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Custom cooler

Posted by Hansen 
Custom cooler
April 07, 2017 03:50AM
2 questions about coolers...
Do most people with decked boats put the coolers under the deck? Seems like that would limit you to a small cooler but I've never seen an alternative. Has anybody seen a decking design that allows for a "drop in" cooler?
Also, I'm thinking about building a custom cooler to fit in the rowing compartment of my rubber boat. Mostly I'm doing this so that I can get some experience with fiberglass before committing to a full boat project. Can anybody offer advice on the type of glass to use, what kind of paint/ interior finish, favored suppliers, amount / type of epoxy etc etc? I'm actually going to do a wooden captains box on one side and an insulated (foam) box on the other. I feel pretty good about the wood and foam parts but would appreciate any and all advice on the fiberglass front.
Re: Custom cooler
April 08, 2017 01:10PM
Good question. I'm building a decked boat. I'm still stuck in low gear though, diverted by remodeling a ten year old open boat. I'm almost done with the ten year remodeling. Then back to the decked boat. I started this decked boat project two years ago but lost an entire year to health problems. Now I'm back at it.

I'm thinking about a lot of things. Not much is settled yet. If I do make a drop-in cooler hole I'll use a store bought cooler.

Another possibility is a portable kitchen. In a post above (or maybe below) I talked about white water payload, and about Cyrus Happy's big Deschutes River boats that can take up to six passengers in two rows of seats where they sit side by side in two rows of three. That's a big boat. With a 20' foot gunwale.

My boat isn't that big (18' foot gunwale) but I'll make two rows of two. But most of the time I'll have only one or two passengers. In fact I'm retired and will NEVER have four passengers. So I'll make an optional drop-in storage locker for one passenger row. That drop-in box will have some sort of a swing-down leg mechanism (once lifted out of the boat) so it becomes a portable kitchen.

Those kitchen boxes are a long tradition on the Deschutes. They've died out mostly now with everybody using factory made aluminum boats but guys did make them long ago, during the hey day of wooden boats. I did a 4 day Deschutes trip with Ray Heater and his son Casey once. And Ray had a portable kitchen like that. Sure was handy. And on an 18' foot decked boat that can take four passengers the portable kitchen will completely fill a two person passenger slot...................that I'll never use. But it will be a boat others could use (without the drop in kitchen) for four person commercial dude trips.

I've made home made coolers in the past. I used blue exterior foundation foam and glass. Foundation foam has a slick surface glass will not adhere to but you can rough it up softly with a random orbit sander and 220 sand paper. Lightly. Then you can get glass to stick to it. Cut table saw slots in the foam to insert wooden reinforcements in a few places and/or edges.

Cooler paint choices are the same as for hulls. Automotive or good one part boat paint or oil based house paint. s In that order--of both durability and cost. Someday I'll try "epoxy" concrete floor paint. I've never done a hull that way but I've done several garage floors with it and it is tough stuff.

Automotive paint has to be sprayed. One part alkyd boat paint and/or house paint can be rolled and tipped. Ah. One more option. I was a commercial floor finisher for a few years. Water based floor finishes get better all the time. And now I see it's finally becoming possible to get them in colors. Water based floor finish would not work for a boat left in the water all summer, like some big power boats. But it would work just fine for a drift boat that comes up on a trailer at the end of every day.

Water based floor finish would be just fine for a cooler.
Re: Custom cooler
April 08, 2017 09:17PM
Thanks Sandy.
You think 6oz glass?
Guess on amount of epoxy to buy?
Preference on brand / supplier?
Re: Custom cooler
April 08, 2017 09:55PM
I have a whole roll of 6oz 38" inch wide I use for almost everything. Plus a small quantity of a fine weave 3.5oz fabric that's good for making baby bottom smooth surfaces. Either would be fine for a cooler.


I used West System for many years. Then I switched to Raka because it was cheaper. I'm planning to switch back to West because Raka is more prone to crystallizing in cold weather. And that we still have in Montana.

Jason Cajun has long used System III. Jason says it has the least "blush," which is a waxy precipitate that forms on the surface of freshly dried resins. If you don't do a whole layup all in one day you have to wash off the blush and sand in between layers.

Maybe I'll try System III next. Raka is fine if you use it all up but it doesn't like to spend the Winter in a cold shop. You can fix it by heating in a microwave. I bought a big one at a pawn shop. I never needed it for West System.
Re: Custom cooler
April 08, 2017 10:42PM
Check out Brad Dimocks blog fretwaterlines, he has recent pictures and discussion of building a custom foam/glass cooler.
Re: Custom cooler
April 10, 2017 05:59PM
I've been wondering for a while why no one builds one hatch as a cooler. Seems like it'd be pretty easy to use some blue foam, glassed, as the bulkheads for one section. Add some to the floor, glass over, and the hatch lid, and you've got a cooler. Don't want cold stuff? You've only lost a couple inches of volume, and can still use it as dry storage.

Am I missing something that makes the idea less appealing than it seems?
Re: Custom cooler
April 10, 2017 09:52PM
DavidCline Wrote:
> I've been wondering for a while why no one builds
> one hatch as a cooler. Seems like it'd be pretty
> easy to use some blue foam, glassed, as the
> bulkheads for one section. Add some to the floor,
> glass over, and the hatch lid, and you've got a
> cooler. Don't want cold stuff? You've only lost a
> couple inches of volume, and can still use it as
> dry storage.
> Am I missing something that makes the idea less
> appealing than it seems?

