Every boater knows there’s a great deal of responsibility that comes with the role of packing the boat cooler. From picking the snacks and drinks that everyone likes to keeping the contents cold all day long, when you're in charge of packing the cooler, you're in charge of delivering the smiles!

Just in time for Memorial Day Weekend, here are five things to consider packing in your boat cooler (besides beer) to keep you and your crew happy.

Beach Picnic Boat Food

Above: A group of friends picnicking on an empty beach on a sandbar accessible only via boat. Photo via Pond5.

Craft Cocktail Cruise Ingredients

There’s nothing better than a relaxing cruise to celebrate happy hour. Why not kick it up a notch by bringing along the ingredients and materials for some unique craft cocktails? Make sure you have the right boat-friendly glassware and bar tools, along with some top-notch handmade elements ready to go, including: homemade syrups, small-batch bitters and decorative garnishes to add character and style. Add some creative flare with tropical or prohibition-era themes and make sure to pre-slice things like lemons and limes. Besides the cocktails, we recommend packing the cooler with an easy appetizer spread to accompany the drinks, like an assortment of cheeses, charcuterie meats, crackers and veggies. Pack plenty of toothpicks for food handling.

Ice Cubes With A Twist

Duh, of course you’ll pack the cooler with ice! But, for drinks, having a separate bag of ice reserved for beverages is the healthy thing to do (pack ice tongs!). Score even more points by making bigger ice cubes in molds using Tupperware and adding a slice of blueberry, strawberry, lemon or mint! You’ll look forward to hydrating with water that has a hint of fresh flavor.

Salads In Cups

In mason jars or cups with lids, pasta salads and field green salads never traveled to the boat so small or efficiently. Make them the night before and just grab and pack!

Veggie & Protein Kabobs

Having plenty of finger foods on board is the way to go for a full day of boating. Sandwiches are staples for any boat day menu, but to add some variety, kabobs are easy to prep, pack and enjoy.

Popsicles & Prosecco

Sure, kids love popsicles on a hot day on the boat, but this combo is for adults. Pack organic, real fruit popsicles and a bottle of Prosecco wine, and put the popsicle in your Prosecco. A bubbly treat!

Packing Tips We Think are “Cool”

Cool your cooler. Start with a chilled or room-temperature cooler. If you store your boat cooler in the heat of a garage, give your ice a fighting chance to stay frozen by bringing the cooler inside the house for some time to cool off. This is the perfect time to clean and wipe-down the inside of the cooler.

Ace your ice. Regular ice cubes from the fridge for the win! Ice cubes chill drinks faster than ice blocks, and ice cubes are better for the environment than ice packs.

Respect your sandwiches. Serving smashed or soggy buns are total rookie moves. Some larger coolers have organizing inserts or bins to protect soft foods from cans and bottles, but if that’s not the case, wrap sandwiches already sealed in Ziploc bags with a towel for extra cushion and to keep moisture away. Better yet, keep bread out of the cooler, pack all the fixings separately, and build your sandwiches at mealtime.

Forget unnecessary packaging. You may be surprised to know that another way to keep sandwiches from getting soggy is to load up on the mayo! Which brings up another helpful pointer that involves condiments. Don’t bring the whole bottle of ranch or ketchup. Small condiment containers save valuable cooler space.

With these ideas, along with all the other things you’ll bring to the boat that don’t belong in a cooler, we hope you have a day packed with smiles. And, maybe on your way back on the dock, you’ll have a separate cooler full of fish!

Have a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend!

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in May 2020 and was last updated in May 2021.

Written by: Jennifer Burkett
Jenny is an avid boater who has worked in the marine industry for years. She developed a fondness for trawlers during her tenure at Kadey-Krogen Yachts and has an affinity for life-on-the-water, contributing articles regularly to Boat Trader, YachtWorld and boats.com. Originally from Chicago, she made her way to Maryland to escape the bone-chilling winter temperatures of the Midwest and to be close to the coastline. She's made Kent Island her home—a location that makes enjoying the Chesapeake Bay a part of her daily life.