Has your boat cooler been affording you a less-than-satisfactory experience for a long while now? Or do you simply want to go heavy-duty from the get-go and enjoy the remarkable, innovative things that the best marine refrigerator has to offer?
Indeed, any solid marine refrigeration system that any sea vessel isn’t limited to keeping a few beers and a couple of your catch fresh anymore. Rather, you get the whole nine yards of luxuries you normally only get to enjoy when you’re on land. Imagine partaking in a bountiful feast anywhere you are on your voyage.
To anyone who adheres to the idea that “boating is life”, opting for a more comprehensive refrigeration unit is the way to go. Whether you like to spend most of your days at your favorite dock or at sea, these marine appliances boost any boater’s quality of life, as the following selections readily prove.
Table of Contents
- Best Marine Refrigerator Reviews
- 1. Alpicool A50 Portable Refrigerator
- 2. Whynter FM-45G Portable Refrigerator
- 3. Ausranvik APR-42W Portable Refrigerator
- 4. VBENLEM Portable Refrigerator
- 5. ICECO VL60 Dual Zone Portable Refrigerator
- 6. Engel MR040F-U1 Portable Fridge
- 7. BLACK+DECKER BCRK17B Compact Refrigerator
- 8. Norcold NR751BB Refrigerator
- 9. Dometic CRX-65 Refrigerator and Freezer
- 10. SMETA SDW-40 Compact Refrigerator
- Types of Marine Refrigerators
- Benefits and Drawbacks of Using a Boat Fridge
- Buying Guide
- Care and Maintenance
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best Marine Refrigerator Reviews
1. Alpicool A50 Portable Refrigerator
This portable refrigerator readily stands out in essential benchmarks like cooling, capacity, and durability.
When I said “everyone’s needs”, I meant it. After all, who could possibly shun a refrigerator that draws little power? This is to the point that you won’t mind leaving it on for days and even weeks. That’s exactly what’s been by regular habit and setup with this fridge, and I literally have nothing to complain about except a minor thing I’ll explain below.
It cools any water bottle or beer I place inside it in less than an hour. I even like to set it at 27 degrees at times to enjoy cooler beverages than usual, which I find especially gratifying if I go to warmer fishing ports like Port Aransas in Texas. It’s as easy to control as it’s modest in eating up my boat’s power.
I think the anti-shaking feature doesn’t get enough attention. I’ve ridden my center console a few times with this at sea and have encountered killer waves on more than a handful of occasions. It has consistently managed to keep its contents intact every time and has not slipped at all. Also, I don’t mind taking it out to saltwater sites too much because of the primarily stainless steel build.
I like the relative tallness of the entire thing. It allows me to fit some of the larger and taller wine bottles I like to bring along sometimes. The capacity hits the spot, and even if it’s fully filled, I don’t mind carrying it. In fact, I can safely say it’s one of the lighter ones I’ve owned.
2. Whynter FM-45G Portable Refrigerator
Most coolers cost twice as much as this refrigerator but lack the terrific perks you can get from it such as rapid cooling with various modes and decent power-saving at a comparatively affordable price.
The 65-watt power is higher than most, but if you know how to play your cards right, you can keep its power draw consistently low. I often use a dedicated battery for it and keep it on low power mode, and it has managed to outshine plenty of soft-sided coolers I’ve used in the past. I normally let it run continuously for 12 hours this way and regularly enjoy cold food and drink while fishing.
The Fast Freeze feature is neat in that I can always turn it on for an hour to get my beer cold, especially if it’s hooked to my sailboat’s engine. I don’t mind filling it up with fish, too, because of its relatively spacious interior. This has since become my secondary, go-to sailboat freezer, for these reasons.
I also think the drain plug deserves to be highlighted because it more than makes up for the heft of this gadget. I don’t know about the brand’s statement that it makes cleaning easier, but it does drain any liquid that I need to get rid of fairly quickly and hassle-free. Ultimately, it only means I don’t have to break my back just to do so.
3. Ausranvik APR-42W Portable Refrigerator
Overall, this is one of the more responsive brands out there, and this refrigerator’s plethora of features like the dual-zone, rapid cooling, among others.
