Finding the right starting battery for your boat can be confusing because there are dozens of brands and different types to choose from. In this article, we explain the various types and identify the top rated marine starting batteries based on our survey of nearly 300 boat owners.
Types of Marine Batteries
Starting or “Cranking” batteries are designed to provide a high short-term burst of energy to start your motor and then are recharged by your engine. The CCA (cold cranking amps) is the number of amps the battery can deliver for 30 seconds at 0° F. The MCA (marine cranking amps) is a similar but measured at 32° F.
Deep Cycle batteries, on the other hand, are designed to deliver a moderate amount of energy for a sustained period of time. These are not appropriate to start your motor but are largely used to power things like trolling motors. These batteries will be discussed in detail in a subsequent article.
In between these two types are “Dual Purpose” batteries that deliver high CCAs to start your motor but can also provide energy for a prolonged period of time. These are appropriate if you need to supply power to electronics over a sustained period with the same battery used to start your engine.
In our survey, most boaters use a regular cranking battery. However, many saltwater boaters (39%) use dual purpose batteries to power things like their VHF radios, navigational equipment, livewells/baitwells and bilge pumps in addition to starting their engine.
Regardless of whether we are talking about cranking, deep cycle or dual-purpose batteries, there are a few different technologies available:
- Flooded or “Wet-Cell” batteries: These use liquid sulfuric acid between lead plates and may require periodic inspection and topping off with distilled water (because some of the liquid dissipates during charging). They are more sensitive to vibration than the newer battery technologies and will discharge at a higher rate. Therefore, it is especially important to periodically recharge these batteries during the off-season. However, flooded batteries are less sensitive to over-charging and are the most economical. Seventy percent of boaters in our survey currently use a “flooded” starting battery.
- AGM: Stands for “absorbed glass mat”. These use an acid-saturated glass mat between the lead plates. As such, they don’t require topping off, they discharge at a lower rate (will last longer) and can better handle vibration. But, these are typically 2-3 times more expensive than conventional “flooded” batteries. About 1 in 5 boaters (19%) in our survey currently use AGM batteries but this percentage will likely increase with their next battery purchase.
- Gel: These are similar to AGM batteries but use a gel instead of the saturated mats. As with AGMs, they don’t require periodic maintenance and are less susceptible to vibration. However, Gel batteries are even more sensitive to over-charging and, as with AGMs, are considerably more expensive than flooded batteries. It appears that manufacturers are moving away from Gel batteries to AGMs. Less than 1 in 10 boaters (7%) in our survey currently use a Gel starting battery.
- Lithium: The newest battery technology, Lithium batteries have some very desirable characteristics. They are much lighter, hold their charge longer, can be recharged faster and can be recharged (cycled) more often than other battery types. Of course, there is a catch. These batteries are super expensive (several hundred dollars) and require a special charger and therefore are rarely used today. Only 1% of boaters in our survey currently use this type for a starting battery.
Are these newer and more expensive battery types worth the investment? It turns out that boaters are generally satisfied with all three of the main battery types but owners of Gel or AGM batteries do expect them to last a little longer. However, considering the fact they cost much more than a regular flooded battery, they probably are not a good value for most recreational boaters.
Most Popular Marine Starting Batteries
According to our survey, one battery brand is extremely popular with boaters – Interstate. Over one-third (36%) use Interstate for their starting battery which is higher than the next 8 brands combined.
My suspicion is that Interstate aggressively targets boat builders and/or dealers to equip new boats with their brand. And, their strategy seems to be working since a very high percentage of Interstate battery owners have owned this brand before (74% vs. 64% for all other brands combined) and plan on purchasing one again for their next battery (72% vs. 61%).
Besides Interstate, a fairly sizeable percentage of boaters in our survey use Optima or Everstart batteries (8% each). Bass boaters, in particular, are especially likely to use the more expensive Optima batteries (13%, not shown).
Top Rated Marine Starting Batteries
To identify the top rated marine starting batteries, we asked boat owners to rate their satisfaction with their current battery. Several brands received fairly high scores, including the very popular Interstate battery. However, top honors went to a different player – Optima, which received an impressive average rating of 9.4 out of 10.
The following is an overview of the top rated marine starting batteries and why owners like each:
- Optima (9.4): These are AGM batteries and so they cost considerably more than the typical flooded battery. Owners like them because they are reliable, hold up to tough conditions and are maintenance-free.
