A Closer Look at a Nautical Rivalry: Powerboat vs. Sailboat

"What you choose also chooses you."
-Kamand Kojouri

I've lived on both sides of this fence.  I was raised a powerboater and relished my time on the water with my family in everything from bowriders to express cruisers and flybridge motoryachts.  I always knew I'd own boats and spend a lot of my time aboard them, so when I became an adult with practically no budget, I had to improvise to get on the water.  Paying for fuel and maintenance on a powerboat wasn't in the cards or my meager budget.  Instead, I put an ad on Craigslist asking for a "free or nearly free" sailboat.  To my surprise, I had someone fairly closely contact me almost immediately.

There's nothing more expensive than a cheap boat, but I took my chances anyway and ended up with a 1972 Helms 25 swingkeel sloop that we named "Hannabel" after our first two daughters (Hannah and Isabel). She wasn't free, but the $400 asking price wasn't enough to keep me away.  I spent the first year repairing, rebuilding, and rigging that old boat in our backyard.  I sailed thousands of miles in my mind with Hannabel securely planted on her trailer and sinking into the weedy ground that was taking over our lawn.  It was the best $400 I've ever spent even before I wet the hull.  We spent the next couple of years learning to sail and cruising on Lake Michigan with our then small children and dog.  We eventually moved up to a 28-foot Irwin and then a Catalina 34 and went as far as Lake Huron's North Channel during a 1,000 mile adventure.  We've been to most of Lake Michigan's ports and count ourselves as competent sailors with over 12 years of experience earned through mistakes, calms, small craft advisories, and patience.  We've got plans tucked away in the recesses of our brains for cruising on a sailboat more extensively in the future (I put this statement here mostly as a measure of accountability for myself!).

The early days of living large and sailing slow on Hannabel.

But alas, kids become adolescents and near term priorities sometimes take precedent over long term goals.  We recently sold our Catalina 34 and have been enjoying our time between sailboats aboard a powerboat; a 37-foot sedan bridge to be more precise.  I know, I know.  I can hear the groans and voices saying  "I thought this was SailFarLiveFree.com and not MotorNearbySaveFuel.com", but in many ways it feels really good to come full circle and express my powerboat roots again.  In other ways, I still long for that special feeling that can only be had while being swept along the water under sail.  That's what this blog post is really about - the contrast between power and sail and the common bonds that they share.

Let's start with the contrast, since I think many people go there automatically anyway.  Speed is perhaps the biggest contrast between powerboats and sailboats.  Of course it's all about perspective and as a sailor at heart, I feel like chugging along at 10 knots in a powerboat actually feels fast, but I can tell you that my powerboating buddies don't really consider anything below 20 knots much more than just a leisurely pace.  This may be over simplifying and pigeon holing a bit too much, but I'll go as far as to say sailors often favor the journey while powerboaters are more interested in the destination.  I have to admit, there are times when I simply want to be in port and putting the throttle/s down to get there faster can be appealing.  However, most days I'm more than content to while away the hours just bobbing slowly towards port at 3-5 knots.

This is warp speed in a sailboat, but merely cruising speed on a powerboat.

Having said that time on the water and enjoying the journey are fundamental to sailing cruisers, I've got to mention some of things that sailors do to occupy their time during the journey.  First, there's weather.  Obviously doing a deeper dive into learning weather prediction, weather patterns, and understanding how it all effects your ability to move from point A to point B is more critical to being a good sailor.  Sure, powerboaters are cognizant of wave heights and perhaps ambient temperature, but beyond that it doesn't often matter a whole lot when you can get somewhere quickly.  For sailors, understanding how the wind will change in direction and intensity throughout the day is very helpful.  Learning currents can also make the difference between a slow passage and a fast passage.  Even dealing with tides is sometimes more important as a sailor, particularly if you're sailing a deep draft boat.  The big picture is that sailboats are more at the mercy of the weather, both because they depend on it for movement and because they're often exposed to it for lengthier periods of time.  A powerboat can outrun the weather or even move against the weather, but that's not the case with sailboats.

