts, mainly due to the fact that it's compatible with many popular raft frames.
Another popular size among boat users is the Tundra 35. This one will be a good choice for smaller boats, inner tubes, or kayaks. Not only it will be more portable, but you'll be able to stand on it when needed.
The ice retention in all Tundra coolers is great, but it’s the best in the largest coolers – up until 2 weeks. The smaller coolers will hold ice for about 5-10 days, depending on the size.
In terms of features, Tundra coolers have all key essentials for boating – most importantly, tie-down slots for anchoring, a fast drain system called Vortex, and non-slip feet.
Durability is a strong suit of Tundra coolers as well – with the rotomolded body, tough latches & hinges, and military-grade rope handles, Tundras will be able to withstand anything you throw at it while out on the water.
Notably, Tundra coolers are also IGBC-certified to be bear-resistant, but this doesn’t matter much for boating – it would matter if you were to use your cooler on land. That said, being bear-resistant means that the cooler is lockable on both sides, which means you'll be able to lock it up when you leave the boat.
Find out more about Yeti Tundra coolers in YETI's official store here >>
Engel DeepBlue Coolers – Best Boat Cooler For Keeping Ice
Engel is a legendary brand – it has been one of the first to produce rotomolded coolers, even before YETI did. But unfortunately for Engel, YETI is the more known brand and the one that popularized rotomolded coolers.
Unlike most YETI coolers, which are being manufactured in Phillippines and in the US, Engel coolers are made in Thailand, though the brand itself is from Japan and has a strong US presence since early 1990s.
Still, Engel is a premium brand that offers high-quality coolers (though not as expensive as YETI models). Their feature-set is also richer than in Tundras, which perhaps makes them a better value for the money.
Interestingly, the Engel line of hard coolers includes 11 sizes – nearly as much as in the Tundra series. To be fair, such size variety in brands other than YETI is a very rare thing, it kind of shows the Engel brand's power.
The sizes start at 21 quart and go up to 293 quarts for Engel 320 – nearly as big as Tundras. As with the Tundras, the popular sizes amongst boat owners include the 108-quart Engel 123 cooler, as well as the smaller Engel 65, boasting 58-quarts of storage space.
Here, note that the numbers in Engel cooler names don’t indicate their capacity in quarts. This is the same for Tundra coolers, but Engel at least mentions the capacities of its coolers in the product description.
What we also like in Engel hard coolers is their low-profile latch system – it doesn’t stick out like in Tundras and thus will work better if you have limited space. The latches also double as bottle openers.
Another interesting thing is the grippy lid that can be used as support while casting (with Tundras, you would have to buy an accessory for this). Engel coolers also have non-skid feet but don’t have tie-down points.
Build-wise, Engel coolers are similar to YETI Tundras – they have a tough rotomolded build, durable & self-stopping hinges, a large and convenient drain plug, IGBC certification, and over 2 inches thick polyurethane foam insulation for about 7-10 days of ice retention. You can learn more in our earlier Engel vs YETI comparison.
Cordova Coolers – Best Marine Cooler For The Money
Cordova coolers are made in the US but aren’t even remotely as expensive as other US-made coolers. In fact, when you calculate the price-per-quart, as we did here, you'll notice that Cordova’s models are currently the most affordable US-made rotomolded coolers.
The Cordova cooler line only has 5 sizes (20, 28, 48, 88, and 128 quarts), but these sizes should be fine for those who don’t need something extra-large.
We like that Cordova doesn’t include any confusing numbers in their cooler names – instead, the company clearly states the capacity in quarts.
In terms of features, Cordova coolers are more or less similar to Engel models – you are again getting a large drain plug, anti-slip feet, and space-saving latches, but there are no tie-down slots, which is unfortunate.
Remarkably, the latches in Cordova are top-down, so they can be opened in tight spaces without the need to move the cooler – perfect onboard. The lid also has a tray area bordered by ridges to prevent your stuff from sliding off the cooler.
We absolutely love the handles in Cordova coolers too – they are built of tough aluminum, are convenient, and have integrated bottle openers.
The shell in Cordova coolers is again rotomolded and IGBC-certified, while the thick insulation will store ice for around a week (the largest model should keep ice for 10 days or even more). It’s also very nice that Cordova coolers are covered by a lifetime warranty.
We encourage you to check out these coolers on Cordova's website >>
Igloo Leeward Coolers – Best Inexpensive Boat Cooler
The Leeward coolers are Igloo’s latest coolers made with boaters in mind. These coolers aren’t rotomolded, but they are lighter and less expensive than all previous coolers yet have comparable insulation.
Feature-wise, Leeward coolers are perfectly suited for a boat – this is the first line on the list to have an integrated fish ruler. Additionally, Leeward coolers have tie-down points for anchoring, anti-skid feet, rubberized grips, low-profile latches, and integrated bottle openers.
Although Leeward coolers are not rotomolded, they are fairly strong, particularly thanks to the corner brackets. The insulation is great in these coolers as well – with the largest 124-quart cooler, you should expect about 7-8 days of ice retention, while the smaller ones will do up to 4-5 days.
For added convenience, Igloo includes a wire basket and cutting board with Leeward coolers. The lid is lockable too.
