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Choose the Best Waterproof Box

We tested the best watertight boxes and dry boxes for the boat.

  • By Randy Vance

Updated:February 20, 2020Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on pinterest Share on email

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

A waterproof box protects valuables on the water. Bill Doster

Pelican was the first company to bring these tough plastic cases and waterproof boxes to our attention years ago. But the market now is bigger than ever, and Pelican’s near monopoly has been encroached upon by a half-dozen or more competitors for watertight boxes. The boxes aren’t bulletproof, but they are tough and have an IPX waterproof rating.

How We Tested the Dry Boxes for Boats

We selected two cases from each brand’s lineup. Where possible, one boasted a clear polycarbonate plastic lid, and one boasted an opaque top made from the same tough plastic as the bottom half.

1. Load Your Waterproof Storage Box for the BoatADVERTISEMENT

The first thing my crew does when heading offshore is stash cellphones, wallets, keys and lighters in a small waterproof box. Sometimes there’s a POV camera in there as well. We went through the house and boat to find every gizmo a boater might have on board, then we started loading them up, beginning with a pair of 7-inch phones, wallets and keys. If there was room left, we added cigar lighters, one, then two POVs, and a VHF handheld. We noted how much we could stow.

2. Water-Test Waterproof Containers for Boats

Were they waterproof? We noted their IPX rating, pressed them to the bottom of a lake and held them there for an hour, and then checked inside for leakage.ADVERTISEMENT

3. Freeze Test the Waterproof Boxes

Because they are also airtight, we wanted to test the purge valve to see if they could be opened after a pressure change, since you might fly with them. Typically, the purge valve purges air but keeps out water. If it doesn’t purge air pressure, you can’t open them with a vacuum inside. So after they reached freezer temp, we tried opening each box and noted the result.

4. Testing the Valves of Watertight BoxesADVERTISEMENThttps://dc6f076f4ee919193ef9ba3e7629f061.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

We opened the frozen ones inside the chest freezer to condense the air, then resealed them and baked them in the sun to see if they would equalize the pressure. If they hissed when opened or wouldn’t open at all, we knew we had a valve failure.

5. Testing Strength of Dry Boxes for Boats

You could argue this step was a little extreme for these boxes, since there was nothing in their corporate literature to suggest they were survivable, but we wanted to try it anyway. We dropped them to the deck from 3 feet and then again from 6 feet to see if the empty containers could take the impact. They did quite well!ADVERTISEMENT

6. Testing Durability of Dry Boxes for Boats

To get down to the nut of durability between the clear and opaque tops, we dropped progressively larger weights on them (1 to 3 ounces) from 1 meter.

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

Above, some of the different waterproof dry boxes tested. Bill Doster

How We Scored the Best Waterproof Boxes After Testing

Our tests were apples to apples, but the boxes were not. Each has a different interior volume and is designed to carry different gear. So, we awarded a star in each category in which the box excelled — a win-or-lose proposition.

1. Load Your Waterproof Storage Box for the Boat: We simply noted what they held.

2. Water-Test Waterproof Containers for Boats: If it didn’t leak, it received one star.

3. Freeze Test the Waterproof Boxes: If the box opened easily after creating a vacuum, we gave it one star.

4. Testing the Valves of Watertight Boxes: One star if it opened easily under pressure

5. Testing Strength of Dry Boxes for Boats: If it survived a 3-foot drop, it got a star. It got a second star if it survived a 5-foot drop.

6. Testing Durability of Dry Boxes for Boats: It received a star if it didn’t crack on impact of a 3-ounce weight.

The total high score was six stars.

Underwater Kinetics UltraBox 308 & 406

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

The Underwater Kinetics received a score of 6 stars. Bill DosterBuy Now

About the Underwater Kinetics boxes: The durable, resiliant polymer construction inspires confidence in gear security. An adjustable wrist lanyard keeps it in place. Slots for web straps offer an additional method to secure cases.