I bought this when it was new in the market and cost $100 less. It’s one of the bargain purchases I’ve made with that considered because I like a lot of the primary and secondary features of this boat freezer. I’d be more than happy to buy another one for what I got.
However, do keep in mind that it’s only been a few months since I bought it. Even so, I’ve tested it a lot in that relatively short amount of time. I love that the accompanying cables are long enough to accommodate relatively wide distances and are equally flexible.
During one fishing trip to Lake Fork, I discovered that it reverts to and maintains the temperature that you last set once you turn off the engine. This is neat, as I don’t have to keep it running. I also noticed how quickly it cools, and I’ve enjoyed ice-cold beer and ice cream, and milk for my kiddos, with the temperature set at a steady 30 degrees.
The general build appears sturdy, but I obviously can’t say much about the durability yet. The miscellaneous features I like are the drain plugs and the divider since it keeps my food and drinks organized without extra effort. Cleaning becomes less of a hassle, too.
A note about the anti-pinch lid: my kid once had the unfortunate experience of having his fingers bear the brunt of a closing lid. It caused him significant pain for a good portion of a week. This is why I’m more than happy to give this feature my nod of approval for the amount of pain it will spare as a result of these seemingly “minor” accidents.
4. VBENLEM Portable Refrigerator
This refrigerator effectively pays homage to the classic fridge design, to the point that your boat becomes an extension of your home — if you don’t already consider it as such, that is.
The traditional design, which honestly appealed to me from the get-go, belies an advanced feature called “non-compressor absorption style”. I’m no AC expert, but the absence of a compressor makes all the difference noise-wise (or lack thereof). This is one of the most silent fridges I’ve owned.
Coupled with the conventional design that I like, this only makes it well-deserving of a spot in this list. That’s not to say that its performance doesn’t warrant attention. At best, it’s a solid refrigerator — not too outstanding but still above-average. I’m probably used to refrigerators that have faster cooling options.
I know a fellow boater who uses this as a mainstay marine refrigeration unit in his sailboat. He says he likes the energy-saving he gets out of it, especially when compared to other more high-end units out there whose plugs he needs to pull before long because they gobble up engine power. He confidently leaves this one all the time for this reason.
It’s a bonafide space saver thanks to its inherently “mini” quality. I was prepared to be disappointed in the capacity, but I was pleasantly proven wrong when I saw how many beer cans you can squeeze in its 40L capacity. Again, I attribute this to the traditional design.
5. ICECO VL60 Dual Zone Portable Refrigerator
Anyone who won’t settle for anything less than top-notch quality should choose this heavy-duty, almost military-grade refrigerator. It works well in both land and sea applications.
My wife and I have since made this our favorite ice box every time we either go camping or fishing. The main reason stems from the fact that it can hold up to a week’s worth of supplies while alternating between plugging it in and letting it run on a 12V DC solar battery. I alternate between the two fairly elementary low and high energy modes to make the most out of it every time — it always manages to maintain its set temperature regardless.
The quality of construction deserves all the recognition in the world. It virtually enlightened about what type of quality you could expect from ICECO. I wouldn’t be surprised if this refrigerator can shrug off getting hit by a car head-on or dropping from a couple of floors.
So far, after close to a year of ownership, I still enjoy the said advantages. There have been a few instances when it got wet in a rain shower while I was out at sea, but it never showed signs of deterioration. I don’t know about other users who said it’s silent, but I can confirm that the fan can be a little too loud.
6. Engel MR040F-U1 Portable Fridge
However portable this fridge might be, I actually won’t hesitate to make it a permanent ice box in any pontoon or sailboat.
This was one of the best marine refrigerators I owned. I bought Engel coolers before and have only gotten quality out of most of them. I wanted to try out what they have to offer in the boat fridge category, and, looking back now, this one served as an outstanding introduction.
This one promptly stood out to me because it looked well-designed to me, as far as the entire thickness and the cooling ability are concerned. For one, it integrates a top lid, which I always use as a gauge of high cooling power. Coupled with the energy-efficient and noiseless operation, I can safely say that it set the bar high for qualities that I look out for in my boat fridges.
For these reasons, it became a regular fixture in my good, old Sabre 28 for a number of years. I’ve lost count of the numerous times I’ve enjoyed freshly grilled seafood, steak, and beers from it. In fact, I’ve wired it to a li-ion battery and haven’t taken it out of the vessel since.
