If you’ve ever been fishing, you’ll know that every boat needs a cooler. Even if you’re taking your boat for a quick drive with friends, you’ll at least have a few cold drinks and snacks.
Sometimes choosing any specific brand is a personal choice. So although these are my top picks, it’s worth knowing what features you need to look out for. I’ve also included my top pick for budget coolers if you were looking for something cheap but reliable.
So without further ado, here are my top three recommendations for the best boat coolers.
List of Top 4 Boat Coolers:
- Top Pick – Yeti Tundra 65+
- Engel Deep Blue 65
- RTIC Cooler 45
- Best Budget Cooler – Coleman 100 Quart Xtreme
The Best Boat Coolers
Choosing the best boat cooler is a combination of functionality, durability, and price. However, a cooler’s primary purpose is to keep your goods cold for the duration of the boat trip. Everything else is a bonus and a matter of preference. That’s why my #1 pick goes to the Yeti Tundra 65.
Yeti Tundra 65
- The YETI Tundra 65 is just as adept at keeping your catches cold in the field as it is storing the drinks and food for your backyard barbecue, this ice chest is plenty roomy, holding a limit of redfish or your prized brisket
- Ice stays ice thanks to up to 3 inches of PermaFrost Insulation and an extra thick FatWall design is certified Bear-Resistant
- The Rotomolded Construction makes the Tundra armored to the core and virtually indestructible so wherever you decide to take it, this portable cooler’s sturdy construction will stand up to the rigors of the journey
If you’re looking for the absolute best cooler on the market, the Yeti Tundra is the way to go. There are very few people who have bought a Yeti and been disappointed. But know that for the absolute best, you’ll be paying a few hundred dollars.
They’re an industry favorite because they were born out of the industry. Yeti coolers designers are two brothers that were sick of using coolers that didn’t live up to their expectations.
They have all the features you would need in a cooler and keep ice for the longest among its competitors. You’re also not going to be replacing a Yeti for years to come because of its bear-resistant durability.
- Ice retention: ’10 days’ (approx. 7-8 days if used)
- Bear-resistant strength
- Size: 17 ¼ x 16 x 30 ⅝ inches
- Empty Weight: 29 lbs
- Capacity: 56 qt (internal capacity)
- Internal height: 11 ⅛ inches
- Comes with a dry goods basket
- Internal height can’t fit a wine bottle or standard 2L drink
- Latches require a bit of strength to latch properly
- Less internal capacity than advertised
Engel Deep Blue 65
Engel is another trusted brand and slightly cheaper than Yeti. They have a very similar structure to the Yeti, which is why they’re a very close second. You’ll be looking at just over $50 cheaper than a Yeti.
The main difference is the latches. Instead of the well-used ‘T’ tug-and-pull latches, they’re a flip-and-click design. This requires less strength to use but can be a bit more fiddly.
The handle grips can also be annoying because they’re not always in the right spot when you use them, making it awkward to pick up the cooler.
Overall, a great cooler with an incredible warranty period, but the Yeti would still be my top choice for a boat cooler because of the design.
- Ice retention: 10 days (approx. 6 days if used)
- Bear-resistant strength
- Size: 29 ½ x 17 x 16 ½ inches
- Empty Weight: 24 lbs
- Capacity: 58 qt (internal capacity)
- Internal height: 12 inches
- Dry Ice compatible
- Built-in bottle openers on each latch
- Latches are fiddley
- Handle grips can be frustrating
- Insulated walls not as thick as the Yeti
RTIC 45 Cooler
- The Perfect Size: The 45 is small enough to carry alone but big enough to store drinks for the whole group.
- Temperature Retentive: The 3-inch foam insulated walls plus the cool-lift design feature will make worrying about your ice melting a thing of the past.
- Mobile And Multifaceted: Use the heavy-duty rope handles to take the 45 anywhere and when you need an extra hand—this cooler doubles as a step stool, tabletop, or cutting board.
The RTIC is comparably cheaper than both the Yeti and Engel brands. You’ll be paying over $100 less than for a Yeti, but it’s not built as well as the Engel or the Yeti Tundra.
It’s nice that the advertised capacity is the actual internal capacity, and the RTIC latches are the same ‘T’ design as the Yeti. The material is just not as durable. Hence the significantly shorter warranty period.
If you don’t think you’ll be going on too many boating trips throughout the year but still want a quality roto-molded cooler, you shouldn’t have any issues with this one.
- Ice retention: 10 days (approx. 6 days if used)
- Advertised as bear-resistant but not certified
- Size: 25 ¼ x 15 ⅞ x 13 ¾ inches
- Empty Weight: 25 lbs
- Capacity: 45 qt (as advertised)
- Internal height: 11 ⅞ inches
- Two drain plugs for quick emptying
- Not as durable as higher-end coolers
- Short warranty
Coleman 100 Quart Xtreme Marine Cooler
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If you’re on a tight budget, you can get some reasonable quality from the Coleman 100 Quart Xtreme Marine Cooler. Being a marine cooler, it has all the rust-proofing and UV protection you’ll need for a boating trip. It’s not going to out-perform its more expensive counterparts, but you get what you pay for.
