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Top 3 Best Solar Panels For Sailboats

Best Solar Panels For Sailboats | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Choosing whether or not to install solar panels on your sailboat is a big decision. They are not exactly cheap, though they can start to pay themselves off pretty quickly.

This article is going to cover not only why you might want to use solar panels but all the benefits they provide. You will also find a helpful guide on which solar panels would be best for you and your budget. Hopefully, by the end, you will feel confident in your decision to install solar panels on your sailboat and even have an idea of which ones you might like.

Table of contents

Are solar panels on sailboats necessary?

Whether or not you should be installing solar panels on your boat is a matter of choice, not out of necessity. Sailboats get their power from the wind, by harnassing it in their sail. So if you plan to be sailing for the afternoon you probably don’t need solar panels.

You could charge a battery pack from the marina and that will probably see you through several trips. The problems only really start to arise if you are planning to be on your sailboat for longer periods, or even permanently. If you plan to live on your sailboat year-round, even if you spend 80% of it in a marina, you would be better off with some solar panels. Even if it is just as a backup source of power.

Are solar panels on boats safe?

Solar panels are generally pretty safe. They have no moving parts and typically have a very strong protective cover over them so you never come in contact with the electrics themself. So, as a source of power, they are generally pretty safe. The only time they may become unsafe is if they are badly damaged.

Solar panels are often covered by glass plating that keeps them safe. It also helps them absorb sunlight and warmth. This is great, except when the glass breaks. If the glass protective cover on your solar panels should crack and splinter you are at risk of serious injury from sharp shards of glass. Not only is the glass itself dangerous at this point, so are the electronic components inside. They have powerful currents running through them, and if you come in contact with them you may be in for a shock.

Furthermore, if these electronics get wet they can become deadly. Electricity and water do not mix well at all. Being as you are on a sailboat, at sea, the chances of them getting wet is very high. Luckily, the chances of them breaking in the first place are slim to none. The only real way they would break, besides vandalism, is by debris hitting them during a bad storm. There is not often debris at sea, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

What are the benefits of having solar panels on a sailboat?

There are so many great benefits of having solar panels on a sailboat. They can be a lifesaver if you find yourself at sea for a long time. There benefits range from trivial comforts to being the difference between life and death. Here are some of the benefits you might not have considered about having solar panels installed on your sailboat.

Money-saving

Solar panels are not cheap, it is far cheaper to just run a generator or charge your batteries from the marina the whole time. At least, it is in the short term. Over time, it can start to become very expensive. With solar panels, you are looking at a big initial cost (the solar panels themself) and then it’s smooth sailing. You don’t need to pay for power again. Solar panels last for about 40 years before they start to become too inefficient at producing power. The cost of a few solar panels upfront compared to 40 years of marina fees and gasoline for a generator is the financially savvy move.

Emergency power

If you find yourself at sea, the wind dies down (or becomes too strong), and you find yourself stuck bobbing around waiting for more favorable conditions you may run into trouble. Depending on how long you are out there, you may find yourself with dead electronics. Be it a satellite phone, radio, or secondary engine (depending on the boat). Having a set of solar panels and a power bank can be a genuine lifesaver in these situations.

Comfort amenities

Whether you are day sailing or making a week-long voyage, having access to the comforts in life can make the whole journey so much more enjoyable. The amenities may not be available to you without having a constant source of power at sea. Having access to a kettle, tv, videogame system, radio or microwave oven may be the only thing keeping you going at rougher times. As exciting as sailing can be, when you aren’t sailing and are just bobbing around it can be quite dull. The sea is beautiful, but there is only so much time you can spend looking at the water before you miss the comforts of land. With solar panels, you can bring those comforts with you.

Eco-friendly

There are only two alternatives to solar panels. A gasoline generator, and taking power from the grid. Neither of these is good for the environment. Luckily, solar panels are a great third option. Solar panels are completely eco-friendly and are great for the environment. This is not just great for the earth, and your conscience, but for the journey itself. If you are running a gasoline generator at sea you are going to be listening to it thrumming away and smell the burning gasoline. Wouldnt you prefer silence and nothing but the smell of the sea breeze?

How much do solar panels cost?

How much solar panels cost is almost entirely tied into both their voltage/wattage and whether or not they are portable panels. Portable solar panels are great for people who don’t spend a lot of time on their boat or are happy enough living off the marina’s power grid. Permanent solar panels, the kind that may need to professionally installed, can end up costing far more. They are also likely to be far superior and you can pretty much forget about them once they are installed.

Portable solar panels will cost just a few hundred dollars each. You will need a few to be sustainable, but that’s not going to be much of a problem. These portable solar panels can just be rolled out on the deck of your boat, weighed down, and then hooked up to a battery pack. The battery itself here is going to be the most expensive part of the whole set up. A decent-sized battery could set you back a $1000. But, when charged fully it will last days. Even with constant use.

Permanently installed solar panels can cost one or two thousand dollars in some cases. The advantage here though is once they are installed that’s it, you can forget about them. You don’t have to put them up, take them down, and find somewhere to stow them every time they need using. They too will need to be hooked up to a battery, the battery is still only going to cost you $1000. If you are installing permanent solar panels because you plan to be making long voyages, it is ideal to have two or perhaps even three large batteries hooked up to your boat. One to run off, one or two for emergencies.

How do I maintain my solar panels?

Solar panels, unlike gasoline generators, are generally pretty easy to maintain. They have no moving parts and are thus pretty self-sufficient. They don’t need taking apart and they last as long as 40 years. That being said, if they do break they need repairing as soon as possible. The exposed electrics can be deadly when water is thrown into the mix. Which, on a boat, is almost always. The glass cover will need replacing and the electronics inside may need repairing, though not always. Don’t ever attempt to do this yourself unless you are experienced at making these repairs. The cost of hiring someone to do it for you is preferable to being dead. Solar panels have very powerful electric currents, that when in contact with water and yourself can be fatal. As mentioned above, these panels rarely break so you will likely not ever run into this problem. If you do, hire a contractor.

Do my solar panels need cleaning?

Solar panels work by converting the light and heat of the sun into useable power. The process itself is rather complicated but the results are simple to understand. That being said, there are some reasons that your solar panels will stop working as effectively. They all revolve around a lack of sunlight. It could be because it is night time. It could be because it is very cloudy. Or, it could be because they are dirty. If solar panels become too dusty, dirty, and become too covered in grime they stop operating at maximum efficiency. This is not as much of a problem at sea, the sea spray stops dust settling. The biggest thing you will need to clean off your solar panels is salt build-up and slime. This is easy enough to do with some warm soapy water. Freshwater, not seawater. You want to be removing as much salt as possible. Salt is corrosive to electronics, so removing it is important. Never clean your solar panels using pressure washers as they can crack the glass.

Which are the best solar panels for sailing?

There are so many options on the market at various price points. Here are three very different options that will all make good choices, depending on your needs. It is important to consider not just price but power output. Spending a lot of money on solar panels now might not feel ideal, but it is the most cost-effective decision.

1. Renogy Starter Kit

This starter kit is going to be perfect for installing on almost any sized boat. There are four solar panels, each can be fitted permanently to the boat. They can be mounted (and unmounted) easily, for your convenience. They do require a flat surface, but they are small enough that that likely won’t be too much of a problem. This starter kit is very middle of the pack price-wise but should provide enough power for a small to medium-sized vessel easily. It is also possible to buy extra panels individually should you need them.

Wattage: 400/4 (100 per panel)

2. Nature Power Rigid

The nature power rigid is a large, powerful, single solar panel. If you are looking for the right panels to power your entire boat comfortably, these are the ones for you. They are very large so they will need a large flat surface area. alternatively, they can be hung vertically from rails. This is an inefficient way of using them, so you would need to buy more this way. Nature power makes various solar panels so you could find some smaller ones of the same brand to supplement it. This one is not so easy to install, you might need to hire someone to install it for you.

Wattage: 165

3. Nature Power Monocrystalline

Nature power makes a portable solar panel that fits inside a special briefcase. It is perfect for stowing away easily and only taking it out when it is needed. It is decently powerful considering its portable, but there is the inconvenience factor of having to set it up each time. If you planned to buy the nature power rigid, buying one of these portable panels might be ideal for supplementing your power supply when it is especially sunny. Though, it may be cheaper for you to just fit more of the Nature Power Rigids.

Wattage: 120

Hopefully, you now have a good idea about whether solar panels would be right for you and your sailboat. Sailing is great, but the lack of power at sea can be dreadfully boring. Luckily, there are so many great options available on the market. Not just the ones mentioned above. Buying a solar panel is an investment, the initial cost is minor compared to the steady return from all the savings you will make.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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Adding Solar Power to a Sailboat

  • By Emily Fagan
  • Updated: October 18, 2019

sailboat solar panels

During our nearly four-year cruise of Mexico, my husband, Mark, and I lived almost exclusively on 555 watts of solar power charging a 640-amp-hour house battery bank. We anchored out virtually every night aboard our 2008 Hunter 44DS, Groovy , and relied on the sun for power. During one 10-week stretch, while we waited for a replacement engine alternator to arrive, our boat’s solar panels were our sole source of power. We had no backup charging system to turn to, and yet we lived and sailed comfortably the entire time. Mounting solar panels on a sailboat was not difficult, but a few key decisions made a huge difference in how effective our panels were.

A solar-power installation on a sailboat is made up of two independent systems: one system to charge the batteries, and another system to provide 120-volt AC power for household appliances. In the charging system, the solar panels convert sunlight into electrical current and deliver it to the batteries via a solar charge controller. Similar to a voltage regulator, the charge controller acts as a gatekeeper to protect the batteries from receiving more current than they need as they are being charged. In the AC power system, an inverter or inverter/charger converts the 12-volt DC power in the battery into 120 volts AC whenever it is turned on.

Panel Positioning and Wiring Considerations

One of the biggest challenges for sailors installing solar power on a sailboat is finding a place on the boat where the panels will be shaded as little as possible. Just a few square inches of shade on one panel can render that panel all but inoperable. Unfortunately, between the mast, radome, spreaders and boom, shadows cross the deck all day long, especially as the boat swings back and forth at anchor.

What’s worse, if the panels are wired in series rather than in parallel, this little bit of shade can shut down the entire solar-panel array. When we installed solar power on Groovy , we had already lived exclusively on solar power in an RV for over two years. Our RV solar panels had been wired in series, and we had witnessed the array shutting down current production when just half of one panel was shaded.

Choosing whether to wire the panels in series or parallel on a boat affects the wire gauge required, which is why many solar-power installers lean toward wiring the panels in series. Panels wired in series can be wired all the way to the solar charge controller with a thinner-gauge wire than those wired in parallel. This is because the voltage of panels wired in series is additive, while the current remains constant, so the current flowing is just that of a single panel. In contrast, the current flowing from panels that are wired in parallel is additive, while the voltage across them is not. This means that in a parallel installation, the current going to the charge controller is several times higher and requires much thicker cable to avoid any voltage loss over the length of the wire.

Not only is thinner-gauge wire less expensive, but it is also more supple and easier to work with, making the job of snaking it in and around various crevices in the boat and connecting it to the solar charge controller much less of a struggle. Thus the choice between series and parallel wiring boils down to a trade-off between system performance, expense and ease of solar system installation.

Luckily, the size of the wire can be reduced if higher-­voltage solar panels are chosen. Since watts are determined by multiplying volts by amps, a higher-voltage panel that generates the same watts as a lower-voltage panel will produce less current. Therefore, selecting nominal 24-volt panels instead of 12-volt panels allows for the use of thinner wire sizes no matter how they are wired.

sailboat solar panels

Our Marine Solar Panel Design Choices

In our installation, we decided to mount three 185-watt, 24-volt (nominal) Kyocera solar panels high above the cockpit, well aft of the boom, as far away as possible from potential shade. Our Hunter came with a big, solid stainless-steel arch, and we turned to Alejandro Ulloa, a brilliant metal fabricator at Baja Naval Boatyard in Ensenada, Mexico, to build a polished stainless-steel solar-panel arch extension onto the existing structure. He designed the arch extension with integrated telescoping davits to hoist our dinghy as well as support the solar panels. These davits were strong enough — and the lines and blocks had enough purchase — that either of us could lift our light Porta-Bote dinghy with its 6-horsepower outboard without a winch.

We spaced the panels about a half-inch apart and wired them in parallel. Using two twin-lead wires, we snaked the three positive leads and one common ground down through the inside of the arch tubes so they wouldn’t be visible, and placed wire loom over the exposed wires under the panels.

The junction points for the three parallel panels were on positive and negative bus bars inside a combiner box, all mounted in a cockpit lazarette. Inside the combiner box, we installed three breakers, one for each panel. This gave us the ability to shut off any or all of the panels if we needed to (we never did).

We mounted a Xantrex solar charge controller (model XW MPPT 60-150) in a hanging locker, as close to the batteries as possible, in a spot where it was easy to monitor and program. We ran twin-lead wire from the combiner box to the charge controller and from there to the batteries.

Our boat came with three new 12-volt Mastervolt 4D AGM house batteries, all wired in parallel, for a total of 480 amp-hours of capacity. We wanted a bigger house battery bank, and because it is best for the age, type and size of the batteries to be matched, we added a fourth new Mastervolt 4D AGM house battery, which brought our total to 640 amp-hours. Our batteries were installed at the lowest point in the hull, below the floorboards, and they ran the length of the saloon, from just forward of the companionway stairs to just aft of the V-berth stateroom door.

The best way to charge a bank of batteries that are wired in parallel is to span the entire battery bank with the leads coming from the charge controller. We did this by connecting the positive lead from the charge controller to the positive terminal of the first battery in the bank, and the negative lead from the charge controller to the negative terminal of the last battery. By spanning the entire bank, the batteries were charged equally rather than having the charging current focused on just the first battery in the bank.

