What’s the best way to chill out on your boat?
That’s easy, by owning one of the best boat coolers on the market!
It’s a fact: while you’re on your boat, the last worry you need is the temperature of your drinks. But all it takes is one sip of a warm beer, a steaming hot swig of lemonade, or an iced coffee that tastes more like a hot chocolate to know the chilled life is the only life for you.
Even if you’re ice fishing, or on a cold-weather fishing trip, I can say with confidence no one likes a warm beer.
That’s why I wanted to showcase some of the best boat coolers on the market. And even break down what goes into them and what you should be mindful of in your search.
The Key Features of the Best Boat Coolers
It might seem obvious, but it all starts with one thing: keeping everything cool.
Keeping cool comes down to several factors. And face it—sometimes a higher price tag doesn’t mean a better product.
Put simply, the best boat coolers on the market are often defined by a handful of varying key features. Let’s run through each of them right now:
- Seal & Thickness — Keeping ice cool is a must. While most cooler brands claim they’re up for the task, the seals and wall thickness are two big-ticket items to consider. Look at the lid construction and any seals. How thick are the walls? Regardless of the model, these are two main factors for a cooler’s efficacy.
- Sturdiness — Your cooler needs to stay in one place, at all times, especially in rough waters. Wheels are great for portability, but ensure they can lock in place. Also, check if the cooler has non-slip protection and if it’s weighted to not spill over at the smallest waves.
- Security — On the same lines, a lock is a great method of securing a cooler on board. But you should also look for a tight locking mechanism to keep cold air inside. A lock will also commensurate with the lid (so it doesn’t fly off in the wind).
- Capacity & Weight — You don’t want your cooler to cause your boat to tip, so weight is key. But you also want to find a balance to ensure you have enough capacity to carry whatever you need—drinks, lunch, your fishing haul and more.
- Drainage — This is one of the last and essential features to consider in a boat cooler. A cooler’s drainage capability is important because it allows you to drain your cooler of any water at the end of your trip. Does it have a plug or will you have to muscle a chest of water and maybe even fish to tip it over?
Additional Cooler Considerations
On top of the important key features needed for a high-performance boat cooler, consider these additional elements.
- Design & Shape — It helps to explore various designs and shapes. If you want a boat cooler to match your boat, the way it looks may play a pivotal role in your purchase.
- Seating — Because coolers can often take up a lot of room, I often think of them as an additional seat. That’s why, from fishing boats to deck boats, having a cooler serves as a key part of the “furniture” on deck. Even if I don’t want to necessarily sit on it, it’s important to be mindful of the space it takes up. Coolers, depending on their size, can constitute an entire passenger on your boat.
- Intention of Use — Consider how you intend to use your cooler. Will it be used to house drinks, bait, or ice for your catch of the day? If it’s to be filled halfway through your trip, it may need extra room to fit your catch as well.
The Best Boat Coolers for Every Boater
To help you find a boat cooler for your needs, I broke them down into two types:
- Heavy-duty coolers for larger boats/parties
- Coolers suited for smaller vessels like fishing boats
This way, you can compare each model to discover the best boat cooler for you!
Best Heavy-duty Boat Coolers
- Xtreme Technology; Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep ice up to 5 days in temperatures as high as 90°F
- HIGH CAPACITY: Holds up to 84 cans
- HEAVY-DUTY WHEELS: Effortless rolling over any terrain
- Have-a-Seat Lid: Closed Lid Supports Up to 250 Lb.
- CUP HOLDERS: Molded into the lid to keep drinks close and prevent spilling
I really appreciate the overall sturdiness of this model. Not only is the lid capable of holding a great amount of weight, but the overall shape and construction is portable, strong and can hold up to 84 cans.
This is a great option, in my opinion, for a mid-sized boat.