Another difference is the technical aspects required to sail.  I'm likely to offend someone by saying the necessities of operating a powerboat largely consist of turning the key and working the throttles.  Of course there's more to it than that, but sometimes it really is that simple.  Not so with a sailboat.  There's plenty of lines that need tending to make a sailboat move efficiently (think halyards, sheets, outhauls, topping lifts, vangs, etc.).  And then there's sail shape/trim, apparent wind, points of sail, sail selection, and a myriad of other factors.  Don't forget about the safety gear that is common on sailboats but rare on powerboats like harnesses, tethers, jacklines, MOB poles, and drogues.  While mastering all of these isn't necessary to sail, doing so is a lot of fun and is part of what makes sailors feel like they are a part of the boat.

Plenty of lines pictured here on Bearly-A-Wake's mainsail and mast.

Is range important to you?  Do you care how far you can travel without pulling into port to refuel and restock?  Sailboats can theoretically take you farther for less.  Yes, fuel consumption and costs are part of this equation and can be a factor for choosing sail over power, but beyond that, sailboats, when rigged properly and run by a competent crew, can literally cross oceans and roam the planet.  There are some powerboats that can do that too, but they are few and far between and are all very expensive to purchase and maintain.  The trade offs are often speed and budget.

Lifelong sailors reading this might be wondering what's the draw to a powerboat other than getting somewhere quickly, so I'll tell you.  One of my biggest gripes about sailboats is small cockpits.  I've got a wife, three kids, and two dogs that all want to be outside in the sun and fresh air, which a powerboat often accommodates more comfortably with seemingly acres of padded seats and open space protected by tall bulwarks.  My experiences owning both power and sailboats also tells me most powerboats handle better around docks and marinas.  The extra horsepower and twin engines on many powerboat cruisers offers better control and quicker response if you know how to use them.  Backing a sailboat with a ~20hp single inboard engine spinning a tiny two-blade prop positioned between a big rudder and an even bigger keel can be a challenge.  It's a whole different experience in a twin ~300+ hp engine powerboat with big 4-blade props and no keel to fight your efforts to turn.  

All that cockpit and exterior lounging space is sure nice on powerboats.

If you've been aboard both a powerboat and a sailboat, you know that each has a very distinct motion.  For the sake of this discussion, I'm primarily talking about sailboats as a displacement hull form and powerboats as a planing hull.  For me, the motion of a sailboat slicing through the waves while heeled over is unique and gratifying which is why it doesn't take long for my sea legs to arrive once I've stepped aboard.  Every time we have someone aboard who hasn't sailed before, one of the first things they mention is usually something about heeling and the general lack of bow slapping.  Often they say something like "Is it suppose to lean like that?" and "Are we going to tip over?"  There's still plenty of motion in a powerboat, but it's more predictable and as you might expect it to be.  There's also that speed thing again, so some of the movement in a powerboat can become jarring in certain conditions.     
I could probably continue on about the differences and contrasts between types of watercraft, but what I've actually come to realize is that as sailors and powerboaters, we all share some foundational traits.  We all love time spent on and near the water. We all have the freedom to explore watery parts of the world where many can't.  And we're all passionate about our boats to a degree that land folk sometimes can't understand. 

A Peek at Two Small-ish Deck Saloons

"The brain size of people who see big dreams is the same as yours."
-Vineet Raj Kapoor

It's not the size of your brain, but rather how you choose to use it.  To put that quote in simple boat terms, not all boats of the same length are created the same.  Length on deck is one thing, but interior volume and clever design are another altogether.

It wasn't so long ago that deck saloon designs were almost exclusively reserved for large cruising boats and even when they weren't, the proportions often looked off on anything smaller than 45 feet in length.  But what's the appeal of a deck saloon anyway?  Probably the most obvious is a flood of natural light to the cabin because of the raised saloon wrapped in windows that provides 360 degrees of viewing pleasure. There's also a nice single level flow from the cockpit into the cabin (Moody calls this "living on one level") like you'd find on most cruising catamarans. The deck saloon structure itself provides nice protection in the cockpit from wind and spray as well as some shade overhead from the coach roof, but it's not like you'll need it since DS's also often include an inside helm station for piloting in snotty weather.  To my eyes and senses, today's deck saloons feel like a hybrid between a monohull and a catamaran.

