Quest for the Sailboat Cupholder

Prices for sailboat cupholders range from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars.

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Cupholders are so ubiquitous on cars today, that it’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a place to put your coffee mug during the morning commute. It wasn’t until 1983 that Chrysler’s marketing team realized that the newly popular category of vehicles known as the minivan wouldn’t be complete without a cup holder. After a widely publicized settlement with McDonald’s involving a spilled cup of coffee in 1994, the cup holder craze really took off. These days every car reviewer’s check sheet includes the all important entry blank for “number of cupholders.”

Boats are a different story. Although molded-in cupholders are common on fishing boats and even fishing coolers have molded in cupholders (as we saw in our ice chest test), very few monohull sailboats include cupholders molded into the deck, for the obvious reasons that they heel. In effect, most sailboat owners are only a little better off than Model T owners in the 1920s who had to order their cup holders through the Sears Catalog. For decades, the most common add-on cupholder was the Sail-Buoy gimbaled cupholder from Orbex (also sold as the Golf Buoy, Bar Buoy, etc.). As far as I can tell, this is no longer available, but it apparently has a following among memorabilia collectors.

If you, like me, are looking for places to put your favorite beverage or water bottle, you’ll find there are basically four different types. We looked at all of these types during Practical Sailor’s test of cupholders for sailboats, back in 2010. Although the pricing and specific product information needs some updating, the report still does a good job covering the various types of cupholders available to sailors.

Lifeline mounted

Quest for the Sailboat Cupholder
The SnapIt lifeline cupholder has a 3 5/8″ inside diameter accommodates larger drinks as well as cans and bottles with insulated sleeves.

If you’re looking for a drink holder for a boat that has limited cockpit space, a lifeline-mounted product is one of the better choices. These are the easiest to install as they simply hook over a lifeline, and can be stowed away when not in use. Practical Sailor tested three: the SnapIt, Orbex Sail-Buoy, and the Handi-Man Sail-a-Long. The Orbex has gone the way of the dinosaur, the Handi-Man is available in remote corners of the web, along with some stainless-steel look-alikes. This type of cupholder is the least expensive option and are easy to take down or store if you want to turn your weekend cruiser into a streamlined racer—assuming your crew can hold their thirst until they get to the bar.

Rail or Pulpit Mounted

Quest for the Sailboat Cupholder
The stylish, polished stainless steel Edson cupholder clampa on to pulpits using plastic bushings to protect the rails. Retailing for about $215, they cost about 10 times more than other cupholders Practical Sailor tested.
Quest for the Sailboat Cupholder
Bicycle water bottle cages can be squeezed to fit some coffee mugs or cans. They are light, inexpensive, and rugged. (Photo by Drew Frye)

Having a drink holder installed on a pulpit, stanchion, or railing keeps beverages within reach but out of the cockpit. This style of holder is particularly useful on boats with stern/pulpit seating. We tested tube-mounted single-drink holders from Edson (very expensive) and SnapIt, a much more affordable option.

Apropos Marine, maker of semi-custom high-density polyethylene (HPDE) accessories, has a gimbaled version, as well as wine bottle, and wine glass holders. One of our favorites is a simple bicycle water bottle holder, which can be adjusted to accommodate canned or bottled beverages in an insulated koozie. Several PS readers have recommended affordably priced cupholders designed to clamp to strollers and wheel chairs (available at big box retailers, and online).

Binnacle Mounted

Quest for the Sailboat Cupholder
The SnapIt binnacle-mounted cupholder doesn’t require any fasteners, so there’s no need to drill through the binnacle, a good thing, since doing so can damage any wires that might run through the binnacle.

Binnacle-mounted drink holders are ideal for boats with roomy enough cockpits and wheel steering and the most common type on cruising boats. There are dozens of models, made of plastic, teak, or stainless steel. They require a bit more effort to install and are usually permanently mounted, but they keep drinks within arms reach of the captain and crew. (They also make a handy spot to stash sunscreen or binoculars.) Both Edson and SnapIt make a variety of pedestal-mounted drink holders that accommodate two to four beverages and gear.

Testers found the installations more difficult than with any of the other mounts. Most will clamp on, but some call for users to drill holes in the pedestal guard (beware of any wires running through). Drilling wasn’t an option on our test boat, so we followed Edson’s instructions to change the factory position of the clamp mounting screws using a wrench and an Allen key. Many of these clamp-on styles require bushings to get a tight fit, and these bushings can be quite fragile and can break during installation. SnapIt avoids drilling or clamping with it’s snap-on drink-holder, but you have to make sure the sizing is correct. Although we’ve not tested these, it’s my impression is that if you accidentally leaned or grabbed this removable holder it could slide down the binnacle.

