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.  

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

Sirius Signal C-1003 Distress Light - A newly improved flare replacement?

"The sea, the great unifier, is man's only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat." 
- Jacques Yves Cousteau

Jacques may be right about all of us being in the same boat, but that no longer means we all carry the same kind of emergency distress signaling gear.  As I wrote a few years ago when Sirius Signal released their original A-1001 LED SOS distress light, conventional pyrotechnic flares have some serious competition for keeping boaters safe and complying with U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

But before we dive into the details, you might be wondering just what is an LED SOS distress light and which USCG regs are relevant.  An LED SOS distress light, often referred to as an electronic Visual Distress Signal Device (eVDSD) in the industry, is simply a battery operated light that flashes SOS in Morse code.  The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 175.130 states that an electric distress light meeting the standards of 46 CFR 161.013 is acceptable for meeting the night only requirement for vessels 16 feet or more in length.  To make a long story short, the Sirius Signal C-1003 (and the A-1001) meets the standards and is acceptable. 46 CFR 161.013 specifies several light intensity, signal, and power source requirements, again all of which are met by the C-1003. Most notably, an eVDSD that emits light over an arc of the horizon of 360 degrees must have a peak equivalent fixed intensity of at least 75 candelas, which provides about 10 miles of visibility in certain conditions.  Notice above that I wrote the C-1003 is acceptable for night requirements.  To meet the day time requirement, Sirius Signal includes an orange signal flag meeting the standards of 46 CFR 160.72.  So as a package with the included signal flag, the C-1003 can be carried in place of traditional flares.

The new model (C-1003) of SOS distress light from Sirius Signal functions nearly the same as the original, but has some nice improvements. Most immediately noticeable is that the foam flotation ring has increased a bit in size to help the light float higher, thus increasing visibility.  Essentially, the whole unit is similar in form factor to a handheld flashlight and so the molded pattern on the handle has also been changed to provide improved grip, particularly in wet conditions I presume.

To turn on the distress light function, you simply twist the clear lens on top of the unit clockwise and the bright LED flashes the Morse code SOS signal continuously for ~60+ hours on a fresh set of C-cell batteries, which are included.  To turn off the light, twist the lens counterclockwise.  The lens is fully removable to replace batteries, but you'll need to make sure you don't twist counterclockwise too far when turning the light off otherwise the lens will back away from the two o-rings and compromise the waterproof housing.  It feels sturdy and the electronics seem well made.  While I'm no electronics expert, you can find the same opinion from someone who is - Ben Ellison from Panbo.  There are also two shockcord lanyards built into the handle for securing the light and/or keeping it on your wrist while in use.  Lastly, a signaling whistle is also included in the package.  So for less than $90 USD, you get the light, the batteries, the daytime distress flag, and the whistle.  For comparison sake, handheld flare kits run about $35 for a four pack while flare guns with included flares run $75+.  You'll get about 3 seasons out of the flares before they expire, which means if you're truly going to replace your flare kit with an eVDSD, you won't recoup your cost until about year 3 or so.

However, cost isn't and shouldn't be the only factor you consider when comparing traditional flares with an eVDSD like the C-1003.  Flares will usually be more visible than an eVDSD.  For example, many are rated at 700 (or much more) candelas as opposed to the 75 for the C-1003 and many are able to be launched several hundred feet into the air.  The smoke from daytime signal flares is also potentially visible at a longer range than a signal flag.  So what's the downside to traditional flares?  Well first is the expiration dates and replacement costs that I've already mentioned.  Second, burn times measure in minutes as opposed to hours of operation for eVDSD's.  And remember that word "pyrotechnic"?  Flares produce chemical reactions that give off immense heat and are a fire hazard as well as an environmental hazard.  Speaking of which, have you found anywhere that will accept expired flares?  The Sirius Signal C-1003 has advantages beyond cost and longevity too.  First and foremost for me is safety.  They don't pose a fire hazard in storage or while in use.  And on a related note, the C-1003 should be air travel friendly if you're flying to use a boat and want to make sure you've got safety signal gear covered.  And another bonus is that you can use the C-1003 as MOB marker by tossing at a MOB to help you return for recovery.

So what's the bottomline?  Well for me, I carry a Sirius Signal eVDSD as my primary nighttime distress signaling device and the signal flag for daytime use and enjoy not worrying about expired flares and purchasing new ones every few seasons.  I carry a set of extra C-cell batteries and check the charge in both sets seasonally.  We don't go offshore, but if I did frequently I might consider carrying a pack or two of the expired flares I have laying around my garage too.  As it is, I think the C-1003 is perfect for the way many boaters enjoy the afternoon or weekend at a time.

Ready to purchase a Sirius Signal C-1003? Visit their website to get the full package for $89.95.

