If your boat doesn’t have a refrigerator and/or freezer — or you’re looking for some extra 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 used one for just a few days while aboard a friend’s boat. I have well over twenty friends that do have them, as well as numerous readers that have told me about their experiences. There have been literally NO bad reports of their operation in the real world.
The Engels are great for full-time refrigeration options and 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 now have one front-loader, too, but it is on the small side.
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 of July 2016, 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 a great solution for anyone needing a top loading ready-to-go unit. If your box is not well-insulated and you need new mechanicals as well, this is a great way to get a permanently-installed unit that is quick and easy to install. So much less mess to the installation than trying to do foam, etc.
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.
You can buy the Engels on Amazon:
The Amazon listings are quite complete but if you need further details check out the Engel company website.
Two things to note in planning your new refrigerator: (1) on almost all models, the handles can be removed and (2) allow 2 inches of air space around the compressor for ventilation.
Once again, I want to say that I haven’t used one of these (Engel does not make one that would fit our space so I had to get an Isotherm when we replaced our refrigerator; I like the Engels better), but given the rave reviews that numerous 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. We are considering getting one to use as a freezer for our next trip to the Bahamas.
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.