So with that, welcome to sailing in the 2020's and a pair of really well-proportioned and designed small-ish deck saloons from two European builders - the Sirius 310 DS and the Moody Decksaloon 41.  While both the 41 from Moody and the 310 from Sirius are each builder's current smallest offering, Sirius does offer a more direct competitor to Moody's 41 in the Sirius 40 DS, but I'm really intrigued by the little 310, so I'll focus there in this post.  But first, let's start with the Moody.

Moody Decksaloon 41: If you're a fan of Yachting World's YouTube channel and their great walk-throughs by Toby Hodges, you may have heard that Bill Dixon (Moody's designer) and Moody wanted to include many of the features and feel of the Moody 54 and 45 into a smaller package, thus the Decksaloon 41.  Bill once told me in an interview I did with him that the 45DS is one of his personal favorite designs. "It is the result of my many years of family cruising and living aboard. Why live in a cave? Instead, have a sailing yacht with great interior visibility and a deep, safe cockpit. All this in a boat that really sails fast."  While Bill was referring to the 45 with those comments, I'm guessing much of that applies to the new 41 too.

Moody Decksaloon 41 (Photo: HanseYachts AG)

With the sliding door on the Moody 41, you can easily open the cockpit to the saloon and create one large entertaining and living space, which seems like a really good idea while at anchor.  She also features a deep protected cockpit with twin wheels and side decks with tall bulwarks to make transits to the foredeck safe.  Speaking of the foredeck, check out the built-in sun pad and lounge seat above the large port that pours light into the master cabin below.  I haven't been aboard the Moody Decksaloon 41, but if it sails as well as it appears to coddle its' crew while docked/anchored, Moody will have a winner.

Notice the beam is carried all the way aft. (Photo: HanseYachts AG)

Siruis 310 DS: If you want a deck saloon cruiser that's on the small side but still has plenty of space for a cruising couple and occasional guests, there aren't many options.  However, Sirius offers the 310 DS to meet your needs and with 14 layouts available, you don't have to compromise on customizing the boat just the way you want it.  Each of the 14 layouts features a raised saloon and the bright, airy interior that DS's are known for.  The biggest decision you’ll have to make when considering which layout is best for you is what to do with the space beneath the saloon.  You can choose a second double cabin or dedicate the space to a work/storage area and a large head compartment instead. After that, you can choose forward cabin accommodations. There is the option of a V-berth, offset berth, and island or staggered berths.  Lastly, you can decide if you want a separate shower room.  That's a staggering amount of choices for any sailboat, let alone a 31-footer.

Twin keels and low tides are meant to be together. The Sirius 310DS has options
for twin keels, a lifting keel, or a fin keel.

I hope you're not dizzy from all the layout choices, because there are other choices to consider.  For example, what keel type do you prefer?  Sirius offers the 310DS with a twin keel, lifting keel, and shallow or deep fin keel. I'm not aware of any other new twin keel cruisers available for sale in the United States, so if you're itching to take advantage of free bottom cleanings during low tide, here's your ticket.

Normally a cruiser in the 31-foot range can feel like a compromise, like you're giving up space for more room in the budget or accommodations for something small and easily manageable, but the 310 DS seems to be much bigger than the sum of its' parts.

Living large with just 31 feet

I'm hoping to check out these unique sailboats sometime soon now that both are available for sale here in the United States.  What about you?  Have you been aboard either yet and what are your thoughts on DS's?  Leave your thoughts below in the comments.

Want more content and posts about sailboat design and specific boats?
Visit SFLF's Sailboat Reviews page.

Why Didn't I Think of That? Gee Whiz Sailboat Innovations

"If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong."
-Charles Kettering

When I dig down deep, I'm a crusty old salt and I like my boats that way too.  Some that are nearest and dearest to me are full keel double-enders that are slow and porky.  In fact, here's a list of some of my all-time favorites.  Still, I have to admit there's also something appealing about new innovative designs and features, which is what this post is all about.  But before we get to the real topic, indulge in a little nostalgia from the good ole days of bluewater cruising; Remember when "Westsail the World" was a slogan that stirred the soul and beckoned you to go beyond the horizon in search of coconut palms, blue lagoons, and a simple life at sea?  Neither do I, but only because I was born in 1975 and Westsail had already been building and marketing their 32-footer for several years prior.  Production cruising sailboats were on the rise and simple, salty designs were de rigueur of the day.  Today, it takes more than a catchy slogan and a capable boat to capture a cruising boat buyer's attention. 

