Got a smaller boat? Do you drive yourself nuts trying to figure out where to stow the cooler so it’s safe yet easy to access? Here’s an idea that I picked up at a boat show over a year ago. Use the cooler as a step at the base of the companionway.
One advantage to putting the cooler here is that it is low and in the center of the boat. When full of ice, coolers are surprisingly heavy and can affect the trim of the boat. Heavy items are always best kept low and centered. In addition:
- Get a sturdy cooler that is sized correctly for the available space. One with a latching lid is best, both for keeping the cool inside and so that it won’t accidentally open in rough water (think beating to weather with winds 20+) or in the event of a knockdown.
- The wood glued to the top of the cooler both provides good tread and spreads the weight of a person stepping on it over a larger area. I think that this would considerably lengthen the life of the cooler.
- This boat has been designed with the idea that the cooler would form the lower step — if it weren’t there, it’d be a big step down! For boats that have a bottom step, it’s good if the cooler top is at the same level as the step so there isn’t a tripping hazard. You can vary the height of the wood on top of the cooler or add an extra piece to the step to ensure that they line up.
- Engineer some way to secure the cooler in place. You don’t want it to move as someone is stepping on it, nor do you want it to slide into someone who is standing nearby. And something as heavy as a cooler could be seriously dangerous if it went flying in a knockdown.
Okay, I know. In the photo, the cooler only has a bungee around the handle to hold it in place. I just don’t think that’s sufficient for real world conditions.
Further, I’d be wary of many of the pre-packaged “cooler tie down” systems that you can buy. The ones I’ve seen:
- Use screws with no backing plates — there have been numerous reports of them ripping out in rough water.
- The brackets tend to be of a “universal” fit and there is some play in how the base fits into them. This can be a real problem if the step shifts slightly with the motion of the boat as someone is stepping onto it.
- Many use bungee cords to “secure” the cooler. No way is this going to hold in rough water or in the event of a knockdown. Better systems use nylon webbing with some mechanical tightening mechanism (typically rachets).
At the very least, if you choose to use one of these kits, replace the screws with bolts (use lock nuts, lock washers or Lock-Tite) and backing plates or fender washers and choose one with webbing over bungee cords.Over the years, Dave and I came to make most tie downs ourselves instead of trying to buy something. That way, we could use materials that were best suited to the application (stainless steel bolts, fender washers or backing plates, webbing or low stretch line, etc.). In our first few years of cruising, we tried using a number of packaged solutions for various things and slowly came to the realization that most were designed for fishing boats on protected waters, not for sailboats that heeled or powerboats on more open water. Similarly, items designed for RVs are not suitable as they don’t experience nearly the motion that a boat does.