It’s tightly sealed, to the point that it still beats the newer models out there in cooling and maintaining temperature. I almost always let it run 24/7 every time I take off with it. I won’t bother listing the 30-degree incline support as a pro since it should be a given, but it does go to show that Engel knows what to deliver in a boat refrigerator.
7. BLACK+DECKER BCRK17B Compact Refrigerator
At once stylish and brimming with the quality this brand is known for, this supposedly mini refrigerator is actually packed with big surprises.
I got a refreshing peek at how much of a doozy this small refrigerator is when a friend of mine brought it along in one of our yearly fishing trips to the Keys. Back then, I thought it wasn’t really a boat-friendly fridge, and it gave me the impression that it belonged more in a dorm or office. But after it kept our drinks and food, and (thanks to the freezer) a few ice cubes cool for the entire week-long affair, I was sold.
It’s not all about consistent cooling, too. This is one of the few fridges that let you squeeze in an extra bottle or two or even three if you know how to capitalize on the space it gives you. That being said, it works better as an all-around refrigerator and not as a beverage-only ice box.
I’ll also take zero-noise operations any day, and I’m glad this one won’t be out of place in a library. While I’ve only used mine for less than a year, my friend has been using hers for 5 years now. That’s enough proof for me of how durable it is. Do take note, though, that she is not a regular boater like me.
8. Norcold NR751BB Refrigerator
This Norcold marine refrigerator requires a bit of familiarity with its functionality to make it work its wonders. Once you make that effort, you’ll find out what kind of a gem this fridge truly is.
The first thing that I liked about this fridge is that it immediately convinced me that it’s built for marine application. Except for the handle that leaves a lot to be desired, everything feels sturdy and I’m happy with the overall sheerness and thickness. It radiates durability from these qualities alone, and I expect to get plenty of mileage from it.
The brand doesn’t state the exact power requirement, but I’ve since discovered that it draws around a maximum of 5.5 amps. That still falls within the average range of most fridges I use, so that’s fine. I would have preferred it to be only 3 amps, but for the superb, almost high-end-worthy cooling performance that I regularly enjoy after fitting it with an auxiliary fan, I’m more than willing to make that tradeoff.
For the size, the capacity is generous. It accommodates most kinds of pantry food and drink well, and this fridge has never felt lacking in space, which is a feat rarely achieved by fridges I’ve used. Moreover, the compressor isn’t loud at all, and even makes me wonder when it’s running and when it has stopped sometimes.
9. Dometic CRX-65 Refrigerator and Freezer
This fridge/freezer’s dynamic performance, energy efficiency, and adaptability overshadow a couple of its alleged weaknesses.
I bought this to replace the refrigerator in my Hunter 33 cruiser. With the limited space I can work with, I’m just glad it fits to a tee. I have to admit that I struggled a bit in finding a replacement refrigerator that I wouldn’t need to make adjustments for, but thanks to this box, my search ended abruptly.
Above all, this refrigerator shines in the way it seamlessly shifts between functioning as a freezer, refrigerator, or a mix of both. It takes getting used to how it works, particularly familiarizing yourself with its temperature control, to show you its magic. Ultimately, it allows me to rely on it completely and not have to bring along another cooler just for keeping things frozen.
It doesn’t eat as much power, too, and only operates at 48 watts at most. I can easily compare it to my other units, especially if I take the same week-long fishing trip to the Keys, and this one often saves. It must be because I don’t leave it constantly running in the same mode and shift temperatures frequently.
10. SMETA SDW-40 Compact Refrigerator
For its consistency in cooling, extremely silent operation, and well-designed interior, this compact refrigerator already ticks plenty of the right checkboxes.
I’ve been looking for a permanent refrigerator for my Island Packet 31 after I refurbished it last year. To fit the more modern aesthetic, I chose this SMETA fridge because I like the huge capacity you get for such a mini-refrigerator, besides its evident contemporary style. I had to make a few minor adjustments to suit its size, though.
It claims to fit 28 cans, but I haven’t tried that out yet since it works great as a conventional storage refrigerator for me. I often pack it with fresh vegetables and fruits, milk, and, of course, a couple of suds. It has never disappointed me, and only doubles its charm because of its zero-noise operation.
