If your boat doesn’t have a refrigerator and/or freezer — or you’re looking for some “auxiliary” refrigerator or freezer space — several readers have suggested the Engel line of portable refrigerators and freezers as an alternative to installing a built-in one. They also make several “drop-in” models suitable for permanent installation as well as very good — and tough — coolers.
While they are not cheap, the Engel portables and drop-ins are cheaper than most built-in systems and you don’t have to deal with building a box — which is messy, time consuming and also expensive.
Don’t confuse these with 12-volt coolers, like the ones from Coleman that you find in big-box stores. These are real, true refrigerators and freezers.
Disclaimer: I don’t own one of these and have not used one. In the past two weeks, I’ve had four readers all recommend various models (two by e-mail and both Mary Dixon — who has provided some other great tips — and Mike in comments) plus a couple other readers previously. UPDATE: 7-16-12: a couple of cruiser e-mail groups that I’m on have been discussing these lately. Everyone who has owned one LOVES them — literally, no bad reports.
I’ve done some additional research and wanted to pass on the recommendation (everything I find indicates people think they’re great in real-world use), particularly as I’ve also had readers asking for options beyond a cooler but short of a built-in unit. In addition to those wanting full-time refrigeration options, they’d be perfect for trailer-sailors and also some of the “weekender” boats and large pontoon boats with mini-galleys that I’ve seen, too!
Engel makes a wide variety of portable and drop-in refrigerators and freezers, as well as coolers. They range in size from 13 quarts (inside dimensions 13″ x 7.5″ x 7.5″) running on 12 volts to a monster 80 quarts (inside dimension 20.1″ x 14.9″ x 16.7″) that can run on 12 volts, 24 volts or 110 AC (i.e., on shorepower).
They claim to use about 40% less power than other refrigeration systems and comments from readers have all talked about low power consumption. Obviously, the actual power draw depends on the size of the unit, the temperature in the boat, how often you’re in it and how often you put warm food or drinks into it.
The 40-quart Engel MR040 is specifically marketed for boats, with a heavy ABS plastic case (no metal to rust in salt air) and typically draws less than 2 amps per hour (depending on temperature, etc). As I’m writing this (Feb. 2012), it costs about $850 — not at all cheap but far less than building a box and installing an Adler-Barbour 12 volt system.
The drop-in model (new and only available in a 40-quart size at the present time) is about $1000 and would be very tempting to me if I didn’t have a well-built box and was looking for a permanently-installed unit that was quick and easy to install.
One thing to note is that almost all of these units can operate as either a refrigerator OR freezer, but not both at the same time. The one exception to this is the MT60 Combi Fridge & Freezer which combines both in one (shown at right — about $1500). Your other option would be to buy two units — one for a refrigerator and one for a freezer.
See the full line of Engel fridge-freezers here (the links further below sometimes have better prices but not as much information):
You can check out the interior dimensions of each model and each also has a “power requirements” page where you can see the power draw depending on whether you want to use it as a refrigerator or freezer and the temperature in the boat. Also be sure to check the exterior dimensions and carefully measure to make sure it will fit where you want it. In thinking about where you’ll put it, be sure to keep the air vents clear!
Online retailers with better prices (note, with the exception of Amazon, I haven’t bought from these):
- BuyEngelCoolers.com — authorized Engel dealer, free shipping
- Amazon — availability varies considerably from month to month, most have free shipping
And Engel Australia for those readers in Australia!
Once again, I want to say that I haven’t used one of these, but given the rave reviews that several readers have given them (as well as really good online reviews), I think they’re worthy of serious consideration if you’re looking for a refrigerator and/or freezer. The bottom line that almost every “real world” review comes to is that yes, they’re more expensive than other brands of portable refrigerators (don’t compare them to 12-volt coolers) but they have far better chilling/freezing ability, last far longer, and are much more strongly built.
Be sure to also read Boat Refrigeration: Things to Think About. If you’re considering the Engel system, some of the items won’t be a concern . . . but many still will.
If you’ve used an Engel fridge/freezer or cooler, I’d love it if you’d leave a note below with your thoughts — are they worth the money? Would you buy one again?