We feel that AGM batteries are superior to wet cell (flooded) batteries because they can be installed in any orientation, don’t require maintenance, can’t spill (even in a capsize), and charge more quickly. Our Mastervolt batteries, like almost all AGM batteries on the market, are dual-purpose, combining the very different characteristics of both deep-cycle and start batteries. Our batteries work well, but if we were doing an installation from scratch today, we would consider the new Trojan Reliant AGM batteries. These batteries are engineered strictly for deep-cycle use and have been optimized to provide consistent current and maximize battery life.

Our boat came with a Xantrex Freedom 2,500-watt inverter/charger wired into the boat’s AC wiring system with a transfer switch. The inverter/charger performed two functions. While the boat was disconnected from shore power, it converted the batteries’ 12-volt DC power into 120-volt AC power, allowing us to operate 120-volt appliances, like our microwave. When the boat was connected to shore power, it charged the batteries.

Because this inverter/charger was a modified-sine-wave inverter, mimicking AC ­current with a stair-stepped square wave, we also had a 600-watt pure-sine-wave inverter to power our potentially more sensitive electronic devices. We chose Exeltech because its inverters produce an electrical signal that is clean enough to power medical equipment, and they are NASA’s choice for both the Russian and American sides of the International Space Station. For simplicity, rather than wiring the inverter into the cabin’s AC wiring, we plugged ordinary household power strips into the AC outlets on the inverter and plugged our appliances into the power strips. Like the charge controller, the inverter must be located as close to the batteries as possible. Ours was under a settee.

sailboat solar panels

Shade’s Impact on Sailboat Solar Panels

Once our solar installation was completed on our sailboat, we closely observed the effects of shade on our solar-panel array. We were often anchored in an orientation that put the panels in full sun. Just as often, however, we were angled in such a way that shade from the mast and boom covered portions of our panels. It was fascinating to monitor the solar charge controller’s LCD display whenever the sun was forward of the beam — the current from the panels to the batteries fluctuated up and down as we swung at anchor.

Taking notes one morning, we noticed that the charging current was repeatedly creeping up and down between 9.5 and 24.5 amps as the boat moved to and fro. When the entire solar-panel array was in full sun, it generated 24.5 amps of current. When we moved so the mast shaded a portion of one panel, the array generated 15 amps. When it shaded portions of two panels and only one was in full sun, the array produced just 9.5 amps. Of course, it would have been preferable to see a steady 24.5 amps all morning, but this sure beat watching the current drop to zero whenever a shadow crossed a panel.

We discovered that shade makes a huge impact while sailing, too. Surprisingly, it is far worse to have the panels shaded by the sails than to have the panels in full sun but tilted away from its direct rays. One afternoon, we noticed that while we were on a tack that tilted the panels away from the sun, they generated 24.5 amps of current, whereas on a tack where the panels were tilted toward the sun but two of the three were partially shaded by the sails, the current dropped to a mere 10 amps.

Reflections On Our Solar Panel Installation

A wonderful and surprising side benefit of our large solar panels and arch system was that the setup created fabulous shade over the jumpseats at the stern end of the cockpit. Our metal fabricator, Alejandro, placed a support strut at hand-holding height, and sitting in those seats feels secure and comfortable while sailing, no matter the conditions.

After living on solar power for eight years of cruising and land-yacht travel, we’ve learned that you can never have too much solar power. Groovy’s 555 watts was enough to run all our household appliances as needed, including our nearly 4-cubic-foot DC refrigerator, two laptops, a TV/DVD player, and lights at night. However, it was not quite enough power to run all that plus our stand-alone 2.5-cubic-foot DC freezer during the short days and low sun angles of the winter months without supplemental charging from the engine alternator every few days. For the 10 weeks that we did not have a functioning alternator, our solution was to turn off the freezer, which enabled our batteries to reach full charge every afternoon.

Solar power made a world of difference in our cruise. Not only did it allow us to live comfortably and with ample electricity for weeks on end when our engine alternator went on the blink, but as a “set-it-and-forget-it” system, it also gave us the freedom to anchor out for as long as we wished without worrying about the batteries. In our eyes, the solar-panel arch enhanced the beauty and lines of our boat, giving her a sleek and clean appearance. It was true icing on the cake to discover that the panels and arch system also provided much-needed shade over the cockpit and helm from the hot tropical sunshine. If you are preparing for a cruise, consider turning to the sun for electricity and outfitting your sailboat with solar power.

The Installation:

solar panels

Emily and Mark Fagan offer cruising tips and share their stories and photos on their website, roadslesstraveled.us . They are currently enjoying a land cruise across America aboard an RV.

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9 Best Solar Panels for Sailboats

solar panels for sailboat

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Solar panels have become game changers when it comes to supplying power while off the grid. Marine solar panels can charge anything from batteries to computers to bigger electronic appliances. What are the best solar panels for sailboats? 

The 9 best solar panels for sailboats are: 

  • Renogy Flexible Solar Panel
  • Newpowa Solar Panel
  • SunPower Flexible Sol ar Panel
  • Eco-Worthy Off-Grid Solar Panel
  • Rich Solar Polycrystalline
  • Topsolar Flexible Solar Panel
  • HQST Monocrystalline Solar Panel
  • WindyNation Solar Panel Complete Off-Grid
  • DOKIO Solar Panel Kit

This article will explore everything you need to know about the best marine solar panels. 

Table of Contents

Solar Panels on Sailboats: An Overview

Before exploring the best solar panels, it is helpful to consider how solar panels on sailboats work and how many you need. Solar panels sit on different parts of a sailboat’s surface and absorb the sun’s rays, converting them into energy. This energy is used to power chargers, fridges, cooking stoves, and other electronics you need for self-sufficient sailing. 

Worth noting is that today we will only discuss solar panels and not the batteries, which of course is an essential part of a complete system; we will also not discuss charges or charge controllers.

The products in this post will get you started in the right direction, but if you’re looking for a high-output system, then I suggest you contact someone that can help you calculate your energy requirements.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need for My Sailboat?

solar panels for sailboat

You will need between 2-8 solar panels for your sailboat. The exact amount depends on your sailboat’s space and how many electronics you need to power. Most solar panels can absorb between 100-300 watts per hour. On average, you will need approximately 1500 watts of power each day. 

If your solar panels absorb 1500 watts daily, here’s what they can power on your sailboat: 

  • A laptop charger
  • A microwave 
  • A coffee maker 
  • An induction cooker 

If you want to power more heavy-duty electronics like a washing machine or a television, look for solar panels that absorb 400 watts. For heavy-duty electronics, try installing 5-8 solar panels. 

Flexible vs. Rigid Solar Panels

solar panels for sailboat

The three main types of solar panels are rigid panels, flexible panels, and semi-flexible panels.

Rigid panels are surrounded by aluminum and made with sturdy tempered glass. They are resilient against various weather conditions but require flat space to install. 

Semi-flexible panels can be slightly bent to fit the shape of the installation surface. However, they can’t absorb a lot of power. 

One very common type of solar panel used on boats is the flexible panel . Flexible panels are thin and lightweight, and, as their name suggests, they can be added to a wide variety of surfaces. 

Here are the pros of flexible panels: 

  • They are thin and light. Flexible panels are approximately one-eighth the weight and size of rigid and semi-flexible panels. This allows you to add them to various sailboat sizes and surfaces. It also reduces the load on your sailboat. 
  • They are easy to install. Flexible panels are easy to work with and can be self-installed by following the instructions that come with the panels. Meanwhile, rigid and semi-flexible panels may require expert installations. 
  • They’re sturdy. Despite being light, flexible panels can bear a lot of pressure – you can easily walk over them. 

However, there are also some drawbacks to using flexible solar panels: 

  • May fly away . As flexible panels are fragile, they can easily be dislodged and fly away, especially in strong winds. 
  • Vulnerable to scratches . While flexible panels can bear much weight, they may get scratched more easily. Over time this may affect their functionality. 
  • Not easy to reposition. Flexible panels are generally adhered to the surface of a sailboat using a specially prepared adhesive. Because of this, it is challenging to reposition the solar panels when there is a change of season.
  • Less efficient. Flexible solar panels don’t convert energy to electricity or rigid panels. It may be harder to power heavy-duty appliances from a flexible solar panel. 

How Many Panels Can I Fit on a Sailboat (Catamaran and Monohull)?

The amount of panels you can fit on your sailboat depends on the size of the panels and the surface space you have available. 

You can fit at least two 400W panels on a Monohull and at least four on a Catamaran around 35ft in length. You will be able to fit 4-8 more solar panels if you add a solar panel bracket at the stern. 

Renogy Flexible Solar Panel 100W

Renogy is a popular solar panel producer that designs high-quality solar panels. The Renogy Flexible Solar Panel is specially designed for marine vehicles, including sailboats. 

Here are the best features of this solar panel: 

  • Flexibility . These solar panels are fragile, making them flexible and easy to mount on served surfaces. 
  • Easy to install. These are made with high-quality Monocrystalline, allowing them to be easily bent and easy to install. 
  • Lightweight. One solar panel weighs only 4 pounds, ensuring that no extra pressure or weight is displaced on your boat. 
  • Durability . User reviews have noted that these panels are highly durable and can last you a few years. 
  • Users have noted that these panels do not have the best outputs. They also can’t be stacked, which impacts their accessibility. To ensure that these panels can be connected, you may purchase extra extension cords. 

Newpowa Rigid 160W Solar Panel

The Newpowa Right Solar Panel is a new design with a maximum power of 160W. It is weather-resistant and can be used on various surfaces and vehicles. 

Here are the pros of the Newpowa Solar Panel: 

  • Weatherproof . The design features of this solar panel ensure that it survives under a range of different weather conditions. It has a heavy-duty frame preventing it from strong wind and waves. Its mainframe has a further layer of protection for the Junction box. 
  • Long warranty . Newpowa offers a 25-year transferrable output power warranty. 
  • Easy to install . These solar panels are made with mono cells and bypass diodes. Consequently, the solar panels can be immediately unpacked and are ready to install. 
  • High wattage. As these solar panels have 160 Watts of power, you need less of them to power all the devices on your boat. 
  • If you are planning on buying the Newpowa Solar Panel, you should note that they only make rigid panels. As a result, you may find it to be difficult to install them on curved spaces.

SunPower 110W Flexible Solar Panel

SunPower’s Flexible Solar Panels are made with high-quality materials ensuring durability. They are especially ideal for sailboats as their warranty also covers saltwater damage. 

Here are the standout features of the SunPower 110W Flexible Solar Panel: 

  • Flexibility . This solar panel can be bent up to 30 degrees, making it easy to install on various surfaces. 
  • Easily portable. These solar panels are incredibly lightweight (4.4 pounds or 2 kilograms) and can be easily uninstalled and transported. 
  • Extended warranty . SunPower offers a five-year warranty on power and a two-year warranty on the product. The warranty includes damage caused by saltwater which many other solar panel warranties do not. 
  • Some users have noted that the output quality of these solar panels deteriorates over time. However, you can use the extended warranty to address any quality deterioration. 

ECO-WORTHY Rigid 25W Off-Grid Solar Panel

This is a rigid, 25-watt solar panel that is waterproof, making it ideal for your boat. It is highly durable and has inbuilt indicators that highlight the battery’s status. Its low output makes it only suitable for charging phones or smaller electronics.

Here are some notable features of the Eco-Worthy Solar Panel: 

  • Ease of use. This solar panel is easy to install and requires no maintenance. 
  • Warranty. Eco-Worthy offers one year of warranty on all of its products and free maintenance if needed. 
  • USB control. This solar panel is attached to a USB control panel, preventing it from overcharging and getting damaged. 
  • Waterproof. All solar panel parts are entirely waterproof and can handle exposure to both saltwater and freshwater. 

Some of the drawbacks to this solar panel include: 

  • Low watt absorption. Unlike many of the other solar panels on this list, this one can only absorb up to 25 watts of power at a time. So, it can only power smaller devices like batteries. 
  • Instruction manual. Some users have noted that the instructions to set up the Eco-worth solar panel are confusing for beginners. If you have never installed solar panels before, it’s best to call in an expert to help. 

RICH SOLAR 100W Rigid 12V Polycrystalline

This 100W rigid solar panel is designed to absorb energy even in low light conditions. It is easy to install and ideal for marine environments. 

Here’s why you should consider buying Rich Solar Panels: 

  • Works well in low light. This solar panel has been tested in various low light conditions, including cloudiness and during sunrise and sunset. It is certified to be able to harvest energy in low light conditions. 
  • Extended warranty. Rich Solar Panels offers a 25-year warranty on limited power output and a five-year warranty on quality. 
  • Water and weatherproof . The Rich Solar panels have used selective design elements to ensure they are water-resistant. They have high transparency and are made with tempered glass to withstand high winds and water pressure. 
  • Cost-effective . These are significantly cost-effective, making it easy to equip your sailboat fully. 
  • While solar panels can easily resist strong winds and water, they can be vulnerable to hail. Hail storms can cause dents on the solar panels, which can eventually cause damage. 

Topsolar Flexible 100W Solar Panel

Topsolar provides premium flexible solar panels that are easy to move and install. They are ideal for installing on water vessels like sailboats with waterproof materials. 

Here are some of the pros of choosing the Topsolar Flexible Solar Panel: 

  • Flexibility . The arc radius of this solar panel is 16 inches (40 centimeters) and can be bent to fit several curved surfaces allowing your solar panel to harvest the most sun. 
  • Efficiency . These solar panels are made with ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) materials. They are extremely energy efficient and can rapidly convert energy. 
  • Some users have noted that these solar panels don’t have as long a life as other panels. In addition, some panels may only be able to absorb up to 75 watts of power at a time. 

HQST Rigid 100w Monocrystalline Solar Panel

This is a 100-watt solar panel that has been specially designed to perform well in low light. It is made with high-quality materials and is ideal for sailing boats as it is durable even in unfavorable weather conditions. 

Here are the pros of installing the HQST Solar Panel: 

  • Durability . These solar panels are designed to withstand strong winds and snowfall. They’re made with tempered glass and aluminum and are resistant to corrosion, ensuring longevity. 
  • Testing and warranty. Each solar panel is quality tested before it is distributed. It also comes with a three-year warranty. 
  • Easy to install . While these are rigid solar panels, they have pre-drilled holes, making them easier to install. 