Over the last couple of years, a few features and gear have caught my attention as interesting, if not always necessary, forms of innovation for cruising.  I'll start with 5 or 6 examples that are part of the design for existing production sailboats.  Then I'll share a few pieces of gear that I also find innovative and useful for cruisers.  If you have favorite recent innovations that make boating more enjoyable, easier, or safer please share them with me in the comments below.

Sailboat Design Innovations

Catalina 545 dumbwaiter: I don't suppose there's anything particularly new or innovative about a dumbwaiter in and of itself since they've been around at least since the late 1800's.  After all, a dumbwaiter is just a small freight elevator or lift intended to carry objects (as opposed to people) between two levels in a structure.  But have you seen one on a sailboat before?  I'm guessing there are some superyachts floating out there somewhere that have dumbwaiters (and real waiters), but having one on a cruising sailboat that's purpose is to send food, drinks, and other items from the galley to the deck without having to navigate steps in a seaway is a nice idea.  See it in action on the new Catalina 545 in this video from SpinSheet Magazine

Catalina 545's "dumbwaiter" lift as seen in YouTube screenshot.

Amel 60 prop inspection port: Have you ever had a sneaking suspicion that your prop was fouled with weeds, fishing line, crab pots, or even a poorly doused spinnaker that hit the water before you could bag it on deck?  I'll admit to at least a couple of those gaffes.  The remedy for me was to don my mask and get in the water for an inspection, which if you're in the Great Lakes in May means water temps in the 50 degree Fahrenheit range. Amel has a much better idea with this inspection port that allows you to check the prop without getting wet.  The port is factory installed beneath the aft master berth and gives a good view of what's going on with the propeller.

The Amel 60's prop inspection port on the berth in the aft cabin.
(Photo from a Yachting World YouTube video screen capture)

Halberg Rassy toe rail drains and self-closing hatchboards: Have you ever been so vain as to be annoyed by streaks on your hull from water draining off the deck?  If so, Halberg Rassy has your back on many of their models.  The in-deck drains on HR's are connected to hoses that empty beneath the waterline so there is no staining of the hullsides.  That's a simple solution for an age-old problem. But HR's innovation doesn't end there.  Check out the companionway on the new Halberg Rassy 40c?  It's spring-loaded to pop up and close all on it's own with one simple push of your fingertip.  So long as this proves to be reliable over the years, I'll take this innovation over storing and installing drop boards any day.

A photo doesn't do the pop-up companionway hatch justice on the
new HR 40c.  Check this one out on YouTube to see it in action.

Beneteau/Jeanneau retractable dinghy davits: I much prefer having a dinghy on davits as opposed to dragging it behind or having to hoist it on deck, but traditional davits do occasionally have a drawback of being in the way and/or simply looking like an eyesore on an otherwise beautiful boat.  Beneteau and Jeanneau address this by using retractable dinghy davits that disappear into the transom when not in use and telescope up when you need to lift the dinghy.   

Here's a look at the davits extended on Jeanneau 54 from BoatTest.com

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490 pop-up microwave: Jeanneau makes this list twice, and again for something that pops up when you need it and retracts into hiding when you don't.  This time it's the galley microwave on the new Sun Odyssey 490.  When not in use, the microwave pushes down into the counter and is covered by a lid that functions as increased counter space for cooking, prepping, etc.  When you need to heat up that cup of Ramen noodles, simply flip the lid back and gently press the top of the microwave and then step back and watch it rise for service. 