Your ice will last a few days, and the cooler can hold around 130 cans. The 100-quart cooler is the favorite among the Coleman models, one of the smaller options in this series. The only smaller size is a 28-quart cooler, which is far too small in my opinion.
This cooler will do the job for a fraction of the price. If you’re looking to have a day on the boat here and there with some friends or have a handful of fishing trips throughout the year, it will serve you well. If you’re a serious angler or on your boat every other day, maybe invest in one of the better coolers for durability.
- Ice retention: 5 days (approx. 3 days if used)
- Size: 42 ¾ x 19 x 18 ½ inches
- Empty Weight: 22 lbs
- Strong enough to hold 250 lbs of weight on the lid
- Capacity: 100 qt (as advertised)
- Internal height: 17 inches
- Cup holders
- In-built fishing ruler
- Not roto-molded, and therefore not as durable
- Cup holders make it awkward to use as a platform
- Ice melts quicker
- More difficult to carry
What to Look for in a Boat Cooler
You’re never going to get every single feature in one boat cooler. Some features are not compatible with others, such as size and weight. A larger cooler is going to being much heavier when fully loaded and therefore harder to carry. You can’t change the fact that more goods mean a heavier cooler.
Not all of these features will be important to you, and that’s fine. These are just things you might want to consider. You’ll find that the big brands such as Yeti and Engel have most of these features in their coolers, whereas the cheap coolers will compromise on one thing or another to get the price down.
Generally, if you find a ‘marine’ cooler, it is explicitly designed to be on a boat and includes most of these features. But here’s what to look for:
Make sure the cooler has some form of rubber seal to make it air-tight. Coolers that can lock the lid on tighter will increase the seal and keep your ice for longer.
Thick Walls and Insulation
Thicker walls will keep the internal temperature colder for longer. The walls should also be insulated, and again, thicker insulation is better.
One thing you might want to double-check is some ‘insulated’ coolers may only have insulated walls, while others will insulate the walls, lid, and base. Unfortunately, thicker walls will encroach on your internal capacity.
If your cooler is not insulated on the bottom, it might be better to have a cooler with legs that lift it off the floor. The floor will transfer heat and melt your ice quicker.
Ideally, your cooler should have non-skid feet or pads and anchor points. Your cooler will move significantly without these features when your boat starts moving and the sea gets rough.
Of the two features, anchor points are the most important for stability. Also, if your cooler has wheels, they should lock in place.
Having a heavy cooler is going to be like having an extra person on board. Each cooler will vary in weight when they are empty, and having a larger capacity will mean it will be much heavier when it is full. So make sure to keep this in mind, so you don’t get a cooler that’s going to tip your boat.
The capacity is a personal choice, so you need to consider what you’ll be storing in your cooler. If you’re unsure, the 65-quart coolers are an industry favorite. They’re big enough to fit fish or food and drinks but small enough that one person can still carry them.
If you’re a serious angler, you could consider a bigger chest to carry a large (hopefully!) haul of fish. But if you’re carrying food and drinks, you’ll be OK with a smaller cooler.
If you think about what you will be taking, many coolers advertise how many cans (plus ice) they can fit. But height is also vital. Remember that some coolers, like the Yeti Tundra 65, can’t fit a standing wine bottle inside.
Coolers might get knocked around in transit, so you’ll want a strong one. The Yeti and Engel brands advertise certified bear-resistant strength, meaning even a grizzly bear will struggle to destroy it.
Strength is an essential feature if you’re using your cooler as a seat or standing platform for fishing. A lot of people like this feature because it helps utilize the limited space on their boat.
If your cooler is going on a boat, then chances are it’s going to be exposed to sea salt. For this reason, you’re going to want to make sure that the metal components are stainless steel, so they don’t rust.
Whichever cooler you find, your ice is always going to melt, so having a drain is very handy. If it doesn’t have a drain, you’re going to be tipping your heavy cooler over after every use to get the water out. Another thing to consider is a drain lid that is attached to the cooler. Those lids tend to go missing.
You might want to lock your cooler. Not necessarily to prevent theft but also as extra reinforcement for the lid. Some locks will help to tighten the seal of your cooler. You’re going to encounter strong winds at some point on a boat, so having everything secure is a good idea.
Design and Colour
The cooler you choose should be something that fits your boat and should also suit your needs. If you want to use it as a table or platform, maybe a simple flat surface is better. If you’re using it as a seat, some in-built cup holders might come in handy. Whatever it is, make sure you like the design. The color is also a personal preference, but lighter colors will help reflect the heat.
The cooler should have feet, whether they’re lifted or just a rubber stopper on each corner. High-quality coolers advertise non-marking feet. This is a good feature if you want to prevent marks from building up on your deck from the cooler’s inevitable shifting.
There’s a lot to consider when buying a boat cooler, but I hope my recommendations make it that little bit easier for you.