WindyNation 100W Solar Panel Complete Off-Grid

As its name suggests, this solar panel is designed for off-the-grid living and is helpful if you need to access power when you’re in the middle of the sea. 

Here is why you should consider the WindyNation Solar Panel: 

  • Includes a charge controller. This controller lets you quickly see the amount of power the solar panel has absorbed. 
  • High power. Several positive user reviews have indicated that this solar panel is highly efficient in absorbing and converting power. 
  • This solar panel is more expensive than many others on the market.

DOKIO 300W 18V Portable Solar Panel Kit

If you are looking for a heavy-duty solar panel, the Dokio Solar Panel Kit is excellent. It can absorb a lot of energy and power a wide range of appliances on your sailboat. 

Here’s why you should consider this solar panel: 

  • Versatile and flexible. While this is a rigid solar panel, it can be folded, making it easy to transport and install. 
  • High efficiency. This solar panel is highly efficient at converting energy into power. As it absorbs up to 300 watts, you can install just two of these panels to get significant energy. 
  • Some users have noted that this solar panel does not work well in low-light conditions. You may want to have a backup solar panel for days when it’s rainy and windy. 

Here are Some of My Favorite Catamaran Cruising Resources

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you hopefully start your sailing adventures. Here are some resources that I use as a sailor that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the exact things that I use and recommend to everyone, even my own family. Sailboats: If you’re looking for the best boat to suit your needs, I would recommend a catamaran. If you’re interested, I can show you the differences between catamarans and other types of sailboats .

Books:  For getting started, I really like  Cruising catamarans made easy . It is actually a textbook from the American sailing association; it is used to get a cruising catamaran certification. There are some other great books, and I have compiled a list of books about cruising catamarans that you will find useful.

Communication:  Being out on adventures, whether it be sailing or climbing mountains, good communications are essential to being safe. I recommend two things Google fi (incredibly simple cellular data all over the world) and Garmin inreach mini (for text and voice in remote areas without cell coverage)

Sailing courses: Online sailing courses are great for beginners starting out their sailing career; it’s an efficient way of learning the basics of navigation, throttle controls, and maritime safety. I suggest starting with two free courses from NauticEd .

To see all my most up-to-date recommendations,  check out this resource  that I made for you!

Owner of CatamaranFreedom.com. A minimalist that has lived in a caravan in Sweden, 35ft Monohull in the Bahamas, and right now in his self-built Van. He just started the next adventure, to circumnavigate the world on a Catamaran!

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Top 5 Best Solar Panels for Boats (2024 Marine Buyer’s Guide)

Top 5 Best Solar Panels for Boats (2024 Marine Buyer’s Guide)

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • Why photovoltaic (PV) equipment is great to have on your boat
  • Which panels are best suited for use on the water
  • What qualities make for a great boat solar panel

Each product and or company featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

Why Should You Install Solar Panels On Your Boat?

Before we dive into the best panels to bring your boat into the world of clean energy, it’s worth discussing why you’d want a solar panel system on your boat in the first place.

There are a few use cases that are important to consider. These not only dictate whether or not you need panels on your boat, but they can also help you decide which system is the best and most cost-effective for you. We’ll discuss the different reasons to go solar on your boat below.

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Charging Emergency Equipment

For anyone who has run into issues out at sea, the need for reliable emergency equipment is well understood. Whether you run out of gas, your boat breaks down or you have some other issue that precludes you from getting back to shore, having a way to reach out for help will keep your mind at ease.

Depending on the type of boat you have and how well it’s equipped, you may have a radio system, a satellite phone, a regular phone or some other communication device for emergencies. All of these require power, and having a solar system on your boat ensures that you’ll always have access to these devices.

Charging Recreational Equipment

Even if you’re not running into problems at sea, you might want the ability to charge recreational equipment. It’s always nice to have the ability to charge smartphones, e-readers, speakers and other devices you might use for entertainment.

This is especially important if you plan on spending a few days at sea and don’t want to rely on your boat’s batteries. Keeping those well charged for lighting, navigation tools and starting your boat’s engine is more important than getting your phone up to a full charge.

Quality of Life at Sea

For a lot of people, there’s a lot of joy in upgrading life at sea and making things just a little more comfortable. One of the perks of installing a solar system on your vessel is that you don’t have to worry about using your boat’s batteries for non-necessities.

For example, many recreational boaters connect their solar array to an electric cooler. Others use their solar modules to power electric water heaters for hot showers and constant hot water.

The possibilities for improving your at-sea experience with solar are really up to you, which is part of what makes bringing renewable energy to your boat so exciting.

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What Are the Top 5 Best Solar Panels for Boats?

If you’re convinced you want to install solar on your boat, but you don’t know much about the available options, you might be overwhelmed by the choices. You’ll have access to seemingly countless brands and models.

To help you narrow down your options and choose panels that will meet your needs, we’ve done extensive research and chosen just a few product lines that we recommend. We’ll provide a quick breakdown of the different options below, and we’ll dive deeper into the specifications in later sections.

SunPower 170W Solar Panel

SunPower is a leader in the residential solar industry, so it’s no surprise that we found that the company also makes the best solar panels for use on boats.

This panel is pricey, but it’s significantly more powerful than most other options. At 170 watts, you can use these panels to charge your boat’s main battery, provide backup power for emergencies, or live large on the water by powering coolers, hot water heaters and much more.

This panel doesn’t come with a solar charge controller like many other options do, so not only is it expensive, but you’ll have to lay out more money for a controller, inverter and battery. However, we believe the efficiency and power output are well worth the investment.

These panels are also rated with a waterproof rating of IP67, which means they can withstand immersion in water up to about three feet for around half an hour. If you need more protection than that, you have bigger problems on your hands than losing a panel.

  • High-efficiency panel for maximum power
  • High-quality, durable materials
  • Trusted and reliable brand
  • Waterproof up to a meter for 30 minutes
  • Doesn’t include any equipment other than the panel

Renogy 100W Flexible Marine Solar Panel

The Renogy Flexible solar panel designed specifically for use on the water is our pick for the best bang for your buck. It’s about half the price of the SunPower panel, although it does have a little more than just half the power capacity.

At 100 watts, this panel is great for middle-of-the-road power. It can serve as a reliable backup source of energy, or you can use it to recharge phones, GPS devices, e-readers, laptops and other electronics. It’s possible to use it for the quality-of-life items mentioned above as well.

This panel also has an IP67 waterproof rating, which is ideal for maintaining peace of mind on the water. Although it’s less expensive than our top pick, it includes a controller and wiring to connect your panels. You’ll just need an inverter and a battery to complete your setup.

  • Excellent power output
  • IP67 waterproof rating
  • Includes controller and wiring
  • Reliable brand name
  • More expensive than many other options
  • Doesn’t include a battery or inverter

EcoWorthy 25W Solar Panel Kit

The EcoWorthy solar panel kit is one of the easiest photovoltaic (PV) systems to install, so it’s our top pick for those looking to get started with clean energy. You can purchase this kit with a 10 amp-hour (AH), 12-volt battery, and the MC4 connectors are plug-and-play for a quick and painless installation.

This panel has a much smaller output than our top two picks, so it’s best reserved for backup power or for charging cell phones and other small electronics.

This kit has a waterproof rating of IP65, which means it can withstand being submerged in around five feet of water for up to a half hour, and it will also be protected from sprays of water. This is a great option for maintaining peace of mind when you’re on the water, especially if conditions are rough.

Lastly, the kit includes a panel, a controller and wiring, so you’ll just need to add a battery and an inverter to complete your kit.

  • IP65 waterproof rating
  • Includes a controller and wiring
  • Very affordable
  • Significantly less power than our top picks – Only ideal for light-duty use

NewPowa 30W Solar Panel Kit

This 30 watt solar panel kit from NewPowa includes a panel, a controller and wiring. If you add a backup battery and an inverter, you can create a complete off-grid solar kit for less than $150 without leaving your home (thanks to Amazon).

With an output of 30 watts, this is the best marine solar panel for light-duty use, although you could use it for non-essential electronics like an electric cooler or a small solar water heater. Those more demanding devices should be low-use, though.

The panels and controller are IP67-rated, so they’re suitable for use on just about any boat.

Best of all, the partial solar kit is just $60, so this makes our list as our top budget pick for going solar without breaking the bank.

The kit has pre-drilled mounting holes and is compatible with a wide variety of mounting brackets. As such, your installation process should be relatively straightforward.

  • Includes a controller and plug-and-play wiring
  • Relatively low wattage

TopSolar Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit

The off-grid solar kit from TopSolar is a great affordable option, and it’s what we’d recommend as a starter kit for backup energy for beginners. It only puts out 20 watts, so this is not the best option if you’re looking for something to charge your recreational devices or quality-of-life equipment. However, it’s an affordable and easy-to-install kit for emergency power.

Unfortunately, this kit doesn’t include a specific ingress protection (IP) rating, but the manufacturer does note that the product is waterproof. Based on customer reviews, it appears that this product is safe for use on the water.

solar panels for boats battery

The kit includes a small PV panel, a controller and wiring, so you’ll need to buy an inverter and battery separately if you want AC power or backup power.

Best of all, the kit is super easy to install. It has pre-drilled holes and is compatible with most mounting brackets and clips.

  • Great option for backup power
  • Easy to install
  • No official IP rating
  • Low wattage

What Should Boat Owners Look for When Buying Solar Panels?

Solar panels can be a great option for marine use, but not all panels and solar kits are suitable for use around water. Additionally, the panel you choose needs to be selected based on how you want to use your solar power system.

In the sections below, we’ll include a few key things you’ll want to consider when choosing a solar module for your boat.

Energy Needs

One of the first things we recommend thinking about is how much energy you need your panels to generate. This will help guide you to what size panel and how much energy output you need.

If you’re just looking for reliable backup power for your boat’s internal 12-volt battery, or you want your panels to provide power for emergencies only, you’ll probably only need a panel of around 20 watts.

If you use your boat frequently for entertaining guests, or you spend days at a time on your boat, you might want something above 100 watts to provide backup power plus electricity for electric coolers, water heaters and more. Consider everything you’ll use your solar array for and size your system accordingly.

The chart below provides a quick breakdown of what size solar panels you need for different purposes on a boat.

If you plan on using your panels to replace an on-board generator, you can calculate how much electricity your boat uses and then size your system accordingly. It’s always advisable to go a little bigger than you think you need, as cloud coverage and the angle of the sunlight hitting your panels can cause fluctuations in solar power production.

If you have high energy needs, we also recommend considering a Maximum Power Point Tracker (MPPT) controller, which is more efficient than a Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) controller, which is more common.

Space Available for Installation

Just like residential solar systems are limited by available roof square footage, marine solar systems are limited by the available space for installation. This is an important consideration to make to ensure you don’t buy a panel that you won’t be able to mount or use in your vessel.

Before you buy any equipment, we recommend checking the measurements of the panel and deciding where on your boat you can install it. Some portable, foldable panels come with kickstands for temporary setups, but the smaller of our top picks can be set up just about anywhere without mounting brackets as well.

Type of Solar Panel

You’ll have a few choices for the type of panel you purchase for your boat as well.

First, you’ll need to decide between thin-film solar panels, polycrystalline solar panels and monocrystalline solar panels.

  • Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient, so they’re the best suited for use on boats. The higher efficiency ratings will let you produce more energy per square foot, which is essential on a boat where space is limited. All of our recommendations above are monocrystalline.
  • Polycrystalline solar panels can also work, but they won’t provide as much solar power.
  • Thin-film panels are the most affordable, but they generate even less electricity and aren’t ideal for use where available space is minimal.

Second, you should think about whether you want a rigid solar panel with an aluminum frame or a semi-flexible one. Flexible panels contain special solar cells that can be a bit pricier, but they’re easier to install and are a bit more versatile. They can be mounted on curved surfaces, giving you more placement options.

Waterproof Rating

Since you’ll be using your panels on the water, it’s essential that you choose one with a good waterproof rating. Some of the best options are IP67 and IP65. These will ensure your panels and charge controllers or regulators remain safe and at low risk of fire even when exposed to moisture and direct water contact.

Accessories

Finally, you should consider what your kit comes with. Some come with only panels, so you’ll need to buy a controller, an inverter and a battery to complete your setup. Some come with a combination of these parts, although batteries and inverters aren’t commonly included. Some panels also include mounting brackets, although this is also uncommon.

Thinking about the additional equipment you’ll need to purchase after buying your panels will help you budget more effectively for your entire system.

How Do Solar Panels Work With Boats?

PV panels for boats work just like panels for residential use — they collect sunlight and route the energy either to a storage or use system.

Since boat solar systems are entirely off-grid, most require the following:

  • Solar panels
  • A charge controller
  • An inverter
  • Mounting brackets or other mounting hardware
  • A backup battery for energy storage

We’ll explain what each of these components does in the section below, and then we’ll get into how to set up and maintain your system.

Equipment for a Marine Solar System

best regulators for marine solar systems

The main components you’ll absolutely need for your boat solar system are PV panels and a controller. If you plan to store energy or use it to charge common electronics, you’ll also need a battery and an inverter.

The panels are the pieces of the system that collect energy from the sun. The electricity generated is then passed to your controller, which limits the amount of power that flows through the wires to your battery or device.

The charge controller helps prevent overcharging batteries or electronics when production is high, and it also prevents battery drainage when production is low. Some panels are equipped with bypass diodes to provide the same safety features.

The solar energy that’s collected is direct current (DC), while most electronics, including standard light fixtures, use alternating current (AC) power. An inverter is used to convert DC current to AC so that you can use your solar power to power devices directly. If you don’t have DC lights in your boat, for example, an inverter might be necessary to provide lighting.

A battery storage system is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a battery bank that stores solar energy for later use.

Solar batteries are useful for two main reasons on boats.