- Weight: 14.8 lbs
- Size: 23” x 18” x 18”
- Ice Retention: 5 days
- Special Features: Closed lid supports 250 lbs
- Ultraviolet inhibitors protect against sun damage
- Ultratherm insulation in body and lid holds ice up to 5 days*
- Hinges made with Riteflex resin, an impact resistant, highly flexible, temperature and chemical resistant material
- Rust-resistant stainless steel lid strap and screws are designed to survive harsh marine conditions
- Non-slip, comfort grip swing up handles add comfort and improved grip in wet conditions
Looking for more of a party cooler? This option is great for those looking for more of a budget choice.
It’s fairly large, comes equipped with handles for easy transportation and it also comes with a fish measuring lid.
This is a great option for larger fishing boats, especially those who don’t want to break the bank on their next purchase.
- Weight: 7 lbs
- Size: 24” x 13.6” x 13”
- Ice Retention: 5 days
- Special Features: Fish measuring lid
- The YETI TANK 45 will keep 52 cans or a slim quarter keg of your favorite beer icy cold for your next get-together
- Features Permafrost Insulation which means all of your drinks stay colder for longer
- The DoubleHaul Handles and Vortex Drain System make hauling, loading, and draining simple
- The YETI TANK 45 is ready for cookouts, championship tailgates, family get-togethers, and more
- The YETI TANK 45 dimensions are 21 in long x 21 in wide x 16 1/4 in high with an empty weight of 13 lbs NOTE: YETI Tank Lids sold separately.
While a bit on the unorthodox side, I love this model for its ability to immediately become the life of the party on any boat. I think this is a great option, not necessarily for day-to-day use, but for hosting a party on a deck boat or pontoon boat.
It’s big enough to fit plenty of drinks, even a pony keg and the insulation keeps things cool even if the top is uncovered.
- Weight: 17 lbs
- Size: 22” x 22” x 18”
- Ice Retention: 12 – 24 hours
- Special Features: Lid sold separately
This is an option for those who take the temperature of their drinks seriously.
Featuring a rugged design, as well as seven-day ice retention, this cooler is huge.
It also features bottle openers on each side, as well as tie-down points to ensure it’s secured.
This is a great option for those who really want to go all out, and it shows.
- Weight: 47.6 lbs
- Size: 36.9″ x 21.2″ x 18.4″
- Ice Retention: 7+ Days
- Special Features: Bottle openers
- Rotomolded Construction makes it armored to the core and virtually indestructible
- The Haul is the first-ever YETI cooler on wheels. Perfect for taking the Tundra's legendary toughness and unmatched insulation power the extra mile
- Never Flat Wheels – A solid, single-piece tire construction that is impact- and puncture-resistant
- Strong Arm Handle – A durable welded aluminum arm with comfortable grips. The curved design tracks left or right for heel-friendly towing
- Rotomolded Construction - Makes it armored to the core and virtually indestructible
I appreciate this model because of the brand-name appeal, as well as the construction which makes it close to indestructible.
Its durability makes it not only a great long-term investment, but speaks to the seal and the ability to retain insulation.
On top of that, it comes with these never-flat wheels, perfect for loading on and off your boat, as well as two inches of insulation to expertly keep its cool.
- Weight: 43 lbs
- Size: 28.2” x 18.6” x 19.5”
- Ice Retention: 8 days
- Special Features: Rotomolded construction
Best Boat Coolers for Smaller Vessels
- The Hopper Flip 18 has ColdCell Insulation, a closed-cell foam that offers superior cold-holding to ordinary soft coolers, with a capacity of up to 16 cans plus ice
- The Hopper Flip 18 features a 100% leakproof HydroLok Zipper and the wide-mouth opening means great accessibility and visibility to contents
- The DryHide Shell is waterproof and resistant to punctures and abrasions so it will hold its own when faced with the hazards of the wild
- The only personal cooler that’s game for full days in the tree stand, early mornings in the duck boat, or afternoons on the water
- The Hopper Flip 18 dimensions are 15 2/3 in long x 10 1/5 in wide x 12 3/5 in high and an empty weight of 5.1 lbs.