Underwater Kinetics Specifications

  • UltraBox 308: 7.9 x 4.7 x 2.6 inside/96.5 cu. in.
  • UltraBox 406: 5.5 x 3.5 x 3.6 inside/69.3 cu. in. Material: ABS top and Lexan bottom
  • Hinges: Full-length, 11-point molded hinges with single stainless-steel pin
  • Latches: Nearly full-length with single stainless-steel pin
  • Purge/Pressurization Valve: Integrated into latch, purges upon unlatching
  • Waterproof Rating: IP67 watertight to 16 feet
  • Protective Liner: Custom, secure fit, removable corrugated rubber, independent of O-ring seal
  • Special Features: Zippered mesh protective phone pouch in lid and stackable design (works with identical boxes)
Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

Protective phone pouch is velcroed in place. Valve seals purge when unlatched. Bill Doster

Final Score: 6 Stars

1. Load ‘Em: The 308 will hold two large phones, two wallets and keys with room for a cigar. The 406 holds a POV and mounts.

2. Drown ‘Em: 1 Star | These boxes were watertight as advertised.

3. Freeze ‘Em: 1 Star | Vacuum was purged for easy opening as latch was lifted.

4. Bake ‘Em: 1 Star | Interior pressure purged as latch lifted.

5. Drop ‘Em: 2 Stars | Both boxes survived our drop tests.

6. Pop ‘Em: 1 Star | Nary a mark was made in our impact testing.

Summary: Full-length hinge and latch pins were the most durable and reliable. The boxes come with spare purge-valve plugs.

Flambeau HD Tuff Box 502 & 602

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

The Flambeau HD Tuff Box received a score of 5 stars. Bill Doster

About the Flambeau HD Tuff Box: Its removable liner is impregnated with Zerust anti-corrosion protectant. The removable thumbscrew valve and O-ring can be stowed inside for air travel.

Flambeau HD Tuff Boxes Specifications

  • HD Tuff Box 602: 8.2 x 4 x 2.1 inside/68.9 cu. in./$18.43
  • HD Tuff Box 502: 6.5 x 3.8 x 3 inside/74.1 cu. in./$17.35
  • Material: Clear top and bottom of high-density polycarbonate
  • Hinges: Dual 2-inch, five-point hinges with 2-inch pins
  • Latches: Single 5-inch, six-point latch with two 1.25-inch stainless-steel pins
  • Purge/Pressurization Valve: Manual removable, positive-locking thumbscrew with O-ring
  • Waterproof Rating: IPX5 equals spray-proof from all angles
  • Protective Liner: Snug-fitting shock-absorbing liners had integrated water-resistant gaskets to protect from spray.
  • Special Features: Liners are impregnated with Flambeau’s proprietary Zerust, which emits a harmless gas that invisibly coats contents to prevent corrosion.
Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

Zerust impregnation protects gear from corrosion, and corrugation cushions shock in jostling. Bill Doster

Final Score: 5 Stars

1. Load ‘Em: Multiple phones, two wallets and some cigars can fit in the 602. Stack four iPhone 7 Plus phones and a wallet in the 502.

2. Drown ‘Em: 1 Star |Our 602 box leaked in our first test due to a dislodged liner. We removed and reseated; it proved watertight.

3. Freeze ‘Em: 1 Star |Unscrewing the valve eliminated the vacuum and allowed for easy opening. You could hear the air rush in.

4. Bake ‘Em: 1 Star |The valve also purged high-pressure warm air.

5. Drop ‘Em: 1 Star | The 602 opened on 3-foot impact; the 502 survived.

6. Pop ‘Em: 1 Star |No damage from a 3-ounce projectile.

Summary: The lid gasket can be dislodged and the valve screw removed, so inspect both before resealing and mind the screw.