  • First, if you ever experience cloudy days, your solar production might very well drop below what you need to provide power to your devices. In that case, having a battery to pull stored energy from can be helpful in maintaining charging capability or electricity.
  • Additionally, a battery on board can be useful for maintaining backup power for emergencies. If your boat’s built-in battery ever fails or you need to charge emergency communication or navigation devices, a battery will come in handy.

Installation

Since you want your solar panels to be exposed to as much sun as possible, it’s best to install them at or near the highest point on your boat — often the bimini. This will prevent them from getting shade from other parts of your boat during the day, regardless of which direction your vessel is moving.

It’s also typically best to install your panels as close to parallel with the surface of the earth as possible. Since your boat will be moving around a lot, it’s not realistic to install them facing the path of the sun in the sky as you would on a home. Laying them flat gives you the best chance of always collecting at least some sunlight.

You, of course, need to consider available space as well, so remember to take measurements of your installation site and compare them to your panels before beginning the process.

Finally, you should consider where your batteries will be — if applicable — and where your wiring will run once your installation is complete. Keeping these things in mind will help ensure that the installation process goes as smoothly as possible.

Below, we’ll include a brief step-by-step guide on how to install a solar system on your boat.

  • First, take measurements of where your panels will be installed, the path the wiring will take to all components and where your battery, inverter and controller will be placed. Making sure you have enough room for all of your components will help avoid headaches once you get started.
  • We recommend mounting your batteries, inverter and controller first. These are generally the easier components to mount, so they’re the easiest to move once installed.
  • Next, mount your panels. The process for this will depend on the panels you choose and where you plan to install them. You should follow the installation instructions for the mounting brackets or hardware you purchase.
  • Finally, you can wire your system, beginning with the connection between the panels and the controller and then the connections to the inverter and battery.
  • You can test your system by using a voltmeter or by checking to see if your powered devices function as intended. Some controllers will also show you if your panels are providing energy and how much they’re producing.

For more guidance and information on how to set up your boat solar system, you can check out the video below:

Maintenance

Thankfully, solar systems are relatively maintenance-free once installed, although you should carry out routine system checks and cleaning to ensure you continue to enjoy maximum safety and energy production.

You should spray down your panels with water about once every six months to get any accumulation of dirt or salt off of them. This will help maximize energy generation. Around the same time, you should also check the wires and connectors for corrosion, which is more likely to occur if you use your boat in saltwater.

After major storms, it’s a good idea to ensure that none of the connections between components were lost. A simple disconnect could lead to your battery charging issues, which could be an issue if you ever need backup power.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that solar systems on boats are generally considered safe. There is a small risk of fire but provided you carry out the proper maintenance, you should avoid any serious issues.

Are Marine Solar Panels Worth It?

The answer to this question really depends on who you ask. For some boat owners, PV panels are essential. Not only can they provide backup power for emergencies, but they can also improve your quality of life at sea and the enjoyment of your boat.

For many people, these things are indispensable, so solar systems are well worth the investment. For certain types of boats — like small fishing boats and sailboats — solar panels will be the only source of electricity.

Other boat owners feel comfortable relying on generators if they have them, and some use their boats only for short durations, which makes having an on-board solar array less valuable.

For most people, though, having at least a small solar system to provide backup power for emergencies is worthwhile. From there, opting to up the size of your system to improve your time at sea isn’t hard to get behind.

FAQ: Marine Solar Panels

Below, we’ll answer a few of the most common questions we get about solar panel systems made for boats.

What are the best marine solar panels?

In our opinion, the best solar panels for boat use are the SunPower 170W solar panels. These are flexible panels that allow for easy and versatile installation.

They are some of the most efficient panels suitable for boat use, and they provide an incredible 170 watts each. This is enough power for just about anything you need electricity for on your boat and for emergency equipment in low-light conditions.

These panels are a bit expensive, and they don’t come with any additional equipment. However, the junction boxes have a waterproof rating of IP67, come with a five-year warranty for equipment and high efficiency and are made from high-quality, durable materials for years of use.

Will solar panels keep my boat battery charged?

Yes, solar panels can be hooked up to keep your boat’s 12 volt battery charged. However, you need to make sure you install a system that is sized appropriately for your boat’s needs.

You can check how much power your boat draws from its battery system by looking at the loads (in amps or watts) of each device. You can also use your battery monitor if you have one to check the energy demand of each individual component pulling power. Then, choose solar panels that produce a bit more energy than your system needs.

If you live in an area that experiences a lot of cloudy weather, you might want to size up your system even more to ensure your system generates enough electricity.

How much does it cost to put solar panels on a boat?

The cost to install a solar array on your boat can range from around $150 up to well over $1,000. Where in this range your total falls depends primarily on how much energy you need to produce.

If you’re looking for portable solar panels to take on and off a small boat with you for emergency use only — which is typical for sailboats and smaller boats that don’t normally have electricity — you’ll likely be looking at the $150 end of the spectrum.

If you have a much larger boat and want to be able to maintain power for your essential equipment and some non-essentials, then you’ll likely push your all-in cost closer to the higher end of the range.

What are the benefits of solar panels on boats?

Installing solar panels on your boat can provide quite a few key benefits, although the perks you’ll actually experience depend on your situation and your specific boat.

Perhaps most importantly, solar panels can charge your boat’s battery and maintain electricity for emergencies. Most systems — even small ones — can serve to charge your phone, GPS or other emergency devices in case you run into problems out on the water.

Larger systems can also provide power for recreational use, like charging phones, powering speaker systems, keeping beer cold and more.

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What You Need To Know About Boat Solar Panels

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Sunshine and boats are a natural together, so why not use all that free energy? Here’s the lowdown on solar panel selection and installation

Solar panel in use on top of a vessel in open waters during sunlight.

I first embraced the idea of solar power while up a pole (literally) in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway replacing dead batteries. It was the early 1980s, and I was maintaining buoys, beacons, and other such Aids To Navigation (ATON) for the U.S. Coast Guard, replacing massive, nonrechargeable batteries with rechargeable solar-powered ones. The higher-ups said the solar rechargeables would last six years – twice as long as the one-shot batteries. As the deck-ape in charge of lugging all those batteries up and down the ladders, my back and I immediately appreciated the whole “free power from the sun” thing, a concept I continue to embrace.

The strategy behind s olar energy onboard is simple: A solar panel converts sunlight into electricity, after which wiring conducts it to your batteries for storage until needed. Solar panels are used to keep batteries or banks charged rather than to power equipment directly. This arrangement allows the panels to store generated power whenever produced, while providing a steady source of power to a piece of equipment even when the panel is producing no power.

While they do require an initial outlay, solar panels can easily pay for themselves in money saved and independence gained over their service life. They’re noiseless, have no moving parts, and they provide free electricity for years with minimal maintenance. Solar panels also have the benefit of being modular, letting you start small and add more as your power requirements increase.

The benefits of solar

Almost any boat can benefit from solar power. Whether at a slip, mooring, or on a trailer, boats can keep their batteries topped off without the need for external power. You can also use solar power to supplement or even replace other onboard charging sources, reducing or eliminating the need to run engines or generators to keep batteries topped off (a wasteful practice that burns fuel while wearing down the costliest pieces of equipment onboard).

While underway, it’s a plus to be able to recharge a dead battery in an emergency – say, to operate a VHF radio or navigation gear. While dockside, solar panels keep batteries charged and vital systems (such as bilge pumps) up and running without the need for shore power.

Large solar panel mounted to a covered vessel docked in a harbor.

Just about any boat can benefit from solar power, whether it’s to keep batteries topped off or supplement other onboard charging sources.

Solar panel mounted on a vessel in use during a sunny afternoon.

Mount solar panels where they are exposed to maximum sunlight but do not interfere with operation of the vessel. 

Large solar panel in use on a clear and sunny day.

Bottom: Something as simple as the shadow of a line or shroud can reduce or halt output.

Types of panels

Solar panels contain photovoltaic cells – small silicon semiconductor devices that convert sunlight into electricity. Each cell generates between 0.45 and 0.5 volts, depending on exposure to direct sunlight. Cell size determines amperage, with a 3-inch cell producing roughly 2 amps, a 4-inch cell a little over 3 amps, and a 5-inch cell around 5 amps.

Construction-wise, the three main types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous (or thin-film) technology.

Monocrystalline panels have been around the longest and remain the most popular. The panels are constructed of thin slices of crystal silicon (each cell is cut from a single crystal) housed in a rigid, aluminum frame and covered with tempered shatterproof glass. The panels have a uniform black, blue, or gray appearance and are generally quite rugged, although they can be cracked or broken if subjected to extreme abuse.

Monocrystalline panels have the longest service life of the three types. With a conversion efficiency of around 17%, they’re also the most efficient and have the highest electrical output per area, but they are also the most expensive.

Polycrystalline cells are sliced from a cast silicon block and have a shattered glass appearance. Built in much the same way as monocrystalline panels, they’re rectangular, giving the panel itself a tiled look. Their life span is similar to monocrystalline panels, and while their conversion efficiency is lower (by 14%), they’re also a bit less expensive.

Amorphous panels are made by placing a thin film of active silicon on a solid or flexible backing (such as stainless or aluminum sheeting) depending on whether the panel is to be rigid-framed and glass-fronted or flexible. Flexible amorphous panels, in which cells are sandwiched between rubber and polymer covers, are light and tough enough that you can walk on them and, in some cases, even roll them up for storage.

This type of solar panel is also better if shade is an issue. With crystalline panels, even the thin shadow of a rope or shroud across one cell can reduce or halt output of an entire module. Amorphous panels have “bypass” diodes that essentially turn off shaded cells and provide a current path around them. Some monocrystalline panels also have bypass diodes, but this feature comes at an increase in cost.

Amorphous panels are the least expensive of the three types, but their efficiency is also lower – around 8%, or roughly half that of a monocrystalline type. This lower output is somewhat mitigated in newer panels, however, which use three-layer construction. Each layer absorbs different colors of the solar spectrum, so the panel will deliver more power longer each day and during lower light conditions than the other two types.

Mounted solar panel charge controller

The charge controller should be mounted below decks and as close to the battery as possible. 

SunSaver-10L Solar Controller

Follow manufacturer instructions for wire connections.

Planning the system

While factors such as cost, mounting options, and output are important, a successful installation depends on knowing what you want the system to accomplish. Is the goal to float-charge a single battery or supplement an overall vessel energy plan? Answering these questions up front will help determine the type, size, and number of panels required.

To understand the process better, let’s walk through the basic steps to determine power requirements and installation considerations for a single solar panel installation. While the example itself is simple, the steps are the same used to plan more complicated installations.

For our example, the goal is to install a solar panel to provide charging for a single 12-volt, 100-amp-hour wet-cell battery used to power an automatic anchor light on a moored vessel.

The first step is compiling a daily power consumption estimate to determine how much solar power is needed.

The daily self-discharge rate for a wet-cell battery is roughly 1%, meaning our 100-amp-hour battery requires one amp every 24 hours just to maintain the status quo. The anchor light draws 50 milliamps per hour of operation, and we’ll assume it operates 10 hours each night. Multiplying current draw (50 milliamps) by hours of daily operation (10) generates a daily energy expense of 500 milliamps or .5 amps.

This means our solar panel must meet a minimum daily energy tab of 1.5 amps – one amp of battery self-discharge rate plus .5 amps of power draw for the anchor light.

Next up is figuring out panel size and the best mounting location. For our example, let’s assume the panel will be a horizontal, fixed-mount installation. A 10-watt horizontally mounted panel should generate between 3- and 5-amp hours per day.

We’ll need at least 13 volts to fully charge our 12-volt battery. As most solar cells generate at least 0.45 volts, you’ll want a panel with a minimum of 33 cells, which should provide around 14.85 volts.

Keep in mind that’s the minimum needed, which may not be enough once you factor in a few cloudy days. Most panels are designed to generate between 15 and 20 volts to overcome problems like cloudy days or inherent electrical resistance within the panel or installation components. While this higher voltage lets you make up for less electrically productive days, it also means you’ll want to install a solar charge controller (voltage regulator) to avoid battery damage due to overcharging.

Attempts to plan a system that tries to use the output of the panel and capacity of the battery to prevent overcharging (and avoid the installation of a charge controller) is false economy and should not be done. The system will never meet its full output potential and, worst case, can damage the battery due to overcharging.

A word on ‘charge controller confliction’

If your vessel has multiple charging sources, such as solar panels and a wind turbine, a crucial but often overlooked consideration is “charge controller confliction.” In short, this is an issue where the charge controller for your solar panel and the charge controller for your wind turbine are internally adjusted to the same maximum charge voltage set point. This means they are constantly fighting each other to be the dominant power source, which results in diminished overall charging output and performance. An in-depth article on this issue can be found at ­missioncriticalenergy.com (in the website footer, click “Superwind Turbine Manuals & Technical Bulletins.” Under the header “Charge Controllers,” select the document “Resolving Charge Controller Confliction”).

While this article addresses charge controller confliction at remote, off-grid sites, the information provided is also applicable to vessel installations. — F.L.

Location and mounting

Solar panels should be mounted in a location where they are exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight but do not interfere with operation of the vessel or the movement of passengers and crew. Solar panels will typically be either fixed or mounted on some type of movable bracket that allows you to actively point the panel toward the sun for maximum output. Both methods have their pros and cons. Fixed panels (which are normally mounted horizontally) don’t produce as much power as a panel that can be adjusted to face the sun. The downside is that adjustable panels must be aimed throughout the day to maximize their output.

Marine-grade heat shrink connectors for solar panels

Use good quality, marine-grade heat shrink connectors (top) and liquid electrical tape (right) to create airtight, waterproof seals and reduce corrosion.

Liquid electrical tape being applied to create airtight, waterproof seals and reduce corrosion.

Installation

After choosing and mounting your panel, it’s time to connect it. The first thing you need to determine is the size (gauge) of the wiring to be used. Multiply your panel’s rated amp output by 1.25 (which adds a 25% safety factor). Then measure the length of the entire wiring run, panel to battery, and multiply by 2. Once you have these two numbers, refer to the American Boat and Yacht Council’s (ABYC) 3% voltage-drop table for wire size. Ancor Products offers a handy wire calculator on its website ( ancorproducts.com/resources ).