Want to see the C-1003 in action?  Watch the video below for SOS distress light operation in my basement:

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

See the Invisible - Shady Rays Sunglasses Review

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."
-Jonathan Swift

I’ve only tried one pair of Shady Rays, but I can confidently say that these are affordable, quality sunglasses that look good and get the job done.  And if you’re the type of person that wants to feel good about the companies you do business with, Shady Rays gets some points there too.  They are an independent sunglasses company that provides 11 meals for every order to help fight hunger in the U.S. through FeedingAmerica.  To date, they've provided over 2.6 million meals to fight hunger.

"Making the best shades for 24/7 action." & "Live Hard. We Got You." Those are the bars that Shady Rays has set for their brand of sunglasses.  They're aiming for an audience of active outdoor sailors.  To see if they can live up to the slogans, let's look at how they are constructed and what Shady Rays does to stand behind their product.  Each pair features shatter-resistant, high-visibility Polarized lenses construction with a lifetime craftsmanship warranty and free replacements if lost or broken.  While the craftsmanship warranty shouldn't be a surprise, free replacements for lost and broken sunglasses is a nice perk.  They also include free shipping, returns, and exchanges with new orders.  Note that you'll have to pay a shipping/handling fee if you make a lost/broken warranty claim.

The specific pair of sunglasses I tried for this post are the Signature Series Emerald Ice Polarized.  I chose these because of the classic shape combined with the slightly edgy clear gloss frame and blue-green mirror lenses.  It's sort of an old-meets-new look.  The plastic frame does feel durable and the metal hinges have kept their original tight feel through my many cycles of opening and closing the bows.  The lenses provide a crisp view with a light gray tint looking out.  To get technical, the visible light transmission (VLT) is 13% which makes these good for bright sunlight conditions.  If you want something darker for even brighter conditions, the Blackout lenses have a VLT of 8% but you loose that cool mirror finish.  Need something for lower light conditions such as dusk, dawn, and cloudy days?  Try the Glacier lenses and their VLT of 18%.  For me, the Emerald lenses hit the sweet spot.
So far, I've only been to use this in bright snowy conditions, but based on the protection and clarity they provide, I'm confident they'll get the job done on the water too. 

So those are the Shady Rays Signature Series sunglasses - a good looking frame shape with multiple lens choices and crisp vision.  They don't come with a fancy case (a microfiber pouch is included) or a snobby reputation, but you'll get functionality and style for about $45.

Ready to shop for your pair of Shady Rays? You can find the Signature Series sunglasses here in a variety of frame colors and lenses.

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

Aloha for your Feet: OluKai Footwear for Sailing

OluKai believes that everybody, no matter where they are, can live Aloha. Live "hello"? No, not exactly. The word "Aloha" goes far beyond just a greeting. The true deeper meaning is love, peace and compassion. A life of Aloha is one when the heart is so full it is overflowing with the ability to influence others around you with your spirit.

Now you're educated about Hawaii's most popular word, but what about popular Hawaiian shoes for sailing?

Shoes might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about sailing gear, but good grip and comfortable feet can make life on deck or the dock better. Here's two pair of OluKai's I've been trying out lately that I recommend for boat use:

Holona ("Sailing, Traveling")
  • Non-marking molded rubber outsole with "traction pods"
  • Built for the water: quick drying and water-resistant
  • 100% synthetic, 0% animal products
SFLF remarks: I love the low profile design but was initially concerned that this would mean they lacked the comfy, squishy footbed of other high-end sandals. Not so! These are still very comfortable under foot while feeling light. Wet traction is good, particularly for a flip-flop style sandal. While the materials are 100% synthetic, the look could fool you into thinking they're leather. Be aware that these run about 1/2 size small based on my experience.

Akahai ("Modest")
  • Full-grain leather (Canvas is also available but mine are leather)
  • Non-marking rubber outsole w/ heavy gauge sidewall stitching
  • Dual-density footbed
SFLF remarks: At first glance, these don't look like a boat shoe but the non-marking outsole, solid grip and slip-on style fit the bill. I particularly like that the heal leather can be worn up for a more secure fit or down for quick no hassle step-in performance. The stitching adds visual appeal, but is heavy-duty and feels like it will do its intended job for the long run. Arch support is very good and the upper fits snugly, perhaps a bit too snug if you don't like feeling a shoe wrapping your foot. I've worn mine with and without socks and they seem fine either way. As with the Holonas above, the Akahais run small compared to my normal shoe sizing.

I've always liked the OluKai brand. I guess the OluKai Makau fishhook logo cast from their marketing team snagged me before I even tried on one of their shoes. And their Hawaiian product names stir my desires to sail the trade winds and explore salt-soaked islands, but I can honestly say that their footwear is very high quality with styles that are outside of the norm.

Aloha for your feet!

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