What Makes The Best Boat Cooler


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

A day of boating starts with a checklist of items needed for the day and at the top of the list are 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 coolers are boat friendly. So what makes the best boat cooler?

When looking at what makes a cooler the best boat cooler, there are a few key things you’re going to be looking for, this is where the differences are between a premium hard-sided cooler to a traditional cooler.

Things To Consider For A Boat Cooler

Cooler Capacity and Size – How much space do you have on the boat? A 175-quart rotomolded and highly-engineered cooler can hold a lot of food, drinks, and fish, but it also commands a lot of space and ice. You want the minimum size for the maximum benefits and a shape that fits in the space provided.

Cooler Weight – On an 80-foot boat, there may be room for a few extra hundred pounds, but not in your kayak or even your bass boat or flat boat. Furthermore, if you’ll have to carry it yourself or with a partner, there’s a weight limit there, too. An overweight cooler model will still impede mobility and may affect your boat’s performance.

Best Boat Cooler

Grip – 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.

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Well Built – You need a boat cooler that is structurally strong, the best boat cooler 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.

Best Boat Cooler

Quality Drainage – The best boat 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 accessible make this task fast and easy.

Man Putting A Walleye Into A Kenai Boat Cooler

Keep Climate and Weather In Mind – Weight and size limitations aside, you may demand more of a cooler that you use aboveboard on those hot and humid summer days than you will of one that stays below deck on a commercial fishing boat in the Gulf of Alaska. Nevertheless, remember that UV rays can wear down components in any place, and if it’s in saltwater or freshwater, your cooler’s components better have some level of corrosion resistance.

When It Comes To The Best Boat Cooler Keep This In Mind

Many looking for a fishing or boat cooler get hung up on ice retention times. However, when it comes to a quality cooler that can hold up to regular uses in a harsh marine environment, ice retention times should only be one deciding factor among many.

Aerial View Of Fishing Boat With Cooler In Bow Of Boat

The last thing you want in a cooler is one that will warp/crack after prolonged exposure to the sun. We have personally seen lids warp and bubble on some cheaper cooler models. Proper boat coolers are built to take the extreme conditions of boating.

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They are rust-resistant, slip-proof, and UV protected. They offer a lot more insulation than standard coolers. Some may even have a commercial-grade gasket lid to keep the hot summer heat out. Some coolers have rulers on the lid to help you measure out the fish you have caught. Best of all many are able to resist odors that fish can sometimes leave behind in other boat coolers.

What Are Some Best Boat Coolers By Application?

Most “best boat cooler” articles you’ll read about marine coolers focus on vessels in an ocean setting with saltwater-based applications. However, there are lots of other boats, too, each with unique purposes and unique features of their own. Here’s a look at the best ice chests for each type of boat.

The Best Boat Cooler For Ski Boats

Because of the nature of watersports, ski boats usually start and stop abruptly causing items to shift and slide inside the boat. Sliding coolers can beat up your boat’s interior and bruise unsuspecting passengers. Ski boats need a boat cooler that will stay put. All of Kenai’s hard coolers have anti-slip rubber grip feet to give them more traction on any surface.

Best Boat Cooler

You don’t want a cooler that takes up all of the walking space on the boat, but you want one big enough to hold a picnic lunch or enough drinks for everyone on board. The Kenai 25-quart rotomolded cooler works if you just want to keep drinks cold on the water.

If you want to pack a picnic or have more than four people on the boat for an entire day, the Kenai 45-quart rotomolded cooler will probably work better for you. Provided you have a good spot to store it. May we be so bold as to recommend at the bow of the boat between the bench seats? It makes a great platform/footrest and the no-skid feet keep it from sliding to the back when putting the throttle down.

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The Best Boat Cooler For Kayaks, Canoes, Small Sailboats, and Personal Watercraft

Man Standing On Kayak Fishing With Cooler In Stern Of Kayak

Smaller vessels, by definition, have less room to store a cooler but no less need for cold drinks on the water. The best boat cooler for smaller boats like a kayak is the Kenai 25 cooler. It’s more compact and easier to store on more intimate outings. The 1-inch tiedown slots make it easy to latch onto the deck of a sailboat or the back of a kayak. It’s durable enough to withstand the sun and waves. With the capacity for 27 cans plus five pounds of ice, there’s plenty of room to keep drinks cold all the way down the river or across the bay.

The Best Boat Cooler For Fishing Boats

Whether it’s a tiny outboard dinghy or a large offshore fishing boat, a boat cooler is as essential to have onboard as a life preserver. Fishermen use coolers to carry cold drinks out on the water, to sit on while they cast and reel, and to bring back fresh fish on ice. However, given the varied sizes of fishing vessels, one size does not fit all. Ideally, the best boat cooler will have the following features:

  • Rust-proof material that can handle salty and freshwater
  • Latches that stay closed regardless of how choppy the water may be
  • Great ice retention
  • No-skid feet to keep the cooler from sliding overboard (or into your shins)
  • A built-in measuring tool to help you know if that catch is a keeper or needs to be thrown back
  • The size you choose depends on how long you’ll be on the water fishing, the size of your boat, and what size of fish you need to bring back with you.

Kenai Coolers offers all of the recommended features in each of their three rotomolded cooler sizes. Making Kenai Coolers a great place to start browsing when looking for the best boat cooler.

Kenai Cooler In The Forground With The Sun Setting And Water In The Background
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Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. Read more >>