- All 4 Optimas were bought and installed almost 2 years ago and I fish tournaments all over in various climates and temperature ranges, have never had any issues! Hot or cold out they always do their jobs! They run almost $400 each but it’s a small price to pay for reliability and my peace of mind! (Sat:10, Damon C. )
- The first batteries that I never lost confidence in. They hold up to the abuses of professional needs and schedule. (Sat:10, John B. )
- Holds charge and has never discharged. Needs no maintenance other than off season charging. (Sat:10, Bill H. )
- Starts the boat engine with no effort. Can play stereo for a few hours and still start the boat with no effort. Lasts for several years. No maintenance necessary other than charging it over the winter. (Sat:10, Steven G. )
- Interstate (8.9): Most of these are flooded batteries but some are AGMs as well. Owners like them for their reliability, long life (if properly maintained) and good value.
- If you maintain the battery properly it will last a long time (Sat:10, John I. )
- I have one starter Interstate and two Interstate deep cycle in my current boat and had same in my previous boat! Keep them charged properly and they will last for years! (Sat:10, Donny E. )
- Good value for the money and usually get 5-6 years with proper maintenance. Have used for starter batteries and dual deep cell for trolling motors on prior boats. (Sat:9, Joe S. )
- The Interstate Battery is without doubt the best battery I have ever used. It last longer and is a great overall value. (Sat:10, Jeff A. )
- Long lasting, reliable, reasonably priced (Sat:10, Carl F. )
- Deka (8.9): Available in Flooded, Gel and AGM varieties, Deka batteries deliver on the main things people look for in a battery – reliability and long life.
- Durable and long lasting with good starting power. (Sat:10, Gregory G. )
- Durability and longevity. (Sat:9, Charles G. )
- Flawless function thus far, appears to be well constructed, fair price. (Sat:10, Guy T. )
- No problem. Keeps up the charge to start kicker or main motor. (Sat:9, Randy R. )
- Napa (8.7): Reliability at a fair price are key reasons why Napa batteries achieve a moderately high satisfaction rating.
- Never really had a problem with this brand. (Sat:8, Charlie Y. )
- As wet cell batteries go, the NAPA batteries have served me for 4-6 years. Had Interstate as well. I also look at price and these were affordable. (Sat:7, Jeff J. )
- The reliability and value are the two biggest reasons. (Sat:9, Troy C. )
- Everstart (8.6): Sold at Wal-Mart, Everstart batteries are value-priced yet still deliver reasonable power.
- Very affordable and has not let me down (Sat:9, Chris T. )
- Lasts as long as an expensive one (Sat:10, Ron C. )
- Price and years of use. (Sat:8, Jim H. )
- I have over 40 years experience boating and over the years have discovered it doesn’t really matter how much you pay for a starter battery. They all seem to have similar life spans. So I tend to not waste money on more expensive batteries and assume I will have to replace every 3 to 4 years anyway. I get the cheap Everstart batteries and have been as satisfied with them as any other brand I’ve tried. (Sat:8, Ken L. )
So, which marine starting battery should you buy? There is no one right answer to this for everyone as it depends, in part, on your budget and needs.
For most boaters, Interstate or even Deka batteries would be an excellent choice. However, serious boaters/anglers or those who boat in extreme conditions should take a close look at Optima. If money is no object and you want the very best, then you might want to check out the new Lithium batteries. Just be aware that you will also need to upgrade your charging equipment. At the other extreme, the Napa or Everstart batteries are suitable for those on a budget.
Jerry Mona, BoaterInput, survey of 293 boat owners in the U.S., April 2019
Tom Burden, “How to Select a Marine Battery“, West Marine, February 15, 2019
Mark Corke, Marine Battery Maintenance, BoatU.S., July 2018.
Terry Brown, Boat Batteries 101, Wired2Fish, May 2, 2017.
Richard Farrell, Types of Marine Batteries in Use Today, UPS Battery Center, February 10, 2017.
Boat Trader Water Blogged (blog), June 21, 2016.
Mark Corke, Choosing a Marine Battery, BoatU.S., December 2015.
Keith Sutton, Boat Battery Buying Guide, Bass Pro Shops 1 Source (blog), March 5, 2015.
Capt. Richard Thiel, How to Pick the Right Battery for Your Boat, POWER & MOTORYACHT, December, 2014.
Types of Marine Batteries: Explained, BWA Enterprises (in conjunction with Interstate Batteries), YouTube, May 20, 2011
Everything You Need to Know About Marine/Boat Batteries, Northeast Battery.
Marine and Boat Batteries – Lead Acid Types, Batteries+Bulbs.
Mark Corke, Marine Battery Maintenance, BoatU.S., July 2018.