Engel Portable Freezer – Refrigerator

By Carolyn Shearlock, copyright 2012 . All rights reserved.

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.

MT60 – Combi Fridge & Freezer

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?

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Comments

  1. We bought an Engle about three years ago and I use it strictly as a freezer. It has changed my life1!! I have only good things to say about it…easy to defrost, rust-resistant, low power and keeps things really frozen. Now I can stock up on meat and know that I always have something to fix for dinner. Love our Engle!!!

  2. What a great tip! We will definitely keep this in mind for our sailboat once we’re ready to cruise. Thanks again Carolyn!

  3. We have one and it has changed my life as a livaboard! LOVE IT!

  4. I’ve also gotten two more “gushing” e-mails from people today about these, in addition to the comments here, on the article and the ones I got before I wrote the article. Nobody has said anything negative!

  5. I bought two of the drop in units (MB40) directly from Engel to use as refer and freezer about 3 months ago. Although I have not installed them or used them yet, other than a test to be sure they arrived in working order, I can say they are built very well.

    I plan to install them in an insulated “box” with a traditional insulated lid. I will have to go through two lids to get to my beer but they should operate very effectively. Currently they look great sitting in my living room!

  6. Debra Trottier says:

    We love our 40 qt Engel! We live aboard and our Engel has been in operation 24/7 for five years without a problem. Our sailboat didn’t have a refrigeration system – only a very large ice box. Engel didn’t offer drop in models back then, but we found that by using the Engel as a freezer and using half the space to freeze 6 half gallon (milk/juice) bottles, we could use them to keep our ice box at 40 degrees. We have 6 bottles in the ice box and 6 in the freezer and switch them every 24 hours. The other half of the Engel we use for frozen food. The Engel came with a large wire basket so I used a flexible cutting board zip-tied in place to keep the frozen food from falling into the “ice bottle” portion when changing out the bottles. I absolutely love our system – I can keep plenty of frozen meat aboard and still have a huge “refrigerator” for produce, condiments, and drinks. Perfect!

    • That is something to think about for me, buying one unit makes sense and using it to freeze bottles of water to keep an ice chest or ice box cool as a refrigerator is worth thinking on. For me it would depend on the power consumption needed to freeze the bottles.

  7. Have used our for two years and thousands of nautical miles with no problems,is all it is advertised to be.

  8. Mary Dixon says:

    Since we try to keep use of canned foods to a minimum due to health concern regarding salt, we love our Engel 40 because we can keep frozen meat, frozen fruit and vegetables on our boat. Our Engel 40 used as a freezer requires less energy consumption than our built in frig that is well insulated.

  9. Margaret McGovern on Facebook says:

    Our Engle freezer is one if the best purchases we made for our boat. Love it!

  10. Jenn Cole says:

    I have a 40 litre Engle fridge on my 24 foot day river cruiser. I sometimes stay out for 1 or 2 over nighters and this keeps everything cool, especially the beer! Ahhh!. The inbuilt option of freezer or fridge is great and provides options of how cold you want things dependent on the weather. A great product. JC Australia.

  11. Danielle Redwine McDaniel on Facebook says:

    We are definitely getting one! They make a cold plate now to retro fit existing fridges!

  12. Ted Reshetiloff says:

    I have done some research on these and found Engel to be the most effecient but also the most expensive. The three brands that I considered seriously as they all used the Danfoss BD-35 compressor were Engel, Dometic/Waeco, and Edgestar. I focused on the 35-40 qt models as our intention was to supplement our exisitng built in fridge with the portable being mainly used as a freezer. The Edgestar 40 qt model FP-430 came in as the least efficient drawing up to 5.4 amps however the price was just over $400 and several folks on the Cruisers Forum had good things to say about long term live aboard use. The Dometic/Waeco units were in the middle with the CF-40 model drawing up to 3.75 amps and priced about $550-$600.( I bought this model for $575 with shipping to Annapolis). The Engel MR-040 was the most efficient drawing just 3.0 amps but the best price I could find online was $850. For me the savings of .75 amps wasnt worth $275 but it may be for others. Smaller units such as the Engel MT-25 draw less than 3 amps, however almost all of these units should be able to be run from a reasonably sized solar panel. From everyone I have spoken to, mostly via the Cruisers Forum, all three brands come with nothing but praise. Some units appear to have more metal while others more plastic but I have not read any complaints of rusting even when used in the tropics. Thanks

  13. I just love all your great tips! Once we finally sell our house we’ll be referring to your site to see your recommendations. This looks like a great tip!