We also like how distinct Leeward coolers look, which is mainly thanks to the corner brackets. On the other hand, we feel that the corner brackets will make Leeward coolers difficult to clean – there are many nooks & crannies where dirt and grime could settle.
The size selection in the Leeward series is a bit limited too – there only are 50, 72, and 124-quart options. No small and extra-large sizes, as you can see.
Coleman Coastal Xtreme Coolers – Most Budget Choice
Finally in the hard cooler category, we have Coleman’s Coastal Xtreme series. These coolers are extremely cheap, but if you think that your trips won’t last more than a day, then the best marine cooler for you may be among the Coastal Xtreme coolers.
Plus, they are made in the US, which will matter to many of our readers.
Coastal Xtreme coolers are very simple and won’t match our previous picks in terms of durability and insulation. They are advertised to hold ice for 3-6 days (depending on size), though we’d say that 2-3 days is a more realistic figure.
Although Coastal Xtreme coolers aren’t rotomolded, they are sturdy enough to serve as a stool and also have stainless steel hardware along with UV protection to resist yellowing and fading.
These coolers are also pretty easy to clean because they have a simple, flat shell.
When it comes to features, Coastal Xtreme coolers are very simple – they don’t have tie-down slots or bottle openers, but you are getting a few cup holders in the lid.
In terms of sizing, Coastal Xtreme coolers are similar to Igloo Leeward. There are 3 sizes – 28, 70, and 120 quarts – but unlike Leeward, you are at least getting a small 28-quart size.
Best Soft-Sided Marine Coolers
YETI Hopper M30
Now, let’s also talk about a few soft-sided marine coolers, the first one being YETI’s Hopper M30.
Like the Tundra coolers, Hopper M30 is a high-quality piece of cooler technology. It’s a great choice as a picnic or weekend cooler, and it will work for boating as well.
The ice retention of this one is pretty good as well, it should keep ice icy for at least 24 hours, up to 48 with pre-chilled content and some good quality ice packs (e.g. Cooler Shocks)
In soft coolers for boating, the biggest concern, in our opinion, is cleaning. Well, with Hopper M30, this shouldn’t be a problem – the fabric of the outer shell is resistant to mildew, and it’s smooth enough to allow for easy wiping.
Insulation and durability are excellent in the Hopper M30 cooler too. The outer shell is puncture- and UV-resistant, while the magnetic closure along with the fully welded seams allows for improved thermal insulation and leak resistance.
Another notable feature in the Hopper M30 cooler is the HitchPoint Grid – a series of loops that you can attach accessories to. Additionally, the cooler has a few tie-down/accessory rings.
The size in this cooler is also pretty decent – it can take up to 20 cans of beer (with 2:1 ice-to-can ratio) or 28 pounds of ice (which equals about 32 quarts).
All in all, YETI Hopper M30 is pretty expensive, but if you are a YETI-head or just want a great soft cooler no matter the money, it may be the best boat cooler out there for your needs.
Coleman Marine Soft Cooler
The Coleman Marine cooler is much, much less expensive than YETI’s Hopper M30, and it probably won’t offer the same durability and insulation either. But if you don’t really care about YETI or won’t be subjecting your cooler to heavy use, this may be the best marine cooler for you.
Coleman Marine is a rather large cooler – it’s advertised capacity is 42 cans. We also like the organizational abilities of this cooler – apart from a zippered main compartment, it has a few mesh and zippered side pockets on the outside. Like Hopper M30, this cooler also has D-rings for secure anchoring to your boat.
The closure in this cooler is interesting as well – it has a small zippered flap in the center that allows you to access your stuff without opening the entire thing.
For good ice retention (advertised at 36 hours) and leak resistance, the Coleman Marine cooler has heat-welded seams – similar to what Hopper M30 has. The bottom of the cooler is reinforced for added durability too, while the liner is resistant to odor, fungus, and mold & mildew, which should make it food-safe and easy to clean.
Norchill Marine BoatBag
The Nochill Marine Boat Bag is a durable soft cooler designed specifically with boaters in mind.
The outer shell material is different in the BoatBag, first of all – instead of nylon, you have military-grade PVC tarpaulin that is not only tear-, stain-, and water-resistant but can also withstand UV rays without fading.
The bottom of the BoatBag soft cooler is reinforced as well – the fabric here is denser and thus offers better grip and abrasion resistance. The zipper seems to be more durable too – it’s corrosion-resistant in the BoatBag cooler.
With all that, the BoatBag cooler should work particularly well in marine settings, e.g. while fishing from a canoe or just traveling in a kayak.
As for the other features, the Norchill cooler has the spout & pull-out liner for convenient maintenance along with the comfortable straps, as well as other minor details. Also, there are 3 size options to choose from (12, 24 and 48 cans).
Best Marine Cooler – Final Words
We really hope that our marine cooler reviews have helped you find the best boat cooler for your needs, or at least have set you on the right track.
Remember that “boating” is a very general term (it could imply fishing, touring, or anything else), so you’ll have to do a little digging of your own to determine what would be your best marine cooler.
So before investing your money, make sure to understand your needs!
Last update on 2020-10-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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