Choosing the Best Waterproof Box

BoatingLAB gets schooled on the ups and downs of these ubiquitous watertight containers.

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box
Choosing the Best Waterproof BoxBill Doster

Pelican was the first company to bring these tough plastic cases to our attention 15 years or more ago. But the market grew since then, and Pelican’s near monopoly has been encroached upon by a half-dozen or more competitors. Th e boxes aren’t bulletproof, but they are tough and have an IPX waterproof rating. My Plano box once fell 5 feet and saved my expensive camera.

How We Tested
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.

Load 'Em
The first thing my crew does when heading offshore is stash cellphones, wallets, keys and lighters. Sometimes there's a POV cam 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.

Drown 'Em
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.

Freeze 'Em
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.

Bake 'Em
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.

Drop 'Em
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!

Pop 'Em
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
Choosing the Best Waterproof BoxBill Doster

How We Scored
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.

Load 'Em: We simply noted what they held.
Drown 'Em: If it didn't leak, it received one star.
Freeze 'Em: If the box opened easily after creating a vacuum, we gave it one star.
Bake 'Em: One star if it opened easily under pressure
Drop 'Em: If it survived a 3-foot drop, it got a star. It got a second star if it survived a 5-foot drop.
Pop 'Em: It received a star if it didn't crack on impact of a 3-ounce weight.

Total Score: Six stars

Underwater Kinetics UltraBox 308 & 406

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box
Underwater Kinetics UltraBox 308 & 406Bill Doster

Underwater Kinetics | 6 Stars
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.

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)
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.

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box
Protective phone pouch is velcroed in place. Valve seals purge when unlatched.Bill Doster

Drown 'Em: 1 Star | These boxes were watertight as advertised.
Freeze 'Em: 1 Star | Vacuum was purged for easy opening as latch was lifted.
Bake 'Em: 1 Star | Interior pressure purged as latch lifted.
Drop 'Em: 2 Stars | Both boxes survived our drop tests.
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
Flambeau HD Tuff Box 502 & 602Bill Doster

Flambeau, | 5 Stars
Its removable liner is impregnated with Zerust anti-corrosion protectant. The removable thumbscrew valve and O-ring can be stowed inside for air travel.

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.
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.

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box
Zerust impregnation protects gear from corrosion, and corregation cushions shock in jostling.Bill Doster

Drown 'Em: 1 Star |Our 602 box leaked in our first test due to a dislodged liner. We removed and reseated; it proved watertight.
Freeze 'Em: 1 Star |Unscrewing the valve eliminated the vacuum and allowed for easy opening. You could hear the air rush in.
Bake 'Em: 1 Star |The valve also purged high-pressure warm air.
Drop 'Em: 1 Star | The 602 opened on 3-foot impact; the 502 survived.
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.

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box
Plano Molding 1450 & 145061 | Buy It NowBill Doster

Plano Molding, | 6 Stars
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.

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

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box
The boxes have robust washable, replaceable silicone gaskets and purge valves.Bill Doster

Drown 'Em: 1 Star |No water intrusion was observed.
Freeze 'Em: 1 Star |Unlatching relieved the vacuum to open easily.
Bake 'Em: 1 Star |Latch valves relieved the internal pressure as well.
Drop 'Em: 2 Stars |The cases bounced and survived.
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.

Choosing the Best Waterproof Box
Pelican Micro Case Series 1040 & 1060 | Buy It NowBill Doster

Pelican, | 5 Stars
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.

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

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

Drown 'Em: 1 Star |Water remained at bay in our dunk-tank test.
Freeze 'Em: Boxes wouldn't open until we thawed.
Bake 'Em: 1 Star |They worked as advertised.
Drop 'Em: 2 Stars |Only the 1040 opened on our 5-foot drop test.
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.