I've thought through this a little. Biggest problem with a built in cooler in my opinion is how to drain it. When life lets me finish the inside of my boat I plan to set up the rear seat as a cooler that can be dropped in and strapped down. Hopefully this will also help balance the boat when riding passengers up front.
Re: Custom cooler
April 10, 2017 09:59PM
If the cooler is built into the boat you can make a drain that goes straight down--out through the bottom of the boat. As long as the bottom of the cooler is above the average water line it will drain.

Look at the foot well drain here, in the floor of this Dayak foot well:

A built-in cooler area could be made to work but instead I'd just make one more depression in the deck, somewhat like the box for the rower's feet. Into that depression you would drop down and lift out a modular, completely separate cooler. The depression that receives the cooler would have to drain..............somewhat as above.

The hole in the floor of that little dayak squirts water up occasionally, in big water. But so what? in big water it's coming over the side too. Most of the time it drains almost instantly. And that floor is only about 3" inches above water line. If that.

I didn't read the blog mentioned above. I just looked at the photos. They do good work. Did they mention foam caulk? Blue foam has to be roughed up a bit with fine sand paper in order to get resin to stick. But I use resin only for the fabric coating. It's handier to put the foam pieces together with a caulking gun. Liquid Nails just melts the foam. But they do sell special tubes of caulk/glue for foam. Squirt. Press together. Walk away. Glass tomorrow.
Re: Custom cooler
April 11, 2017 12:07AM
I think the obvious downside is not being able to lift out the cooler to carry it closer to the kitchen but I don't see a reason you couldn't double insulate, i.e. drop a yeti (or other) cooler into a hatch made of foam. Space permitting of course. I'm still struggling with finding / buying plans that include decking for anything other than a Briggs boat so I don't know if the dimensions would work out after losing the space for the foam...
Re: Custom cooler
April 11, 2017 12:16AM
RE> Struggling with decked plans not a Briggs.

It's not that hard. Buy plans for an open boat, perhaps one with an 18' foot gunwale. Then build a deck with no holes yet. Put it on. Take it off.

Sit in the boat on a cooler at rowing height, with oars and tape measure and clip board in hand. Write it down 3 or 4 times. Measure twice. Cut once. Dave Inskeep has a framed (originally open) Tatman boat he made into a decked white water boat. He just narrowed his eyes and jumped right in. That boat must be going on 20 years old now. I've rowed it. It's heavier than all get out. But it's still a damn fine boat.

Most decked boats have way too many partitions. The first decked boats were made from traditional McKenzies with ribs. They had those ribs and they started making left to right partitions that fastened to the ribs. And once they got started they couldn't stop.

You only need one left to right partition, in the middle, near the weight of the rower's butt and another behind the passengers. Gear that goes below can be strapped or bungie-corded into place, so it doesn't shift. You have more freedom to place oddly shaped stuff below decks without all those partitions. I've watched friends loading up decked boats and it's like a jig saw puzzle. Too many partitions are far more trouble than they're worth.
Re: Custom cooler
April 11, 2017 02:09AM
I've thought a lot about the partition thing, and I think Sandy's mostly right. I do think there's some value in some divisions, but overall, I'm with you on having larger shapes to work with.

The draining is the obvious question mark. I know I would not be OK with my cooler simply being open to the water beneath. Yes, I understand the physics of being above the average water line, but under no circumstances would I leave my cooler drain plug open to beneath. What about just a quick little bilge pump for the cooler bay instead of a drain plug? Maybe even just a siphon bulb from WalMart as a little foot pump to drain the cooler?

Other than having ice for cocktails, I'm on the verge of not using ice anymore anyway. I freeze everything that can be frozen, and I've got a lot of the "Hello Fresh" ice packs that have a lower melting point than ice anyway.
Re: Custom cooler
April 12, 2017 02:56PM
As a tangential thought, why unload your cooler every night and reload it in the boat every day. Consider just "going shopping" with a bucket or bag and just take those items needed for the meal. On long river trips we used to mark the contents of every cooler and container with their contents. Every night a different group would make dinner and breakfast. They didn't have to know where everything was, they just had to read that nights menu plan and gather the required items. Of course that meant we had to write up a menu plan. It was a bunch of work the first time but on 14 plus day trips organization made life pretty darn easy. I still have menus, recipes and the shopping lists for many meals. This was long before computers were around. I had a girlfriend that wanted me to be able to spend time with her, not organizing the meals every day and night.

Rick N
Re: Custom cooler
April 21, 2017 04:23PM
Next time I will make a drop in area for a large cooler and sit on top to row. I will kept it tight and pump out water the fills around it. I currently use smaller coolers and keep them under the deck. No matter which you prefer, get your coolers first and build them into your plan.
Re: Custom cooler
June 30, 2018 03:57AM
Considering rules shifting toward "bear fences" on rivers like the Smith of Montana the inbuilt cooler has another negative aspect. No way to move it to the bear fence.
Re: Custom cooler
June 30, 2018 11:17AM
I'm making a drop-in area. Trouble is you have to hard code that to the dimensions of some particular cooler. I've got two big Igloo coolers. One big and one hugeic.
Re: Custom cooler
July 09, 2018 08:45PM
Like Sandy mentioned, next time I will build a drop in space for the cooler and make it the rowers seat. Keep the space tight so it won't hold much water. Add a 1000 GPM pump to get the water out.
Re: Custom cooler
August 04, 2018 03:35AM
My personal thought and plan when I get to that point is to build a drop in cooler that will serve as passenger seating or that will ride directly behind that rower. Weight distribution is my first concern and my second is rigging for a flip. ensuring that a full cooler is not going to damage the boat in a flip is certainly a concern. I don't mind dropping the money on a good cooler that is dedicated to the boat if everything rides perfect.
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