How to Make a Livewell Out of an Ice Chest


A livewell is a storage tank in a boat where bait or caught fish can be safely stored and kept alive. The fish are maintained by circulating lake water through the livewell. Livewells are included as features in some boats or can be added aftermarket. Construct a do-it-yourself version by using a cooler as storage tank.

Things You'll Need

  • Ice chest
  • Drill
  • 10 feet of hose
  • Submersible bilge pump
  • 2 compression couplers
  • Latex caulk
  • Select the proper-size ice chest or cooler to fit the boat. Sometimes called beer coolers these insulated plastic containers come in a wide variety of sizes. Choose a plastic cooler rather than plastic foam for added durability.

  • Attach a portable bilge pump to a 5- or 6-foot-long piece of hose. Use a portable submersible bilge pump that has a cigarette lighter as a power source. Connect the other end of the hose to the cooler.

  • Drill a hole in the same diameter as the hose about 2 inches above the bottom of the cooler. Fit a compression coupling with a hose connection on the outside through the hole in the cooler. Tighten the coupling and seal the area with latex caulk.

  • Drill another hole about 4 inches from the top of the cooler. Fit a compression fitting through the hole, tighten and caulk the area around the hole. Attach 5 to 6 feet of hose to the coupler.

Tips & Warnings

  • The ice chest operates with the ends of both hoses dangling over the side of the boat. The pump, powered by the boat's 12-volt auxiliary power source or cigarette lighter, pushes water into the cooler. The water flows out of the cooler when it reaches the level of the outlet hose at the top of the cooler. The continuous flow of water through the cooler provides an adequate environment to preserve either bait or caught fish during the fishing excursion.
  • Keep the lid of the cooler in place and fastened down while the boat is moving to prevent slopping of water and the loss of fish.
  • Make sure the boat has a working auxiliary power source to power the pump. Even if the boat has a cigarette lighter, they don’t always work, especially in older boats.

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