Always use good quality marine grade connectors  and tinned, multi-stranded copper wire with vinyl sheathing. The wire will run from the solar panel to the charge controller first, then to the battery. Try to keep the wire run as short as possible, and if it transits an external deck or cabin house (it likely will), be sure to use an appropriate weatherproof deck fitting.

The charge controller should be mounted below decks and as close to the battery as possible. You’ll always want to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for connections, but in a typical installation you’ll connect the solar panel’s positive (red wire) lead to the charge controller’s positive input wire or terminal and the negative (black wire) lead to the charge controller’s negative input wire or terminal.

Next, connect the charge controller’s negative output to the battery negative terminal and the controller’s positive output to the battery’s positive terminal via an appropriately sized in-line fuse (or circuit breaker). ABYC recommends these be installed within 7 inches of connection to the battery or other point in the DC system. To reiterate, the installation of the charge controller can vary among models, so follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions.

Finally, ensure all connections are waterproof and secure any loose wire runs with wire ties and cable clamps for a neat installation. Then get ready to lean back and soak up some free sun.

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Updated 3 months ago

Everything you need to know about installing solar panels on boats

Written by Ana Almerini

Find out what solar panels cost in your area

Solar panels built specifically for use on boats are a great option as a source of backup power when you’re out on the water. Solar panels act as a way to recharge the boat's batteries and keep your appliances running, all without needing to buy gas for a noisy gas-powered generator.  

Marine solar panels are a relatively niche market, but there are plenty of options to choose from since typically, you can install any DIY off-grid solar panel on your boat. 

Our favorite solar panels for boats are:

Topsolar flexible solar panel

Renogy 100W 12V solar panel

SunPower 170W solar panel

Below, we get into the best solar panels to buy for your boat depending on your needs, how to determine which size you will need, and why utilizing solar power for your boat is a smart idea.

Key takeaways

Solar panels on your boat maintain your battery’s charge to ensure that your appliances always have power, without a loud and expensive gas generator.

An average 30-foot boat will need about 350 watts of solar power to maintain electricity.

To determine how many panels your boat needs, you need to figure out how much power it uses, which you can easily do with a battery monitor. It also depends on how big your boat’s battery is.

You can install solar panels in unique locations on your boat but it is important that they can track the sun’s movement throughout the day.

What is the best use for boat solar panels?

Boats use a lot of energy for things like maintaining autopilot, keeping navigation lights on, and powering radio systems. Solar panels can provide the energy to carry out these tasks and maintain your boat's battery if it happens to be sitting idle. In either circumstance, your battery will never run out of energy. 

Not to mention, compared to gas-powered generators, solar panels have the added benefit of being quiet. They also don’t produce excess heat that makes sitting in your boat with a gas generator unpleasant on hot days.

You can use solar panels for any size boat. For smaller sailboats, the main job of your solar panels would be to keep the battery fully charged for your boat’s electricity. For larger boats, they help reduce or eliminate the need to use the engine to provide excess power. 

The average 30-foot boat would require about 300-350 watts of power . Depending on your energy use and boat size, you need more or less solar power to provide you with electricity.  

How to choose the right solar panels for your boat

The first step to determining what size solar panel will work for your boat is figuring out how much power your boat is using . You can do this by checking the labels on your appliances for the typical amp hours and volts used.

Or, you can use a battery monitor to measure the amount of energy your fridge, lights, or the other appliances on your boat consume while in use. After finding the amp hours your boat uses per day, you can determine the wattage of power your solar panels need to produce. 

This example is extremely limited, you will need to determine how much energy your entire boat is using to make sure your panels provide enough power to keep your battery charged. But, technically if you had one 300-watt solar panel, or (3) 100W solar panels, they would generate 2,800W over those 8 hours. That energy would be more than enough to keep the above appliances running. 

The size of your boat’s battery will also factor into which size solar panel you need . For instance, many DIY solar panels are meant to act as a battery charger to a 12-volt lithium battery, which is the typical size within a boat. But if you have a larger boat with a larger battery, you might need more than 350 watts of power. 

Additional things to consider are whether you will need a charge controller and if you have enough unshaded space for your solar panels to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight. 

Do you need a charge controller? 

A charge controller acts as a regulator for the amount of energy that is transferred from your solar panel into your boat’s battery. This helps to make sure that your battery is not overloaded and overcharged, which can ruin the battery over time. 

While it is not necessary, it is a good idea to install a charge controller with your solar panel system to help manage the energy load that your battery receives. This will prolong the life of your battery while ensuring your boat uses the exact amount of energy it needs. 

Do you have enough space for boat solar panels?

Having a dedicated spot on your boat that has access to the full sun is key. Any shading, such as from a sail on your boat, will reduce the amount of energy your panels produce. While simply bringing portable solar panels aboard is an option, permanently mounting the panels to your boat makes it easier to always have your panels ready to go. 

Because boats typically only have room for a small solar system, getting the most out of your limited space is key. With limited space, it’s best to look for high efficiency panels because you will need less of them to produce the energy you need.

Learn more : What are the most efficient solar panels in 2022?

Or something as simple as the setup below can power your boat's battery and be angled towards direct sunlight throughout the day while not taking up valuable space on the boat.  

What are the best solar panels for boats to buy?

Any type of panel can be used on a boat such as monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin-film. However, it is important to note that some companies exclude salt water and marine environments from their warranties. 

We've listed some options below, you can choose based on where you have space to put the panels. For instance, thin-film panels are less efficient but they are flexible. So if you wanted to place a few panels on your boat’s roof versus one panel taking up valuable space, thin-film panels would be a good choice. 

On the other hand, monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels have higher efficiency ratings and will ensure you get the most energy from your limited space or during low-light conditions. So if you have a location that can support racking, monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels are a better option. 

Below are some of our top picks for solar panels for boats:

Most practical 

Topsolar flexible solar panel 

Cost : $149.99 Buy Now

The Topsolar 100W flexible solar panel is a practical, semi-flexible, cheap option. It does not come with a charge controller or an inverter but you can buy a few of these to create a simple solar panel system on your boat.  

This flexible panel also allows you to utilize more space since this can be molded to fit untraditional angels on your boat. 

Best quality, small cost 

Renogy 100W 12V solar panel 

Cost : $103.44 Buy Now

The Renogy 100W 12V solar panel is a great option. At 21%, it is a high efficiency monocrystalline panel manufactured by a reputable solar panel company.

There are pre-drilled holes for easy drilling to a mount on your boat. If you have space to secure solar panels to a mount, the Renogy panels will help you maximize energy output.

Best overall 

Cost : $399.00 Buy Now

The SunPower 170W panel is a great flexible solar panel for off-grid use. Choose this option if you are interested in the versatility that a flexible solar panel offers and also want a reputable brand name with a high efficiency rating. 

While these panels do not come with a solar charge controller, they must be used with one, so add one to your cart like the Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT charge controller . 

Why solar panels are a good choice for backup power on boats

Having a source of backup power on a boat is very important, you do not want to be caught far from land with a dead battery. Solar energy is the perfect choice because on a typical boating day, there is ample sunlight available as renewable energy. Because boats rely on a battery for electricity, a solar panel can ensure that this battery always has power. 

There are many solar panel options available for your boat and can easily be installed DIY. They will help with your sense of security while saving money because you can skip out on the traditional gas generator and rely on a self-sufficient solar power system. 

Ana is the Marketing & Communications Manager at SolarReviews, working within the solar industry since 2020. With a Master's in Climate and Society and professional experience in marketing, she helps communicate the value of solar to homeowners and build awareness of the SolarReviews brand. On weekends you can find her at the Jersey shore, reading a book from the ever-increasing stack on her side table, or eating food someone else cooked....

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The Different Types of Solar Panels for Boats

Solar panel on sailing boat

  • 1 Monocrystalline Solar Panels
  • 2 Polycrystalline Solar Panels
  • 3 Thin-Film Solar Panels
  • 4 Amorphous Solar Panels
  • 5 Semi-Flexible Solar Panels
  • 6 Rigid Solar Panels
  • 7 Conclusion

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As the world’s focus on sustainability intensifies, the allure of harnessing solar power for various applications, including marine settings, has grown significantly. For boat owners and enthusiasts, embracing solar panels offers a gateway to a greener and more self-sufficient way of navigating the open waters. The sun’s natural energy can power boats, reducing reliance on conventional energy sources and minimizing environmental impact.

In this blog, we delve into the diverse world of solar panels for boats , exploring the advantages and characteristics of each type. Whether you sail the vast ocean or cruise along tranquil rivers, understanding the array of solar panel options available will empower you to make informed decisions in embracing renewable energy and charting a course toward a more sustainable future on the waves.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar panels are known for their efficiency and sleek design, making them popular for boat owners seeking maximum power output in limited spaces. These panels are made from a single crystal structure, allowing them to convert sunlight into electricity efficiently. Monocrystalline panels boast an excellent power-to-size ratio, making them perfect for boats with limited roof or deck space. While they tend to be more expensive than other types, their durability and efficiency make them a wise long-term investment.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are another prevalent option for marine applications. Unlike monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels have multiple crystal structures, slightly reducing their efficiency. However, they are more cost-effective to manufacture, making them a budget-friendly choice for boat owners. Polycrystalline panels are bulkier than monocrystalline panels, so they may require more space for installation. If you have ample deck or roof area on your boat and are looking for an economical solar solution, polycrystalline panels can be an excellent choice.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Thin-film solar panels are highly versatile and lightweight, making them an attractive option for boats. They are created by depositing thin layers of photovoltaic material on various substrates, such as glass, metal, or plastic. Thin-film panels have lower efficiency than crystalline panels but perform better in low-light conditions, making them suitable for overcast or shaded areas on the boat. The flexibility of thin-film panels allows for easy installation on curved or irregular surfaces, making them an ideal choice for boat owners who value adaptability and space efficiency.

Amorphous Solar Panels

Amorphous solar panels, a subset of thin-film technology, are created by depositing non-crystalline silicon on a substrate. They are highly durable, lightweight, and flexible, making them a perfect fit for marine applications. Amorphous panels perform well in low-light conditions and have a better temperature coefficient than crystalline panels, meaning their efficiency drops less in hot environments. While they may have a lower efficiency overall, their ability to generate power in diverse conditions can be advantageous for long journeys or unpredictable weather conditions.

Semi-Flexible Solar Panels

Semi-flexible solar panels offer a middle ground between traditional rigid and thin-film options. These panels feature a thin layer of solar cells embedded in a flexible plastic or polymer material. Semi-flexible panels can conform to curved surfaces, making them suitable for mounting on boat decks, cabins, or sails. They are lightweight and easy to install, often requiring adhesive rather than bolts. While their efficiency might not match rigid crystalline panels, their versatility and ease of integration make them popular among boat owners.

Rigid Solar Panels

Rigid solar panels, typically monocrystalline or polycrystalline materials, are the most common type in various applications. While they are less flexible than other options, they remain a reliable and efficient choice for boats with ample deck or rooftop space. Rigid panels are durable, weather-resistant, and can deliver higher power outputs. They are ideal for boats with higher energy demands, such as those with multiple electronic devices or appliances.

Solar power is revolutionizing how we generate energy, and boats are no exception to this transformation. As boat owners seek eco-friendly and cost-effective solutions to power their vessels, solar panels offer a reliable and sustainable answer. Understanding the different types of solar panels available for boats is crucial in selecting the right solution for your needs, considering factors like space availability, budget, and desired efficiency. Whether you opt for monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film, amorphous, semi-flexible, or rigid solar panels, embracing solar energy will propel your boat toward a greener and more independent future on the water.

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What are the practical considerations for the design and installation of a solar power system on your sailboat?

600-watt solar panel system on Summer Twins 28 sailing catamaran Caribbean Soul 2. (Photo/ Clifford Burgess)

The practical aspects of your solar panel system will be governed by the design and size of your sailboat, your overall project budget (% DIY project) and how you currently use your sailboat versus your future plans for your boat. The intent of this article is not to design or size your solar system, but to offer some real-world practical guides and considerations. You may have other sources of power from an auxiliary engine alternator or a separate diesel generator, but ideally you will want to optimize your solar power system generation when possible.

Thinking Through a Solar Power Installation

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Best Solar panels for off-grid power and keeping batteries charged

  • Phil Sampson
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We take a look at 6 of the best solar panels for boats, from folding units to cutting-edge flexible panels

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Free power forever? If only it was that simple! Photo: Graham Snook

For many in the boating community, solar panels represent something of a holy grail. They are, after all, the gift that keeps on giving, aren’t they? Free power forever, (or many years anyway), coupled with zero running costs – what could possibly be better than that?

All you have to do to make this dream come true is banish the memory of the purchase price from your mind – something boaters are notoriously adept at doing – and wait for the sun to shine. If only it were that simple…

The fact of the matter is that there are costs associated with solar panels beyond the price of the panels themselves. While some types of panels can be simply laid on the deck, in many cases some form of mount will be required.

Then there’s the wiring to hook them up to your battery, plus any fitment and/or cosmetic work needed to hide the cabling from view. If your panels are to be left connected permanently, you’ll require a regulator too.

This will prevent both overcharging and a reverse flow of power out of the battery after dark. If you do not fit a regulator, a blocking diode can be used to halt the reverse flow instead.

But once all of the above have been overcome – and providing you’ve done your homework to ensure your panels will generate sufficient power to cover your needs – then, yes, it’s a power free for all!

There are many other benefits to boat solar panels too: First and foremost, they work all on their own – solar panels are automatic, so you can just let them get on with the job.

Apart from the occasional wipe over and a wiring check, they’re largely maintenance-free too. Unlike wind generators, (especially like the one with wonky bearings on that boat moored next to you), they don’t make any noise.

And finally, your batteries will be pleased, because keeping them from going flat can extend their life.

Here’s our choice of the best boat solar panels.