During one trip to Lake Conroe, I and the boys were craving some steak, and we bought some at the supermarket before setting off. We had nothing else to keep it in, so we just stowed it in this chest. Long story short, it managed to keep the T-bones frozen for the entire day until we threw it on the grill for dinner, that is.
This is the only fridge in this list whose seals I’m willing to highlight. They’re nothing short of excellent, to the point that they defeat the purpose of the included door lock. Overall, it serves as a good sign that the brand knows how to design a refrigerator well.
Types of Marine Refrigerators
There’s more than one way that marine refrigerators cool your drinks, food, and catch, and that’s a good sign that the technology is only evolving over time. Given that everyone wants to keep everything fresh while saving on power, engineers have since discovered ways to achieve this by introducing variations to these refrigerators.
Nowadays, the most coveted marine fridges are almost always energy-efficient, airtight, silent, and can handle an angle of heel of 30 degrees at most. But on the whole, these ice boxes still fall under three main categories, and they shall be expounded on below.
The vast majority of the units featured in this review arguably fall under this category. Basically, these refrigerators combine the portability of standard coolers with the benefits of a self-contained unit. More often than not, they come with their own batteries or you can use your own, as long as it is compatible with any given unit.
Much like your standard drop-in boat fridge, you can hook them up to a vessel and let their built-in refrigeration systems and insulation take it from there. In fact, they’re so easy to install that they literally operate right out of the box. A lot even incorporate techy features like Bluetooth capability for more convenient operation.
The major difference they have is that they’re not a permanent fixture and can be moved anytime and anywhere, depending on your purpose.
Cold Plate Refrigeration Units
Marine cold plate refrigeration units remain efficient options because you don’t have to leave them running on all the time. They can either come with an evaporator plate or a eutectic plate. Each one has its upsides and downsides.
A eutectic plate, for example, takes longer to cool down but will retain its temperature longer, too. A cold plate refrigerator with an evaporator plate is the exact opposite in that while it cools down quicker, it loses the cold faster, too.
Holding Plate Systems
If you’re going all the way, then I advise you to consider holding plate systems. Usually, these are directly connected to the engine, especially their compressors, for relatively more powerful cooling. Depending on the insulation, you normally don’t have to keep them running throughout the day. As soon as the holding plates’ liquid has been frozen, which normally doesn’t take long, it retains its temperature for hours.
These systems were named as such for their ability to “hold” their temperatures extremely well, so expect only optimal ice retention if you go this route. Do note that they often eat up too much power on the whole and cost twice or thrice the prices of other sailboat refrigeration systems.
I listed this as last because, to me, these thermoelectric systems aren’t that practical. They’re often overshadowed by self-contained units because they tend to draw too much power just to achieve decent cooling. They don’t do well in hotter weather as well and are limited to a few types of boats only.
Nonetheless, one perk that they have is that these systems tend to last for decades — some even last for as long as any vessel stays in active use. It’s a system that makes do without the conventional refrigerant, but as said above, it requires more power to compete with those that do.
Absorption System Refrigerators
A couple of the selections here feature this novel technology. Basically, they forgo compressors and fans completely, making them the epitome of today’s silent fridges. Instead, they use low-quality heat to drive the majority of the cooling performance.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Using a Boat Fridge
The most obvious benefit of having a marine refrigerator available on hand is that it essentially gives you the same advantage as a home fridge. You can partake on freshly cooked meals even while you’re out in the deep blue sea, fishing for marlin, for instance.
If you have an established cruising or fishing habit, it won’t hurt to invest in an ice box that will not limit you to pre-cooked meals which are not only unappetizing most of the time but less nutritious, too. Think of the long-term health benefits you’ll enjoy if you choose this route.
In fact, people who like to cruise for days or take fishing holidays that last for weeks are compelled to chuck the usual ice box for a more heavy-duty refrigerator for the said sole reason. Additionally, you can enjoy the other apparent benefit of not having to exert extra effort to keep your items cool, unlike in a cooler where you need to re-ice it regularly or make sure it’s kept out of the rain or direct sunlight.
Since plenty of units can run on both AC and DC lines, most can assure uninterrupted cooling, too. That’s actually part of the reason why marine fridges sport such lofty price tags, especially the regular, non-portable types described above or your standard Isotherm marine refrigerator or most high-end Dometic marine refrigerators. That additional power draw — one of the highest in most vessels, in fact — can already be considered as a downside.