Bulkhead Mounted

Quest for the Sailboat Cupholder
Testers found bulkhead mounted cupholders like these from West Marine to be handy down below deck. The arms adjust to fit different size cups or beverages.

PS tested two products that fit on bulkheads belowdecks, Orbex’s Bar-Buoy gimbaled basket (only old stock of the original is available, although you’ll find several imitators at marine chandleries) and Sea-Fit’s folding holder with adjustable-arms (now sold under the brand Sea Dog Line; a similar model is available at West Marine). Neither of these will win a beauty contest, but they score for versatility and price. Both require that holes be drilled for bulkhead mounting, although I’m curious if 3M heavy-duty adhesive strips, or even stick-on heavy-duty Dual-lock hook-and-loop fasteners, would work. Ronstan uses hook-and-loop for its crushable vinyl cupholder. Although we’ve not tested these, our experience with rope organizers reminds us that these need to be cleaned occasionally and protected against mold getting into the fabric.

The adjustable arms on these folding cupholders can hold everything from a can in a koozie to a wine glass. Available in black or white or chrome, the holders folds flat when it’s not in use. Testers found these fairly easy to mount, requiring only a few screws to be set, and during sea trials they proved to be a handy accessory in the galley or at the nav station. You can find them made of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or HPDE, both materials are suitable for the job.

The Bar-Buoy, which came with its own UV-susceptible koozie, was a plastic basket set on a plated-steel gimballing bracket. Cheaply made and prone to corrosion and breaking, it is no surprise this particular product is no longer widely available.

Suction Cup Deck Mount

Quest for the Sailboat Cupholder
Toadfish’s insulated cupholder features a sticky suction cup that releases when you lift it straight up. The downside of this design is if you do lose your drink, you also lose your $20 cupholder. (photo by Darrell Nicholson)

Bulkhead mounted suction cups holders have been around for a while, but their cheap silicone suction cups can degrade rapidly and collect mold. I never had much success with these staying put on ye ol’ O’day Javelin Misty, where I had tried to use one for years. The only thing worse than no cup-holder is one you can’t count on.

Recently, a social-media marketing blitz by a company called Toadfish penetrated my advertising deflector field with images of its stylish-looking suction cup mount. The ad featured a cupholder mounted horizontally on a sailboat coachroof. This is clearly an absurd way to use the cupholder, but the image did what it was supposed to do, roust me out of my dull-eyed doom-scrolling. Why any company would settle on an extremely poisonous and less than glamorous-looking fish as its trademark, I didn’t investigate, but the colors (teal, gray, and white) appealed to me.

Honestly, I haven’t had enough time fiddling with this insulated cupholder to give it a rating, but it has an interesting feature useful to the sailor who brings a number of guests aboard who like to lounge on the foredeck. Like the lifeline-hung cupholder, this one moves easily around the boat. In fact, it functions more like a mobile koozy, because that you pick up the entire cupholder as you drink. The downside of this feature is that if you do lose your drink, you will also lose your expensive cupholder. It will stick to molded fiberglass below deck, but not to wood countertops unless they are highly polished. (Toadfish offers a stick-on mount that turns any rough surface to a smooth one.)

If you have a favorite cupholder, or have pet peeves with some models, I’d love to hear about it. Just drop a note in the comments below, or contact me directly at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.

For more photos of the cupholder types, see the report in the April 2010 issue of Practical Sailor. For a more recent review of using bicycle bottle holders, see the report “Hydration Right at Hand,” in the April 2018 issue. If you are interested in cupholders you might also be interested in our popular ebook, the Comprehensive Galley and On-board Cooking Guide, which covers everything from food preparation to galley design to galley gadgets that make meal preparation easier.

Darrell Nicholson is Director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division and the editor of Practical Sailor. A lifelong thalassophile, he grew up sailing everything from El Toro dinghies to classic Morgans on Miami's Biscayne Bay. In the early 90s, he left a newspaper job to sail an old gaff-rigged ketch across the Pacific and has been writing about boats and the sea ever since. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Cup holders made for baby strollers are perfect for mounting on the rail/pulpit. We have four on our monohull and LOVE them! The silicone on the insides helps hold cups/cans in place so they don’t rattle around or spill underway.

  2. My wife bought me two Toadfish holders last year. One ended up at the bottom of Vineyard Sound (along with my Miller Lite) within the first hour of use. The other one consequently is now in deep storage.

  3. Some of our sailing friends recommended the ROBOcup. It securely attaches (any time we want to use it—not a permanent mount) to the binnacle or any vertical rail, holds two drinks and can double as a fishing pole holder! They come in several colors— now I wish we’d have purchased a bicolor model so that I would remember whose drink was whose! I paid roughly $25 for a fantastic functional product.

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