6 of the best boat solar panels available right now

best-boat-solar-panel-giosolar

Giosolar 1,000W flexible solar panel

Best flexible boat solar panel

Delivering a mighty kilowatt of power, (not far off the amount used by a one bedroom house), this Giostar package comprises ten separate 100W panels, each of which is 1,050 x 540 x 2.5mm in size.

Capable of charging either 12 or 24V batteries, a kit of this magnitude is one for the most serious of solar enthusiasts – Eco Experts reckons 660-990W is sufficient for a liveaboard.

Giostar panels are abrasion resistant, anti-rust and dust proof and their junction boxes are sealed and waterproof. The panels are also light, thin and flexible, and can withstand being bent up to 30 degrees.

Reasons to buy: Incredible amount of power, panels are abrasion resistant as well as anti rust + dust proof

Reasons to avoid: Premium price

Price: £1,464.45

Buy it now on Amazon (UK)

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Ecoflow 160w portable solar panel.

best-boat-solar-panel-mobisolar

Mobisolar 100W foldable solar panel

Best foldable boat solar panel

Mobisolar’s foldable panels are light (4.5kg) and measure 121 x 56.5 x 3 cm when unfolded, with the longest dimension reducing to 60 cm when folded, making them easy to transport.

The panels use advanced technology to provide superior performance, with each panel subjected to a thorough testing routine before and after assembly.

So confident is Mobisolar in its products that the company stands behind its panels with a two-year defect warranty and a five years’ electrical performance warranty.

For maximum flexibility in operation, three USB power outputs are fitted per panel, one delivering 100W, the second 60W and the third 10W.

Reasons to buy: Foldable, lightweight and long warranty

Reasons to avoid: Not resistant to the elements, doesn’t feature mounting holes

Price: £145.00

Buy it now on eBay

best-boat-solar-panel-ecoworthy

Eco-worthy 100W solar panel kit

With 100W panels being ideal for keeping batteries topped up, our second offering in this power class is from Eco-worthy, a major player in the solar panel field.

Competitively priced, our link below is for a kit which includes an LCD control unit and four ‘Z’ brackets in addition to the panel itself.

The Eco-worthy 100W panel is of the monocrystalline type, which means their cells are made from an ingot grown from a single silicon crystal of high purity. It’s also a rigid panel, so this particular product would need to be mounted on a frame or flat surface.

Reasons to buy: Competitively priced, Features LCD panel, brackets

Reasons to avoid: Only a year warranty, not resistant to elements

Price: £113.99

best-boat-solar-panel-pv-logic

PV Logic 20W Flexi solar panel

Offered by Force 4 Chandlery, this lightweight semi-flexible solar panel comes complete with a dual battery solar charge controller.

The panel is completely waterproof thanks to its six-layer, heavy-duty laminate finish, and should a wayward crew member plod over it in their size 9s the panel’s dimpled top surface is ‘self healing’.

The controller can handle both 12 and 24V systems and the panel’s PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) charging system is efficient and battery-lifetime friendly.

Supplied with LED battery-status indicators and 4 metres of cable, PV Logic Flexi panels can be bonded to flat or curved surfaces.

Reasons to buy: Lightweight, waterproof, dual controller

Reasons to avoid: Lacks mounting options

Price: £149.95

Buy it now on Force 4 Chandlery

powoxi

Powoxi 10W solar panel

At the budget end of the market comes this Powoxi 10W solar panel charger kit. While you won’t go far on just 10W of power, this kit claims to be capable of charging and maintaining various 12V batteries.

The kit features a fully automatic charging and maintenance controller, which provides intelligent three-level charging and protection against short- and open-circuits, under voltage and overloading.

A reverse flow system is included and the interface is described as ‘plug and play’. While the panel is rainproof, it will not withstand immersion in water, so this is a product to perhaps leave behind on the dock when you take to the water.

Reasons to buy: Great budget option, plug and play

Reasons to avoid: Not waterproof, won’t go far on 10V

Price: £27.59

ecoworthy-5w

Eco-worthy 10W/5W solar panel

The least pricey option we could find anywhere, this baby 5W solar panel is simply a trickle charger. But if that’s all you need then look no further, for this is another Eco-worthy product.

The technology in the panel is polycrystalline, so it’s not the most efficient on the market, but for this power that’s hardly a great concern.

The panel is supplied with two charging options; a pair of crocodile clips which attach directly to the battery, and a cigarette lighter plug.

According to the product’s eBay listing, this seller alone has sold approaching 3,000 of these units – and at this price, we can understand why!

Reasons to buy: Incredible price, can be charged via car lighter plug

Reasons to avoid: Small, not very efficient

Price: £9.99

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  • Solar on the go

Picking the best solar panels for a sailboat: Buyer’s guide

  • 18 Aug 2022

solar panels for sailboat

You might have already heard of brave sailors that conquer the oceans with nothing but wits and solar panels. For instance, this year 83-year-old Kenichi Horie became the oldest person to sail solo from the US to Japan on a solar-powered boat. These stories are inspiring, but picking panels for your boat yourself can be a small challenge in itself. That’s why we wrote a short article about the best solar panels for sailboats and how to recognize them.

Start from type of solar panels

When it comes to solar panels for sailboats, their weight and size matters more than with PV modules for residential systems. Efficiency is important but power — not that much, because the energy needs of a boat are relatively low. The first thing you’ll have to decide about your panels is their type.

Generally, you’ll choose between thin-film panels and monocrystalline modules. While polycrystalline panels are still around and they are indeed cheaper than mono panels, they are much less efficient, which means they’ll need more space and add more weight to your boat.

solar panels for sailboat

Thin-film panels are light and cheap

Thin-film or flexible solar panels bend well and they are very easy to install which makes them a great choice for boats with difficult configurations. Some sailors say that flexible panels are the best choice for fast boats because they don’t impact the aerodynamics of a vessel as much as rigid panels do.

The downside of flexible panels is their low wattage. If there are many appliances on board, you’ll need several panels and you’ll need to find the right place for each of them. They also age faster than rigid panels — a thin-film panel generally lasts for 10-15 years.

Monocrystalline panels are powerful and reliable

Rigid solar modules, monocrystalline and polycrystalline, are heavier and bulkier than thin-film panels. You can fix flexible panels with adhesives, but rigid panels require drilling. They are also more expensive than flexible panels. 

On the other hand, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient type of panels which means that they provide more power for less space. Even one powerful mono panel can be enough for everything that you’ve got on board. They are also much more reliable and will survive any storm that is coming your way. A monocrystalline panel lasts for at least 25 years.

Panels for boat should be efficient and sturdy

The best solar panels for sailboats don’t have to be powerful, but they better be efficient — find the number in the datasheet. For rigid panels anything over 18-19% is fine. Panels also should be sturdy enough to withstand seastorms. You generally also want good shading tolerance since panels often get shaded by masts and sails. Finally, good performance in low-light conditions is appreciated.

Picking bifacial panels, 72/144-cell panels or larger, anything too powerful generally doesn't make a lot of sense. Performance at high temperatures matters less than it does with home systems. Warranties also play a lesser role. You won’t be able to make use of them because they generally have effect only for residential installations.

The markets of thin-film and rigid panels are different. Generally, a manufacturer of flexible panels doesn’t offer mono- or poly-panels. Canadian Solar, Q CELLS and Jinko Solar are good choices when it comes to monocrystalline modules for boats. Renogy , WindyNation and PowerFilm make fine thin-film panels.

Do the math before purchase

The amount of power for your boat depends on the number of appliances on your board. There are two main ways to determine the size of installation that you need. You can take a test trip and see how much of your battery’s charge you’ve spent in one day. You can also do the calculations manually: write down all the appliances on the board with their power rating and number of hours in use per day. You can read about it in detail in our article " How much solar power to sail the seas? " It doesn’t make sense to oversize a marine PV system, because all the excess power will just go to waste.

Keep in mind that adding photovoltaics doesn’t make your vessel a solar boat, unless you have a solar-powered motor. You can switch your boat to solar energy fully, especially if it’s small, but you’ll have to calculate your energy needs accordingly.

solar panels for sailboat

Once you’ve purchased your panels, you’ll have to install them properly. You can order professional service or do it yourself. The most popular places for solar panels on a boat are a stern rail, masts, deck and canvas. Thin-film panels can even go on the sails. Ideally, you want a place where panels wouldn’t be shaded by masts on any other parts of a boat.

List of solar panels for a sailboat

We’ve asked our engineer to pick the panels that would complement a small boat well. These are his choices:

ZNShine Solar ZXM6-NH120-370/M

solar panels for sailboat

Solar panels from ZNShine Solar are inexpensive and fit all kinds of applications, including boat systems. ZXM6-NH120-370/M provides 370 Watts of power with a 19.88% efficiency. It performs well in low-light conditions. Graphene coating increases power generation and allows self-cleaning. The only downside is a lower wind tolerance, compared to other models: it is rated to withstand 2400 Pa pressure which is comparable to 140 mph wind.

Mission Solar MSE345SX5T

solar panels for sailboat

MSE 345 is a simple solar panel for all kinds of applications, including boat installations. Mission Solar panels are manufactured in Texas. The module provides 345 Watts of power with 18.7% efficiency. It is certified for high snow (5400 Pa) and wind loads (4000 Pa). The model is resistant to salt mist corrosion.

Suntech STP 365 S

solar panels for sailboat

Suntech is a Chinese company that offers quality budget-friendly solar panels. The STP365S model stands out in line because of its great performance in weak light, such as cloudy weather and mornings. It is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, and the module is certified to tolerate wind of over 170 mph. Half-cut design makes cells sturdier and improves shading tolerance. Overall, this panel earns a place among the best boat solar panels.

solar panels for sailboat

Andrey had been a news editor and freelance writer for a number of medias before joining A1SolarStore team. Climate change and its impact on people's lives has always been among his interests and it partially explains his degree in Philosophy and Ethics.

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Choosing the Best Marine Solar Panels for Your Boat

best marine solar panels

There’s nothing like kicking back and relaxing in a boat all to yourself. But while sailing the waves and soaking in the sun is an awesome getaway, you’ll still need to think about how to generate electricity while on board, especially for running your boat battery.

Get free power through solar energy with the best marine solar panels. Not only are they easy to set up and use, but you also save money by relying on renewable energy instead of paying expensive electricity bills like usual.

But how do you look for the most suitable solar panels for boats if there are dozens of solar panel types out there? Well, you’ve come to the right marine solar panels review. There are three key things you need to keep your eyes out for when choosing marine solar panel kits for your beloved boat.

  • Waterproof: Since you’ll be traveling across bodies of water, you have to anticipate that your solar panels could get wet. Make sure your solar panels are resilient against water damage through waterproof designs.
  • Flexible: Boats have curved surfaces, unlike roofs that are flat and can do with rigid panels. Marine solar panels can be straight and conventional, but it would be a big help if they were flexible so that you can mount them on tricky surfaces on your boat. Flexible solar panels hug irregular surfaces, ensuring they don’t topple over as your boat moves.
  • Thin: Boats are small spaces as it is. You don’t need bulky, rigid panels occupying more space than necessary. Go for ones that are about an inch or so thick. Thinner solar panels are sleek and don’t take up too much space, so they’re a must for marine solar solutions.

There are many other factors you need to consider when looking through boat solar panels for sale. Check out the rest of the important factors in our buying guide below.

Need more help picking out a good boat solar panel kit? Look through this rundown of solar panels for boats reviews to see some of the most popular options.

boat-solar-panel-kit

Best Overall

solar panels for sailboat

Renogy Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Premium Choice

solar panels for sailboat

Topsolar Solar Panel

Editor’s Pick

solar panels for sailboat

ECO-WORTHY Solar Panel

Table of Contents

1. Renogy 100W 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panel

2. topsolar 20-watt monocrystalline solar panel, 3. eco-worthy 25w off-grid solar panel, 4. renogy extremely flexible solar panel, 5. suner power 30w polycrystalline solar panel, 6. newpowa monocrystalline 100-watt solar panel, 7. rich solar polycrystalline solar panel, 8. topsolar 100-watt 12-volt solar panel kit, 9. newpowa monocrystalline 30-watt solar panel, what to look for when looking through marine solar panel options, how many solar panels do i need to run a boat, how many amps does a marine refrigerator use, how do you install solar panels on a boat, top-rated marine solar panel reviews.

  • Material: Monocrystalline
  • Wattage: 100W
  • Voltage: 12V

This solar panel kit by Renogy is awesome because it’s an all-in-one solar system. It includes all the necessary cables and accessories to get the show on the road.

The convenient kit includes a 100-watt solar panel, the Wanderer 30A PWM controller, and connectors and adapters. It even has Z brackets for mounting your solar panel. I like that I didn’t have to purchase all these separately.

I like that the Wanderer charge controller is negative ground, which means it prevents any overcharging and short-circuiting issues with our batteries.

Now, for the solar panel itself, I appreciated how the frame was made of sturdy, high-quality, corrosion-resistant aluminum, making the panel extra durable.

Its monocrystalline solar cells can convert 21% of the solar power to free energy you can use on your boat. That’s pretty high compared to other solar panels.

Plus, the production power of this solar panel kit is quiet, so it won’t bother you when you need silence.

  • Includes the necessary connectors, controller, and mounting brackets
  • The negative ground controller stops overcharging and short circuits
  • The solar panel has a durable, corrosion-resistant aluminum frame
  • Monocrystalline cells convert 21% of solar power into free energy for you
  • Power production is quiet, so it will never disturb users
  • The charge controller has no LCD screen
  • Wattage: 20W

This Topsolar solar panel kit is another one that offers a lot of accessories. It comes with a charge controller, some alligator clips to hold your cables and connectors properly, and even an O-ring terminal.

The solar panel itself is made of thick, high-class tempered glass to protect the cells inside. It’s framed with aluminum for extra sturdiness as well. I love that it’s made of such premium materials, so I never have to worry about it being too flimsy or break apart easily.

All in all, the solar panel weighs a mere 4.8 lbs, making it easy to carry around. It’s lightweight enough for effortless lifting and transporting when I’m about to install it or move it to another area.