Screenshot from BoatTest.com's Youtube tour of the SO490

Sailboat Gear Innovations

SiOnyx Aurora Sport night camera: Do you have night-vision envy when you walk down the dock and see little R2D2 looking FLIR domes on the big fancy boats?  SiOnxy has come up with a more affordable option for seeing better in the dark and it's called their Aurora Sport camera.  The Aurora Sport uses ultra low-light infrared sensor technology (instead of FLIR's thermal imaging) to provide monochrome or color night vision.  For less than $400 this is a more affordable option than most of what's available from FLIR, except for the FLIR One Pro that attaches to smartphones but isn't really great for night vision.  
Here's the handy little SiOnxy Aurora Sport. 

Davis Snap Tool: There are actually plenty of pocket multi-tools around these days and there are even a few specific to boating and sailing, but I really like the Snap Tool from Davis Instruments since combines a few things I haven't seen together before such as a shackle key and deck plate key.  The button snap and "un-snapper" as well as the zipper pull/hook are also surprisingly useful for finicky bimini tops and other canvas. 

Gotta love the Five O'Clock feature in the center of Davis' SnapTool

ThrowRaft TD2401: The ThrowRaft is the solution for space challenged cockpits that still need a USGG approved Type IV throwable PDF since it is 9-times smaller than a ring buoy when packed.  This nifty little PFD can be thrown packed or inflated, both 40+ feet.  It also fits nicely in a ditch bag.

    >> Don't forget to visit SFLF's Gear Review page for more sailing gear reviews/tests. <<

Let the Sun Shine - UV Skinz Sunwear Review

"Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson sums up a life on the water so simply.  For those who enjoy being on the water living in the sunshine, swimming in the sea, and drinking in the wild air is all part of the experience.  Sailing obviously entails plenty of time in the sun, particularly if you like the climate and warmth in the little latitudes like I do.  So if you're going to float and be on the water for any length of time, you'd better have good protection from the sun's UV rays.  Enter the line of clothing from UV Skinz.

They have affordable and stylish clothes, or "Sunwear", that offer sun protection for the whole family.  But that's not entirely unique since many clothing brands offer swimshirts and UV protection.  What is unique is that UV Skinz focuses entirely on producing UPF50+ sunwear products.  I also appreciate their family focus and company foundation that didn't begin with just a push to make money.  UV Skinz's founder, Rhonda Sparks, lost her 32-year old husband to skin cancer and made it her life's mission to raise awareness about the disease.

My family and I each have an item of UV Skinz sunwear and have found the quality, fit, and feel to all be very nice.  I personally have a pullover hoodie that is lightweight and comfortable even in the sun.  Hoodies are my "go to" choice for comfort, but most that I have are heavy and hot and don't leave my closet once spring arrives.  The UV Skinz hoodie is perfect for keeping the sun off your skin but still allowing air flow and freedom of movement.  It can also serve as a swim shirt, though I haven't had it in the water yet myself. Erin went with a v-neck Maxi Dress, a modest choice for either a beachside cover-up or dinner out.  Note that it's made of 52 percent cotton, 43 percent bamboo and 5 percent elastane blend giving it a light, stretchy feel while still providing UPF 50+ sun protection.  The girls each went with something to match their own style and personality.  This meant Soleil chose the Sunny Swim Shirt, perfect for the girl with a solar name and a love for the beach and swimming.  Izzy has the Feats Over Faults Wrap Top and Hannah the Feats Over Faults Crop Top.  If you're looking for sunwear that's made right and from a company that cares, give UV Skinz a look.

The Coolest Showdown - Yeti Tundra vs. Pelican Elite vs. Igloo Maxcold

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold; when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." 
-Charles Dickens

That's exactly the dichotomy we're seeking with our coolers.  We want just a few cubic feet of shaded winter cold to keep our beverages frosty on those blazingly warm summer days on the water.  Only a decade or so ago it would have been tough to imagine so many choices in coolers.  I mean seriously, we're just talking about an insulated box, so how many different options and competition can there really be?