  14. Stormy Duchess says:

    We purchased an Engel 40 qt and plan on getting another to put side by. Engel is pricey but worth every penny. Hauling ice all summer is expensive and a big mess. Thanks to Engel for such a low amp use product.

  15. Bryce Winter says:

    I’m interested in a portable refrigeration system for the boat, but am worried about condensation in the cabin. Has anyone had any issues with hot, warm air being exhausted from the units, or with dripping coming off them?

    Cheers,

    Bryce.

    • I haven’t heard any complaints along those lines, but I do imagine it would depend somewhat on where you are. For example, when we chartered in Alaska in May (2000), the water in Glacier Bay still had “bergy bits” in it. Condensation — even without a refrigerator, the boat only had an ice box — was a huge problem.

      I’ll ask your question on TBG’s Facebook page and see if anyone has used one in a cold climate and can offer an opinion.

  16. We have one on our boat in Lake Ontario, Canada. Love it ! We have had no issues with condensation. It has a few inches to “breathe” on each side of it.

  17. Ah man, thought this was another drawing, LOL! ;-)

  18. Now THAT would be nice!

  19. LaMarr Harding says:

    Had a Norcold for years and replaced it with an Engle about 5 years ago. (Engle 24)

    Bought a Weaco coolmatic 26 when I ordered it but it came with the Domestic name on it. Right at the name change time.

    I bought the coolmatic to fit between the front seats of my mini van.

    When it came I was pleasantly surprised It runs quieter, has a digital temperature read out on the top

    I thought the Engle was great but I love my coolmatic even more.

  20. Danielle Redwine McDaniel on Facebook says:

    We are getting one!

  21. Dave Skolnick on Facebook says:

    They make a great deep storage freezer. I have good sized refrigerator and freezer. I found that while cruising freezer space was more dear than refrigeration. An Engel under the aft berth doubles our freezer space. When the main freezer is about empty we pull out the aft berth and transfer the Engel contents to the freezer in the galley and shut off the Engel.

    Some cruising friends of ours took a similar approach, burying their Engel under a settee and putting in a small computer fan to force air circulation.

  22. As always Dave, great ideas!

  23. Danielle Redwine McDaniel on Facebook says:

    I thought “cooker” was some sort of term I hadn’t seen used in this instance. I’m glad you said something or I might have gone around calling things “fancy cookers”

  24. No, just auto-complete and a small screen so I didn’t really SEE what I’d written until I had a big screen. I have this love/hate relationship with auto-complete . . .

  25. Our Engel 12 volt makes ice cubes and our 2 Kyocera 85 power it. Keeps Haagen Dasz (sp?) ice cream- others do not have the butter fat content. Love ourEngel.

  26. Susan Thaxton Wyatt on Facebook says:

    We love our Engel! I like that it can either be a refrigerator or a freezer and has a very low power draw. Would not cruise without one!!

  27. James Sutherland says:

    Where can we buy an Engel freezer for our boat in NZ?
    Thank you. James Sutherland

  28. As you’ve already heard, it’s FANTASTIC!!!!! Freezer or refrigerator depending on our needs!

  29. Have had ours for four years and love it,low power consumption and keeps frozen meat and ice cream rock hard.We made a cardboard mock up to find a place to keep it,otherwise would have bought one too big.

  30. have had one aboard HIGH HOPES for 6 years and its our only fridge, and we Love it!

  31. Love, love, love our Engel on s/v Sea Change!

  32. We have the engel combo fridge/freezer on our boat and love it. We have it in addition the the fridge on the boat. Low power consumption and the freezer keeps everything froze even ice cream

  33. We’ve just installed one. Too early to say if it’s great or not, but love the positive reports about the Engel.

  34. Where can you buy one in canada?

  35. Hi Sharon. I bought mine at West Marine in San Diego, but you could go online and buy from Engel directly or through Amazon.

  36. Thanks doug. I will look at engel on line.

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