This marine solar panel is resistant to harsh weather, thanks to its maximum static load of 2,400 Pa. Because of this, you can use it worry-free, even in inclement climates.

There are pre-drilled holes at the back of the panel to make it easier to set up with screws and grommets.

  • Comes with a charge controller, alligator clips, and O-ring terminal
  • The panel is made of tempered glass and an aluminum framing
  • Weighs only 4.8 lbs, so it’s easy to lift and carry around
  • Resistant to harsh weather like wind or snow
  • Has pre-drilled holes at the back to make set-up easier
  • Doesn’t include mounting brackets
  • Material: Polycrystalline
  • Wattage: 25W

A long lifespan is one of the top factors I consider when looking for a marine solar panel. This one by ECO-WORTHY ticks off that box because it is built to last.

It’s made with highly efficient cells to give me adequate power output. The framing is designed with aluminum to make it sturdy, increasing its longevity.

This off-grid solar panel kit comes with a convenient charge controller. Its interface may not have a modern display screen, but it does have light indicators that update in real-time so you can tell how far your charge is coming along. It also has a USB port to let you charge your phones and other small devices.

The solar panel set comes with SAE connector cables to help users set up. They’re quite long and stretch to 9.84 feet, giving us maximum flexibility for moving our panel and charge controller around.

ECO-WORTHY offers a one-year warranty for this kit. You’ll also have access to the brand’s 24/7 hotline in case you have questions or concerns with your solar panel.

  • Made with high-efficiency solar cells and aluminum for longevity
  • Charge controller has power indicators that update in real-time
  • There’s a USB port on the charge controller for small devices
  • The SAE connector cables are quite long at 9.84 feet
  • A one-year warranty with 24/7 technical support from ECO-WORTHY
  • One 25W solar panel might not be enough to power multiple appliances

solar panels for sailboat

Setting up solar panels on curved surfaces is tough, but with these Renogy flexible solar panels for boats, it’s never a challenge.

These flexible solar panels bend to a 248-degree arc, which is a lot more flexible than other bendable panels. This is excellent for boat and yacht decks that are curved.

The panels are made of monocrystalline cells that emit 100 watts, ensuring a strong and reliable power supply for our consumption.

Transporting and setting up these flexible solar panels is a walk in the park, thanks to its lightweight and super thin design. They’re never bulky and retain the smooth silhouette of your boat.

They’re thin and light because they’re designed with advanced polymer, which is 70% lighter than other materials traditionally used to build solar panels.

These flexible panels are made to withstand bad weather. They resist impact and don’t get damaged in heavy loads of rain. You’ll find that they even tolerate up to 5,400Pa of snow.

  • Bends to a 248-degree arc to fit irregular and curved surfaces and decks
  • Monocrystalline panels emit a consistent 100 watts
  • Super lightweight and ultra-thin, making it a breeze to transport
  • Made with advanced polymer that is 70% lighter than traditional materials
  • Resists impact and damage from heavy loads of rain and snow
  • The cables in the solar panel kit aren’t the same length

solar panels for sailboat

These solar panels by SUNER POWER are built with high-efficiency polycrystalline cells, giving me great performance even with the small energy output. They emit up to 30 watts of power to use as free energy on the boat.

This kit charges our batteries safely. It goes through a strict three-step intelligent algorithm to make sure our battery doesn’t go through overheating and short-circuiting, so I know I’m extra safe.

You’ll also find bright LED lights on the charge controller that indicate how the charge is coming for easy monitoring. It’s a convenient way to make sure our charging is right on track even when we’re doing other errands on the boat.

Tough weather conditions are nothing when it comes to this marine solar panel. It’s built with IP65 waterproof technology, so I don’t have to worry about the climate damaging my solar panel kit. It can even resist erosion, rusting, and damage from the sun’s UV rays.

  • Polycrystalline cells emit 30 watts of power to use as free energy
  • Charges our battery safely with an intelligent three-step algorithm
  • Has bright LED light indicators so you can see how your charging is going
  • Withstands tough weather because of IP65 waterproof technology
  • Resists erosion, rusting, and UV damage in finicky weather
  • The wires could be longer

solar panels for sailboat

This Newpowa monocrystalline panel is smaller in size compared to most other panels. It comes up to about 45 x 20 inches, making it more manageable than bigger ones.

It’s made of monocrystalline cells that are highly efficient in turning power from the sun into free energy for our consumption and charging.

The panel’s aluminum framing prevents any corrosion, which extends the lifespan of the solar panel kit. That means I won’t have to constantly replace it.

The marine solar panel and some of its accessories are made to be waterproof. That way, they’ll survive even the most horrible weather conditions as you sail.

Venturing to areas and cities without much bright sunlight is no problem for this marine solar panel kit. The junction box is equipped with bypass diodes that ensure users don’t get any power outages even in cloudy, shaded areas.

  • Smaller in size and more manageable than other solar panels
  • The monocrystalline panels are efficient in converting power into energy
  • Aluminum framing prevents corrosion, extending the solar panel’s life
  • These monocrystalline solar panels can survive horrible weather
  • Junction box has diodes to let your power work even in low-light areas
  • You don’t get the rated 100-watt output every single day

solar panels for sailboat

This RICH SOLAR panel is one of my favorites for travelling. I love it because it allows for more sunlight absorption. The panels’ anti-reflective, high-transmission film also helps make energy conversion more efficient.

Because of these factors, this panel works extremely well even in areas that are low in sunlight . So when I know I’m going to be sailing to cloudy shores, I make sure to bring this panel along.

This set uses quick-connect cables that don’t take more than a few seconds to fix up. It makes installation fast and easy even for beginners.

There are also about 14 holes on the panel so that you can simply screw it onto your mount. That means you can set it up without the complication of drilling the holes yourself. The design is also compatible with a variety of mounts, further adding to user’s convenience.

  • Its anti-reflective panels are high-transmission for even more efficiency
  • High conversion efficiency even in areas without bright sunlight
  • Uses quick-connect cables, so setting up is fast and easy even for beginners
  • There are 14 pre-drilled holes on the panel for quick installation
  • Works with many types of mounts
  • Doesn’t include mounting brackets, so you have to purchase some

solar panels for sailboat

This solar panel by Topsolar emits 100 watts of power to charge any 12-volt battery while you’re on the go. It’s perfect for cars, RVs, and a huge range of off-grid uses, but it works excellently for boats too.

The panel is made with monocrystalline cells, protected by a coating of high-quality tempered glass. This protective layer also prevents wear-and-tear in the long term. Meanwhile, anodized aluminum frames the panel, protecting the edges from corrosion.

You get a V-shaped bracket along with your panel in this kit. This bracket allows users to tilt the panel in whatever direction they desire. It’s very helpful when we’re trying to position the panel to face the sunlight directly.

The charge controller this solar panel comes with is made with IP67-rated waterproof technology. This means it prevents any water damage from ruining our solar system.

  • Charges any standard 12-volt battery while you’re on the go
  • A wide range of uses
  • The mono cells are protected with wear-resistant tempered glass
  • The framing is made of anodized aluminum to protect the panel’s edges
  • Comes with a V-shaped bracket to tilt the panel in the direction of the sun
  • The charge controller is made with IP67 technology to avoid water damage
  • The panel is quite heavy at almost 16 lbs, making it heavy to carry

solar panels for sailboat

This Newpowa panel emits 30 watts of power. That may sound small to some people, but it’s perfect for charging small devices and running just a few appliances on a short boat ride.

It’s made with high-efficiency monocrystalline cells. These cells allow for a more compact panel design that is smaller and more manageable than the brand’s polycrystalline panels.

Multiple layers of the panel protect its cells. This includes an ethylene-vinyl-acetate encapsulation, iron tempered glass, and even a TPT back sheet that can help with heat dissipation.

There are wires already pre-attached to the panel, one at 3 ft and another at 1 ft. Both of these have Anderson connectors as well, so users don’t have to fuss about setting them up themselves.

The panel also has holes pre-drilled in them, so it’s ready to be screwed into your mount or bracket of choice.

  • Provides 30 watts of power, perfect for small devices and short trips
  • Made with high-efficiency mono cells that allow for a compact design
  • Cells are protected by multiple layers, like tempered glass and TPT backing
  • The wires and connectors are pre-attached, which is great for beginners
  • Comes with mounting holes already drilled on the back of the panel
  • The solar panel isn’t weatherproof, so you can only use it on sunny days

HQST 100W 12V Solar Panel (Outdated)

solar panels for sailboat

This 100-watt solar panel by HQST is designed for efficiency and durability. The panel itself is anti-reflective, thanks to thick and durable tempered glass. It’s also lined with aluminum in its framing, which resists corrosion and damage to the panel’s edges.

Polycrystalline solar panels like this one are made with high-efficiency cells that convert more power into energy than the usual panel. They also contain diodes to bypass any power outages or drops when your boat travels into a shaded area.

This kit’s junction box is rated IP65, which means it’s waterproof. That way, it can resist damage from water jets and uncontrollable weather.

Installation is a breeze with the pre-drilled holes at the back of this panel. It’s perfect for newbies that don’t want to call in a professional to set it up.

  • The anti-reflective panel is made with sturdy tempered glass
  • An aluminum frame
  • Polycrystalline panels efficiently convert the sun’s energy into power
  • Contains diodes to bypass power outages when you go into low-light areas
  • The junction box is rated IP65 to resist damage from undesirable weather
  • Comes with holes drilled at the back of the solar panel for easy mounting
  • The wires on the panel are quite short

WindyNation 100W Off-Grid Solar Panel (Outdated)

solar panels for sailboat

I love that this solar panel by WindyNation gives off a consistent 100 watts of power, provided that the panels are positioned directly under the sun. That makes it an ultra-reliable panel that isn’t flip-floppy when powering our devices.

The solar system comes with many accessories you’ll need to set up and use your panel. There’s a quality charge controller, some mounting brackets, and all the necessary cables needed.

My favorite part about this system is the charge controller. It has a high-quality LCD screen that displays all the information I need to see about my battery as it charges. It even has a sensor to help me monitor the battery’s temperature.

I can also choose and adjust what information settings are shown on the screen, depending on my preference. Buyers can get whatever information they’d like to know—amperage, amp-hours, temperatures, voltage, and more!

  • Consistently provides 100 watts of power when positioned under the sun
  • Comes with a charge controller, mounting brackets, and cables
  • The charge controller has an LCD screen
  • Sensor for battery temperature
  • You can choose and adjust what settings to see on your LCD screen
  • You must purchase fuses and fuse holders to complete this solar system

SUNER POWER 12-Volt Waterproof Solar Panel (Outdated)

solar panels for sailboat

This solar panel by SUNER POWER doubles as a battery charger. It’s powered by highly efficient polycrystalline cells on a sturdy solar panel. These solar cells generate battery power in any condition, even when the sun isn’t so bright.

The charging system follows a stringent and smart three-step algorithm, keeping your battery safe as it charges. It does so with a unique “Maximum Power Point Tracking” (MPPT) chip, which prevents battery issues like overcharging and short-circuiting. MPPT also allows the charge controller to generate up to 30% more power than others do.

The controller has a LED light where you can see all the pertinent information on your battery, like whether it’s charging and if the battery’s full.

This entire solar system is made with IP65 waterproof technology. It won’t be susceptible to water damage, so users don’t have to worry about backflow from the water around the boat causing damage to it.

  • High-efficiency polycrystalline solar cells generate power in any condition
  • Has a smart three-step charging algorithm for a safer charge
  • Its unique MPPT chip protects your battery
  • MPPT controller generates up to 30% more solar power than others
  • Has a LED light to indicate battery status
  • The system is IP65 waterproof, so it won’t be susceptible to water damage
  • Designed to work only on 12V batteries

best-solar-panels-for-boats

Easy to install through grommets or adhesives

Setting up traditional solar panels on regular surfaces like walls and roofs can be difficult as it is. It might be trickier on a moving, swaying boat.

Make sure your marine solar panels are a breeze to set up. Look for ones that are okay to simply stick onto surfaces with adhesives, or have pre-drilled holes so you can screw them onto a mount quickly.

Provides an adequate amount of energy to power up your batteries and appliances

Select marine solar panels that will give you the right amount of solar power to meet your energy requirements.

For example, if you only need solar power on the boat to charge devices in the short term, 50W or 100W might be enough for your trip.

However, if you intend to use your solar panel to charge marine battery, you’ll definitely need one that converts a higher amount of solar energy—perhaps some 200 watt marine solar panels.

Comes with all the necessary accessories, like connectors and junction boxes

Don’t put yourself through the hassle of buying each part of your marine solar system separately. Look for solar panels that provide all the necessary cables, boxes, and accessories to get you set up immediately. Ensure that your panel comes with connectors, junction boxes, charge controllers, and more.

Manufactured by a legitimate and respectable solar power brand

You must always purchase solar panels from legitimate brands that will give you top-notch and high-quality panels. There are many bogus panels in the market today, so double-check to make sure the solar panels you’re buying come from good, renowned manufacturers

If you’re not sure which solar panels to buy, it’s wise to go for classic, tried-and-tested brands. These include Renogy, TP-Solar, and SunPower marine solar panels.

Plus, buying from bigger brands will increase your chances of getting a product warranty that lasts years.

marine-solar-panel-kits

It depends on how much power you need to keep your appliances and gadgets up and running.

For shorter, one-day excursions, you can live with just one or two high-quality solar panels to provide some electricity to charge your phones and maybe a mini-fridge for the day.

But if you’re planning to sail for longer and live on the boat 24/7, you’ll probably need a bigger boat solar system with as many solar panels as you need. This is because you’ll likely have to run bigger appliances and lights, which demands more solar energy.

If you have a 12V marine refrigerator, it will likely only use up anywhere between 2-6 amps per hour. One solar panel emitting a usual 100 watts is more than enough power for such a fridge.

There are many different ways to set up solar panels on boats. If your solar panel is flexible, thin, and ultra-light, you can simply secure it in place with adhesives.

Thicker panels may need to be screwed in with grommets. If this is the route you’re going for, make sure you have sturdy mounting hardware to place your solar panels in.