As it turns out, there are plenty of each.  The most recent trend is towards high end and high priced rotomolded coolers.  The sales pitch is that these rotomolded hard-sided coolers keep your stuff colder for longer in a heavy-duty product.  We've been using a variety of the more traditional non-rotomolded plastic coolers from Igloo for years and also a rotomolded Pelican Elite for at least the last 3 years.  A Yeti Tundra 45 showed up under the Christmas tree this year, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to compare the Yeti with a traditional Igloo and the Pelican and then perform a non-scientific ice retention challenge between all three.  Keep reading to learn a bit about each of the coolers and see the results.  Let me put a little disclaimer right here up front: Each of these coolers isn't necessarily a great direct competitor for the others since they have widely varying capacities and prices, but they're what I've got on-hand for a test, so play along.

The YETI Tundra 45 is billed as a tough premium cooler and happens to be YETI's best-seller from what I can tell. For a retail price of $299.99, YETI will sell you one in your choice of four colors (Mine is "Desert Tan").  I suppose the most important feature of this or any cooler is the insulation.  The Tundra 45 has up to two inches of insulation in the sidewalls and lid.  While it is not nearly as  lightweight as a traditional plastic Igloo, I was actually expecting the Tundra 45 to feel heavier than it's 23 pound dry weight implies.  A couple other features I really like are the drain plug (every cooler should have one!) and rubber non-slip feet which are a necessity when you're keeping the cooler in a bouncy, open, and potentially wet boat cockpit.  YETI's "T-Rex" rubber lid latches work well and feel robust enough to last many seasons.  The lid gasket and included basket are also nice touches.  And if you really want to trick-out your cooler, YETI will be happy to sell you a variety of custom fit accessories such as an exterior beverage holder, dividers, SeaDek non-skid toppers, a rod holder, a tie-down kit, and a security lock/cable/bracket to protect your pricey cooler from theft.

Capacity: 45 quarts (or 28 cans of beer using a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio)
Exterior dimensions: 16 1/8" x 15 3/8" x 25 3/4"
Empty weight: 23 lbs.
Retail price: $299.99

The Pelican 20QT Elite is an absolute tank of a rotomolded cooler.  It's capacity (and price) is less than half of the YETI Tundra 45, but the weight is still a beefy 16 pounds.  Oddly, it's called the "20QT Elite" but Pelican lists the volume at 19 quarts.  I guess they like to round up just like many boat manufacturers do.  It also has nice non-slip rubber feet and thick sidewall and lid insulation, but the rest of it's features and construction differs.  A major drawback for me is the lack of a drain plug.  Nobody wants to tip the cooler over for draining and disturb the contents and deal with spilling water, regardless of it's small capacity.  The latches on the Pelican are hard plastic with release buttons, which work well and seem rugged.  As I mentioned in the opening, I've had this cooler for several years and haven't had any issues with the latches breaking or not closing securely.  There's also a nice flip-up handle for one-handed lugging, although the molded side handles are much easier to use since this thing is heavy.  Another feature I really like is the built-in metal bottle opener.  As with the YETI, Pelican also has a decent variety of accessories that fit this cooler.  Lastly, Pelican backs their Elite coolers with a lifetime warranty as compared to YETI's 5 year warranty on Tundra coolers.

Capacity: 19 quarts (or 15 cans of beer)
Exterior dimensions: 12.60" x 17.70" x 18.80"
Empty weight: 16 lbs.
Retail price: $149.95

The Igloo Maxcold series is probably familiar to you and you may even own one (or more).  These are the affordable, plastic workhorses of tailgating and backyard barbecues.  I suspect the reason being is that they work fairly-well and don't cost an arm and a leg.  This particular model lacks a drain plug (Ugh!!) but does feature built-in wheels for easy transport.  The handles are plastic, which can be a weakness if you're moving it around a lot.  I broke a handle on ours last year under what I consider normal use.  The lid opens along the length of the cooler, which isn't necessarily a plus or minus for me, but I don't like that it's not affixed to the cooler by any means other than some molded nubs in the plastic.  This means the lid comes completely off just about every time you open it.  Why not at least include another cheap plastic hinge to keep this from happening?  

Capacity: 40 quarts
Exterior dimensions: 12.88" x 17.38" x 23"
Empty weight: 10.5 lbs.
Retail price: $48.99

Cooler Ice Test Results 
Alright, enough with the general specs and observations, let's get on with the ice test!  As I mentioned above, the three coolers discussed in this review aren't necessarily natural rivals nor fit for direct comparison since they vary so widely in capacity and price.  However, they happen to be the three coolers I own and will use most frequently, so they'll be the contestants in the ice retention challenge.