As for another disadvantage, power consumption undoubtedly stands out as a glaring con. Unlike a standard cooler where you only need to pack your drinks with ice to achieve cold beverages, for example, marine refrigerators require a continuous power supply to achieve their purpose. Even though a given fridge proves to save you power through its design, any conventional ice chest still costs less in the long run.
When deciding on what marine fridge to buy, it’s best to stick to the following fundamental factors.
Power Source and Consumption
Many refrigerators are 12V, which is great because that means you can run it off the house batteries your vessel might have or in your possession. Equally numerous models can efficiently switch between AC and DC batteries for convenience.
Depending on the insulation’s construction, the integrated compressor cycles on and off as long as the unit is running. This has a significant impact on power consumption as the unit’s wattage or amperage. If you prefer to cruise for long distances and times, you may want to consider more heavy-duty and efficient systems that won’t have to be frequently recharged to maintain their performance.
If you’re considering a propane marine refrigerator, you’ll have to be mindful of the fire and explosion hazards of such a fridge. Pilot lights that stay unlit for too long might leak gas, which is why this kind of power source doesn’t appeal to me.
How exactly do you conduct your usual boating? Do you like to cruise and fish in warmer lakes? For this, you might need a more powerful fridge that can manage the climate.
Moreover, how often do you cook while you’re out at sea or in a lake? You might want a higher-capacity refrigerator that can function as a freezer as well so you can store any item you like. If you only like to bring drinks, then you might make do with a typical cooler instead. At best, this should give you an inkling about how much capacity you need your fridge to have.
Incidentally, you can always improve their performance by converting them with a marine refrigeration kit.
Will it fit the allotted space for refrigerators in your cabin? Unless you’re willing to make adjustments to your boat, you’ll have to take the time to take the exact measurements of your prospective product and the space available in your cabin. Anticipate the extra space that a marine drawer refrigerator will occupy every time you open it, assuming you choose that kind of fridge.
Care and Maintenance
Since plenty of these refrigerators are self-contained and compact, I often just rely on professional help to get most of the cleaning done, especially if we’re talking about maintaining the refrigerant and compressor. I make sure to have them checked once every year.
Check the seals if they’re still holding up well. I also defrost some of my units, especially those with a freezer to keep them working. Much like in a cooler, you should also check the interior and exterior for any signs of moisture that could become breeding grounds for molds, bacteria, and pests.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who makes the best marine refrigerator?
More or less, all the brands featured here have a right to claim that label, based on what I got from the models featured here. BLACK + DECKER already has plenty of clout reputation-wise but isn’t exactly known for its marine-readiness as much as Alpicool, Whynter, and Ausranvik’s models are known for theirs. For promising brands, you have to keep an eye out for ICECO and SMETA, for both brands exceeded my expectations.
A Vitrifrigo refrigerator might not have been featured here, but they’re actually a ubiquitous appliance in plenty of yachts. Most are praised for their relatively long lives.
What refrigerator accessories should I buy?
Given their compact size, not a lot of units are amenable to additions of, for example, compartments to increase their capacity. Based on my experience, you might want to consider those that can accommodate an auxiliary fan so you can boost their cooling performance. Any other aesthetic accessory should be dictated by your preferences.
How do you install a marine refrigerator?
If you bought a self-contained, drop-in refrigerator, then you shouldn’t have much of a problem installing it because you don’t have to figure out where you’re going to place the compressor. All the products featured here actually don’t come with a separate compressor or don’t have them at all! Isotherm fridges tend to take the most assembly steps, which is best done by a professional installer.
In short, these refrigerators come ready to use and only have to be plugged in like your conventional home fridge to start cooling. Their being portable only necessitates their ability to promptly work out of the box. That being said, you still have to anticipate most built-in fridges’ power source, the size and location, and whether they’re top-loading or front-loading when deciding where to place them.
With the information and products shared and featured here, I’m confident that you’ll land the best marine refrigerator before long. So keep your cool, pun very much intended, and check every feature that you know you’ll be able to make the most out of. What’s a few hours of pain compared to years — if not decades — of euphoric boating?