How to Keep Blue Crabs Alive

There are many ways in which you can keep blue crabs alive. You can keep them in a cooler; make sure that you create a stress-free environment. The reason that you need to keep them alive is that if you do not, when you cook them, the meat will be mushy. You can also risk eating the harmful bacteria that grow inside the shells of the dead crabs. When you go crabbing, make sure that you do have some way in which to keep them alive until it is time to cook them. 

Storing Blue Crabs in a Cooler

Before you go crabbing, make sure that you have a cooler. It does not have to be anything fancy but just a cooler you can buy at your local department store. If you think that you are going to get more than five crabs you should buy a large cooler so you do not have to stack them on top of each other. 

Just before you leave to go crabbing, layer the bottom of the cooler with the type of ice packs you put in your freezer. This will keep the temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have the temperature any cooler it will kill your crabs. You should put a moist towel over the ice packs. This will help prevent the crabs from becoming too cold and keep the cooler moist.

If you don’t have ice packs, you can put ice at the bottom of the cooler and cover the ice with a moist towel. You will have to drain the water from the cooler periodically because any standing water can cause the crabs to suffocate. Never put the ice packs or ice directly on top of the crabs. Make sure that you cover your cooler with a moist burlap bag to make sure that the crabs stay moist.

If the blue crabs are not kept moist then their gills will dry out and the crabs will die. The reason that a burlap bag is recommended is that it will allow oxygen to pass through because in addition to staying moist, they also need to be well oxygenated to live. Make sure that you keep the cooler in a shaded dark area away from the sun to prevent their gills from drying out.

Cooler Size and Crab Capacity

  • 20 quarts — 8
  • 20-30 quarts — 12
  • 30-45 quarts — 12-24
  • 45-60 quarts — 24-36
  • 60+ quarts — ½ of a bushel

Storing Blue Crabs in a Stress-Free Environment

The reason that you want to store them in a stress-free environment is that if a crab gets stressed, they will die. If this happens, then their meat will turn mushy and they will not be good to eat. Make sure that when you are done crabbing, pick up the cooler slowly and gently so you do not shake the crabs inside when you are transporting them or storing them in the vehicle. In the vehicle, make sure that you have the cooler secure where it will not slide around or move. 

Keep your crab in one place and do not move them from one storage space to another. If you do have to move your crabs into another cooler, do not just dump them into the other cooler but move them one by one. Do not pile them one on top of the other as this can cause stress. If you think you are going to have too many crabs for one cooler, bring along a second cooler.

Tips to Keep Blue Crabs Alive

  • Never keep the blue crabs submerged in water or they will die. They need to breathe air and if they are submerged in water the blue crabs will soon take up all the oxygen in the water and die.
  • When you get them home, you need to make sure where you are storing them that the temperature is 48-58 degrees. If it is a cool night, you could keep them outside provided nothing can get into the cooler and eat them. You could also keep them in the lower level of your home.
  • Blue crabs need oxygen to live so never store or carry them in anything with a shut lid.
  • You can also keep the blue crabs in a refrigerator but if you do, you will have to make adjustments to the moisture level and temperature of the refrigerator. Since they need moisture and air to live, your crabs will die if the moisture and air are taken out of the fridge completely. 
  • If you are using ice in your cooler, you can place a cookie sheet or flat piece of wood over the moist towel so the crabs are not lying directly in water.
  • The cooler should have a drain plug to let the water out as your ice melts so the crabs are not accidentally lying in water.


As long as you keep the blue crab moist and cool, they can live out of the water for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to cook your crabs and you open your cooler, they will appear motionless, almost like they are dead. This can make it difficult to tell which are alive and which are actually dead.

To help figure this out, leave the chilled crabs in the sun for two to five minutes to see if they show any signs of movement. If they are not moving then they are dead and need to be discarded. It is a fact that no matter how you store them, you are going to lose a few crabs. To help prevent that, you should cook your crabs as soon as possible. Do not clean or eat any crabs that are dead because you can get food poisoning. Crabs have a type of bacteria that line their shells, which multiplies rapidly after their death and it cannot be totally eliminated by cooking the dead crab. Be safe and discard dead crabs.

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