The purpose of my test is essentially to see which cooler can retain ice the longest.  However, my methods are by no means scientific and contain room for future improvement.  In any case, the following is what I did to test ice retention.  I used a bag of store bought ice for each cooler.  The YETI got a 20 lbs bag (it actually weighed 23.4 lbs when purchased) because of it's larger volume and the Pelican and Igloo each got a 7 lbs bag (8.9 lbs and 9.3 lbs respectively, when purchased) because they couldn't hold the larger bag.  I kept each cooler in my basement utility room during the test, which had a mostly constant temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  I then left the coolers closed and undisturbed except for periodic check-ups to weigh the remaining ice in each bag.  Below are my results.

Ice Retention Results

What do the above results show?  Well, it's difficult to definitely say, but I'm very pleased with the performance of the YETI.  In fact, as of over 100 hours after initially adding ice to the YETI, there's still over 50% remaining as I'm writing this post.  I'll admit, while the conditions in my basement remained constant throughout the test for all three coolers, those conditions were not demanding and not indicative of the conditions these coolers will see while I'm using them.  For example, a constant ambient temperature of 70 degrees with zero sun and wind exposure isn't going to happen in the back of my cockpit.  And neither is it realistic that these coolers won't be opened many times each day by my kids, guests, and myself to grab a drink.  So, my basement environment represents to me the very best case scenario for cooler performance and I can expect much less ice retention in real world use.

I'm also not quite sure what to make of the results from each cooler relative to the others since cooler volume varies greatly and the initial volume of ice was much greater for the YETI.  If the YETI had a similar ~9 lbs of initial ice, would it have fared as well or would the increased empty air space in the cooler been an equalizer?  I honestly don't know.  What I can say is that anecdotally, I've always been a bit underwhelmed by the Pelican's real world ice retention as I've used it over the last several years.  I always thought for the price and weight, it should perform better and so seeing it's results in this test aren't a surprise.  Seeing the ~$50 Igloo keep pace with the Pelican was a bit of a surprise.

Like many purchases, the decision about which cooler to purchase comes down to performance, features, and price.  Given that we now have an ice maker onboard our boat, performance is less of a factor for me, although it's still important.  Durability is important to me since I've replaced broken handles, hinges, and lid latches on a couple different Igloo coolers over the years.  We also keep our cooler in a location in the cockpit where it does double duty as a step onto the gunwale.  The Igloo we've been keeping there cracked in multiple spots last season because of this.  I'm confident the YETI and the Pelican can't be cracked by simply stepping on them.  I've already mentioned how important a drain plug is to me, and neither the Pelican nor the Igloo have one.  So it comes down to deciding if spending $300 on a YETI Tundra 45 is worth it.  For us the answer is yes.  This cooler should last a very long time and perform well doing it.  Should you rush out and buy one?  I can't answer that, particularly since there are several other brands that are now direct competitors for the YETI Tundra series.  

While putting this blog post together and researching coolers, I incidentally came across some information for maximizing ice retention and cooler performance.  In fact, all three manufacturers provide some tips.  Here's a few of my favorites:

1) Pre-chill your cooler.  If you're loading a cooler that's already been sitting in the sun, it's gonna take a fair bit of the initial ice load just to cool the interior, let alone any items you want to keep cold. Pre-chilling seems obvious and is perhaps not always practical, but it makes a big difference.

2)  Not all ice is created equal.  Block ice lasts longer.  Cubes/chipped ice does a better job filling gaps and using available space.  Warm ice (~32 degrees) won't last as long as colder, dryer ice (duh!).  A combination of an ice block and cubes to fill gaps and top things off helps maximize cooler efficiency.

3) Keep air space to a minimum.  The more air you have inside the cooler, the more ice you'll need to chill it.  Air also carries off the cold whenever your cooler is opened, so having less of it is a good thing.  Maximize ice retention by filling air space with extra ice, towels, or just about anything you can.

Have an opinion on the best coolers for boating or simply want to share your experience?  Feel free to leave a comment below.  

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