YETI remains a trusted brand name in the industry, and I’m a big fan of this model.
Most soft-sided coolers you find lack a lot of great insulation, but I was surprised to learn this one is 100% leakproof and even has a waterproof outside that’s resistant to mildew, damage and anything else.
It’s sturdy, yet economical, which makes it the perfect fishing buddy.
- Weight: 5 lbs
- Size: 15.8″ x 10.2″ x 12.6″
- Ice Retention: NA
- Special Features: Capacity of 16 cans (plus ice)
- FULLY INSULATED: Enjoy food, beverages and snacks. This lunch bag cooler features a fully insulated interior that effectively keeps food and drinks at the perfect temperature. It keeps cold food and drinks cold and hot food and drinks hot.
- COLLAPSIBLE FOR STORAGE: Take it anywhere you want to go! This soft cooler easily folds for storage and features two quick release buckles on each side that keep it flat and secure. Store it in your car, luggage, home or garage.
- LIGHTWEIGHT & PORTABLE: A lightweight construction makes it easy to carry. With two hand straps that come together with a Velcro-like strap and a removable padded, adjustable shoulder strap you can carry it with comfort and ease.
- LARGE CAPACITY: This portable cooler lets you pack a big lunch! The 6 liter capacity fits 16 cans or 12 16 ounce bottles. Better yet, this bag comes with a BONUS BOTTLE OPENER which is attached to the side of the bag by a key ring making it easy to quickly open a beer.
- GREAT FOR THE OUTDOORS: Take food and drinks to anywhere from the beach to the park. It makes all of your outdoor & indoor activities more enjoyable. It’s perfect for hiking, camping, fishing, BBQs, tailgating, festivals and events.
A basic option for those who still want a boat cooler they can trust.
This cooler has a lot in the way of capacity, is super portable (with a shoulder strap included), as well as lightweight fabric and collapsible for easy storage.
It’s easy to carry around and, while it may not be 100% reliable in terms of leaks or ice retention, it is still a strong option without breaking the bank.
- Weight: 1.6 lbs
- Size: 12″ x 8.5″ x 8.5″
- Ice Retention: NA
- Special Features: Bottle opener
- Insulated for 36-hour ice retention at temperatures up to 90 DegreeF
- Holds 42 cans
- Antimicrobial liner resists odor, mold, mildew, and fungus from forming on the product
- Water-resistant material keeps water out in a marine environment; heat-welded seams keep water in to prevent leaks
- Padded, removable, and adjustable shoulder strap for comfortable, hands-free carrying
This is a great middle-of-the-road option that’s also somewhere between a hard-sided and a soft-sided cooler.
Manufactured by Coleman, this cooler features 36-hour ice retention, as well as capacity for 42 cans and a reinforced bottom to add durability (which you don’t always see in coolers).
I appreciate this option for a boat that has a little bit more size, but still wants comfort in their cooler.
- Weight: 3.4 lbs
- Size: 18.5” x 10.6” x 14.2”
- Ice Retention: 36 hours
- Special Features: Shoulder strap
- PELICAN 24 CAN SOFT COOLER
This is a serious option for those who want to go all out.
If you’re interested in a soft-sided cooler at a hard-case price, this cooler by Pelican is a great option for those who love functionality but are lacking in space.
A great option for smaller fishing boats, kayaks and canoes, this cooler has incredible durability and is 100% leakproof. On top of that, it has an anti-slip base to ensure it doesn’t go anywhere.
- Weight: 7 lbs
- Size: 17” x 10” x 13.5”
- Ice Retention: 2 days
- Special Features: Anti-slip base
Stay Cool On Deck Today
As you can see, coolers can fit just about any price range and any style of boat. They can also cater to your specific needs. So while it may seem daunting to choose, when you finally find the best boat cooler for you, it can be quite rewarding.
Whether you set sail on a party barge or simply kick back and cast a line, the ideal cooler can offer many benefits on your journey.