Plano Molding 1450 & 145061

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

The Plano Molding boxes received a score of 6 stars. Bill Doster

About the Plano Molding Boxes: Lever-action latches spare knuckles when opening and offer positive latching. My full-size SLR survived a 50-inch drop to the deck within a large 1470 Guide Series box.

Plano Molding 1450 and 145061 Specifications

  • 1450: Clear: 7.5 x 3.125 x 2.5 inside/58.6 cu. in./$16
  • 145061: Olive: 7.5 x 3.125 x 2.5 inside/58.6 cu. in./$20
  • Material: Clear: polycarbonate plastic; opaque: ABS plastic
  • Hinges: Dual 2-inch, five-point hinges with full-length stainless-steel pins
  • Latches: Triple-hinge pin and eight-point connection are the beefiest hinge design in our test. Special lever action eases the applied O-ring sealing force, saving knuckles.
  • Purge/Pressurization Valve: Silicone purge plug seals upon latching and purges upon opening.
  • Waterproof Rating: IP67 watertight to 16 feet
  • Protective Liner: Custom, secure fit, removable corrugated rubber, independent of O-ring seal
  • Special Features: Semisoft molded plastic liner with silicone rubber top pad is removable. It has padlock tabs to secure contents.
Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

The boxes have robust washable, replaceable silicone gaskets and purge valves. Bill Doster

Final Score: 6 Stars

1. Load ‘Em: An iPhone 7 Plus, keys and a compact camera would fit easily with other smaller gear.

2. Drown ‘Em: 1 Star |No water intrusion was observed.

3. Freeze ‘Em: 1 Star |Unlatching relieved the vacuum to open easily.

4. Bake ‘Em: 1 Star |Latch valves relieved the internal pressure as well.

5. Drop ‘Em: 2 Stars |The cases bounced and survived.

6. Pop ‘Em: 1 Star |The 3-ounce weight left no impact marks.

Summary: The cases’ deeply fluted lids added strength and the long latches added security to the closures. They came with extra valve plugs and a wrist lanyard.

Pelican Micro Case Series 1040 & 1060

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

The Pelican Micro Case Series boxes received a score of 5 stars. Bill Doster

About the Pelican Micro Case Series: Pelican has been making these so long, Pelican is to gear storage as Xerox is to copiers. The patented automatic purge valve keeps the tough polycarbonate case interiors dry and unpressurized.

Pelican Micro Case Series Specifications

  • Micro Case Series 1060: Opaque: 8.25 x 4.25 x 2.25 inside/78.9 cu. in./$21.02
  • Micro Case Series 1040: Clear: 6.5 x 3.87 x 1.75 inside/44 cu. in./$18.68
  • Material: Polycarbonate
  • Hinges: Dual 2.25-inch, five-point with 2-inch stainless-steel pins
  • Latches: 5-inch, eight-point with dual 1.25-inch stainless-steel pins
  • Purge/Pressurization Valve: Automatic pressure equalization valve
  • Waterproof Rating: IP67 watertight to 16 feet
  • Protective Liner: Tough silicone rubber with integrated lid seals and protective corrugations. Liner and gasket fit securely for confident, watertight service. Secure the case with its carabiner.
Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

The fit of the liner and gasket was the most secure in our tests. Bill Doster

Final Score: 5 Stars

1. Load ‘Em: Tuck two smartphones and a wallet in the 1060. The 1040 will hold one smartphone and a wallet or your POV gear.

2. Drown ‘Em: 1 Star |Water remained at bay in our dunk-tank test.

3. Freeze ‘Em: Boxes wouldn’t open until we thawed.

4. Bake ‘Em: 1 Star |They worked as advertised.

5. Drop ‘Em: 2 Stars |Only the 1040 opened on our 5-foot drop test.

6. Pop ‘Em: 1 Star |No damage in our drop test.

Summary: The frozen purge valves surprised us, as did the latch failure on the clear 1040. Choose opaque boxes for maximum shock protection and confidence in rough boating waters.

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