Traveling through water may be relaxing and stylish, but the excursion is never complete without the best marine solar panels to provide solar energy and battery power during your trip. Hopefully, this round-up of traditional and flexible marine solar panels reviews help you out on your hunt to find the best panels.

Just make sure your panels are efficient in providing high power, waterproof to avoid damage from the sea, and thin and lightweight for easy mounting and storing. If you tick all those boxes, your sailboat solar panels should be all good.

Kathleen-Miller

I am Kathleen Miller, staff writer and reviewer of the Avasolar team. Working with the team has been a pleasure for me so far, I hope to bring readers useful information by creating detailed and easy-to-follow contents.

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Solar Learning Center > Solar Panels for Home > Solar Panel Installation Process > Solar Panels For Boats and Yachts Solar Learning Center > Solar Panels for Home > Solar Panel Installation Process > Solar Panels For Boats and Yachts -->

Solar Panels For Boats and Yachts

solar panels for sailboat

By Michael Olenick | Jul 26, 2022

The purchase of a boat or a yacht is a coveted purchase for many people. While it certainly adds a new dynamic to one’s life, it’s not the most straightforward investment since maintenance is a huge component of owning a sea vessel. Other than the physical maintenance of your boat, fuel management and maintenance is often a logistical nightmare for many boat owners. Some of these problems include keeping batteries topped off; doing it quietly, as not to bother the surrounding communities; and refueling costs. An easy solution to these problems: solar panels.

Sizing a Solar System for Your Boat or Yacht

open-seas-solar.jpg

  • Refrigerator(s)
  • Radar & sonar units

When adding up your energy consumption, always round up and add about 10-15% extra Watt-hours to your total, as certain appliances tend to use up more energy during spring and summer months. Once you reach the conclusion that you are ready for a further discussion, you can always reach out to a solar panel expert to get solar quotes, help with your energy calculations, and aid in determining the right number of panels you would need to offset your yacht or boat’s energy usage. Obviously, the number of panels you would need depends on energy usage and vessel size, but solar is a much better option than common fossil fuels when powering your boat.

The Benefits of Adding Solar Panels To a Boat or Yacht

When it comes to adding solar panels to your boat, the benefits are endless. Here are just a few for you to consider:

  • Silence: Noisy refueling at docks and extremely loud on-board generators are a thing of the past. Cruise the seas in with zero mechanical noises, and enjoy the natural ocean sounds.
  • Minimal Maintenance: The only maintenance solar panels require is a simple rinse off every couple of months, as salt can build up when the seawater evaporates.

solar-powered-boat.jpg

  • Travel Lightly: With your new panels, you won’t have to lug heavy containers of fuel with you on your trips. More room for wine or martini mix.
  • Unlimited Energy: Aside from the occasional cloud in the sky, you will have full access to the sun on the open seas.

Besides the affordability and convenience, solar panels could inevitably save your life. You will never have to worry about running out of fuel when you are out on the water. This will help you avoid any potential emergencies or disasters.

Solar Panel Placement

This is where most caution needs to be taken. When choosing where you are going to place your solar panels on your yacht or boat, you need to take two big things into consideration: shading and security.

When it comes to shading, you want to make sure you place your panels in an area that receives the most sunlight. Having your boom shade some of the panels, or any lines can reduce your energy production. The wiring of solar panels can also be delicate. That is why you need to place your solar system in the most secure spot possible – rough seas or choppy waters could lead to a wire shaking loose.

If you’re longing to make a maintenance upgrade to your nautical vessel, a solar system should be seriously considered. Not only will it reduce noise, weight, and fueling costs, but it will differentiate your boat from all the other vessels at your next port.

Whether you have questions about panel placement, efficiency, or just if your boat is right for solar, please click here to speak to an expert!

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Owning a boat can be expensive; you have to pay an upfront cost to purchase it, and you'll also have to spend money on maintenance and fuel charges. Solar panels may be the answer if you're looking for a reliable, cost-effective way to power your boat.

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How do solar panels work on boats?

Solar energy systems on boats work similarly to other portable , off-grid systems. There are four important components to a marine solar panel system:

Solar panels

Charge controller

Most marine solar panel systems require charge controllers to prevent the batteries from receiving more voltage than they can handle. Without charge controllers, you risk overcharging and damaging your battery.

Depending on your boat's electrical setup and the appliances you need to power, you may also need an inverter to convert direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity. Some boat electronics use DC and don't need an inverter. However, if you use everyday household appliances on your boat (i.e., TVs, microwaves, or hairdryers), they likely run on AC electricity, and you'll need an inverter.

You can buy all of these components separately, but you can find solar panel kits that include some or all of the necessary parts. Some marine solar panel kits include the wires, cables, and mounting equipment required to get your boat's solar panel system up and running.

Best solar panel kits for boats

Below are a few products tailored to off-grid marine solar power systems.

Boat solar panel options

If your solar panel kit does not include an inverter or charge controller, you must buy those components separately. Battery storage products occasionally have built-in inverters and/or charge controllers.

Should you install solar panels on your boat?

There are numerous benefits to powering your boat with solar energy. One of the most attractive benefits of marine solar power systems is the monetary savings. You'll need to invest money upfront to purchase solar equipment; however, once it's up and running, you'll generate free electricity for your boat. Alternatives to electrifying your boat, like gasoline-powered generators, require purchasing fuel on an ongoing basis. Switching to solar power can reduce these purchases while protecting you against rising fuel costs.

Another benefit of marine solar panel systems is the quietness of operation. Running a generator can be a noisy disturbance for those going out on the open water to experience nature. Powering your boat with solar allows you to enjoy peace and quiet without losing power.

Furthermore, you can also safely generate electricity and charge your battery with solar power while you're away from your boat. This isn't feasible with generators - running a generator requires manual operation and monitoring. With solar panels, you can produce usable electricity during the day and then use it for weekend boating adventures.

However, there can be obstacles to installing solar on a boat, perhaps the largest of which is available space. Ideally, your solar panels can be installed in an area with uninterrupted sunshine. Depending on your boat type, this space may be easy or difficult to come by. While you likely get a lot of sun out on the water, the area may be too small or have too many obstacles that make fitting the number of solar panels necessary to generate your electricity needs difficult.

Consider your boat's deck or canvas when you're looking for spots to install a marine solar panel system. Remember that the positioning of your solar panels will also impact the type of equipment you should purchase – you may be able to use traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels if you're installing on a fixed, rigid section of your boat. However, if your only open space available isn't suitable for fixed mounting, installing lower-efficiency flexible solar panels may be a better option. Some flexible solar options have an adhesive backing, so you won't need to worry about the constraints of traditional mounting and racking materials.

How many solar panels do you need for your boat?

Unsurprisingly, a yacht has very different power requirements than a sailboat. The number of solar panels you'll need for your boat not only depends on the type and size of your boat, but also the quality of the equipment you choose, how many sun-hours the boat sees, and the amount of electricity you require. Some boats can get by with one 100-watt solar panel (or even smaller), while others need a multi-panel setup.

Calculating your electricity load is the first step in determining how many solar panels you need. Below are some common appliances you may use on your boat and what they draw for power.

How many solar panels do you need for common appliances?

The last column of the above table is the amount of energy you'll consume in watt-hours running each appliance for the number of hours identified in column three. One 100-watt solar panel that receives direct sunlight for 5 hours will produce approximately 500 Wh of electricity (5 hours x 100 W = 500 Wh). Not considering conversion losses, that's enough electricity to power a mini-fridge for 24 hours or power a boat's GPS display for 10 hours. Running all of the appliances above for everyday use will require multiple 100-watt solar panels or fewer higher-wattage panels.

Install solar to save on electric bills

You can save money by installing a marine solar panel system, but you'll save even more by installing solar on your home or business. If you want to evaluate your solar options, check out the EnergySage Solar Marketplace . You can receive up to seven custom solar quotes from local installers to compare. You can also try our solar calculator for a quick estimate of solar costs and savings on your property.

Create your own clean energy with solar panels.

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See solar prices near you.

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Baltic Yachts began delivery in July of its Baltic 146 Path, which includes an 8,714 watt solar rooftop and energy storage system designed by Solbian Solar using the company’s walkable solar modules.

Recently, some of the yacht’s technical work has been shared online. Built from 1,742 monocrystalline solar cells, many of the 86 solar panels were custom cut to fit the deck’s shape by the Solibian team in Italy. The units were based on the company’s Super Rugged (SR) Series .

The SR series has solar cell busbar technology developed by Merlin Solar. In one video, the Merlin team drives over the solar panel, throws bags of cement on it, and even shoots it with a bow and arrow in an effort to prove the product’s resilience. The company said its busbar technology makes this kind of abuse possible.

solar panels for sailboat

The 60 square meters of solar panels produces 30-50 kWh of energy per day. The company said that’s enough to power all of the onboard electronic equipment–including navigation, autopilot, lighting, and entertainment–for around seven hours.

Once the sun goes down, a Mastervolt MLI 44kWh LiFePO4 battery pack allows the diesel generator mostly to stay off, providing generally silent operation for 14-18 hours.

Baltic Yacht’s solar system is roughly half the size of the Silent 60’s 16.8 kWdc solar plus storage system. The Silent 60 is a solar-propelled yacht less than half the lengthBaltic yacht and price, which reaches 6-8 knots on solar power alone. The Path does not feature electric propulsion and therefore relies on diesel engines when the wind dies down.

Since the Path uses a sail for propulsion, the team installed 154 bypass diodes and 12 solar panel strings and trackers – Mastervolt SCM-60 MPPTS – in an effort to maximize power output and minimize the effect of the sail’s shadows on the panels. The entire solar system, including wiring, controllers and small parts, weighs less than 300kg, the company said

The 146 Path has an overall length of 146 feet. The yacht can accommodate eight in addition to the ship’s owner, as well as eight crew members. Path carries two tenders, an 8hp Torqeedo electric outboard-powered RIB, and a 6.5m twin-engined RibEye. There are also two ultra-lightweight Reverso Match sailing dinghies.

solar panels for sailboat

When the front tender is deployed, its storage container can be turned into a pool.

The ship’s main diesel engine is a 405kW (550hp), six-cylinder Scania. The specific model isn’t listed, however the “ DI13 092M IMO Tier III, EU Stage IIIA ” lines up with all of the stats and looks like the unit in a video of the engine being installed.

The owner’s suite includes a sleeping cabin, and an en suite lounge with a glass divider doubling as a movie, tv, and sailing information screen. An upper lounge features a 2.7m-long video wall.

This content is protected by copyright and may not be reused. If you want to cooperate with us and would like to reuse some of our content, please contact: editors@pv-magazine.com .

John Fitzgerald Weaver

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Since it is E propulsion all they have to do to change while sailing is use the motor in regen it’ll generate power back into the pack at much larger amounts. And a small RE fueled generator just in case. As a sailor who does solar, not a chance it’ll get that much from the solar from all the shading from the rigging. More likely 10-30kwh/day. On mine, I made the sails small with 2 masts so I can lower them to not shade the panels.

Any photos of your boat you can share?

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Custom shape composite marine solar panels

The Evolution of Solar

Open Waters Solar has launch the Next generation of marine grade Solar panels.

solar panels for sailboat

The Open Waters Solar advantage – ultra high efficiency solar cells embedded and encapsulated in a fiberglass/epoxy composite laminate protected by a UV resistant coating

Our custom shape composite marine solar panels are engineered with robust materials and construction methods, ensuring unparalleled strength and resilience in demanding marine environments. With rigorous testing and superior design, our panels offer unwavering durability, allowing you to navigate rough waters with confidence.

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Experience the benefits of lightweight solar technology with our marine solar panels. Our panels are designed with lightweight materials and optimized construction methods, resulting in a significantly reduced weight compared to traditional solar panels. Enjoy the advantages of a lighter solar solution without compromising on performance.

solar panels for sailboat

Discover the elegance of our thin marine solar panels that seamlessly blend with your boat’s aesthetics. With their slim profile, our panels integrate discreetly into your vessel, preserving its sleek appearance. Embrace a sophisticated design and maintain a streamlined look, all while benefiting from efficient and effective solar power generation.

solar panels for sailboat

  • Walkable, danceable surfaces even in stilettos.
  • Very low profile, less than 1.5mm, which does not detract from your boat style.
  • Optional non-slip surfacing.
  • Bottom mount junction boxes so no cables are visible on deck with no exposed deck holes.
  • The cells are encapsulated into a composite, no power generation loss even when punctured.
  • Manufactured in any shape based on a 5”x5” cell structure up to 10ft long and 7ft wide.
  • Built in bypass diode junction box capable of 10 bypass diodes per panel.

solar panels for sailboat

How it works

Step 1: Contact us to request packs of 50 stick on cell templates Step 2: Stick paper templates on a single curve surface (Difference between single and complex curves) Step 3: Place a big black mark on the cell where the cable gland will be underneath. Step 4: Choose either stick on or glue one Step 5: Send photograph and info to [email protected] Step 6: We send you a quotation Step 7: Payment Step 8: 2 weeks later you receive your panels. 

We have installers currently in Ontario and BC. Once per year in March we will be installing panels in St Martin.

  • Open Waters Solar cells can only form over single simple curves. This means a surface curve in one direction only. We can not bend around complex curve which is curve in 2 or more directions. When you take photographs, please take multiple shots of the entire surface both with and without the templates.
  • Open Waters will provide warranty on parts and materials which is limited to the value of the solar panels only. We do not warranty poor installation methods.  

Solar System Design

Designing solar panels requires careful consideration of their specific application. Shade has a significant impact on solar panel performance, making the layout of cells, the number of bypass diodes, and their orientation crucial in areas with variable shade.

Solar cells are typically connected in series to efficiently transmit energy, with each cell providing 0.67 volts. However, when a shaded cell creates resistance in the series, it can activate the bypass diode, which is essential for panel safety. The high current passing through a high-resistance cell can generate excessive heat.

To illustrate this, consider the analogy of old-school Christmas lights. If one bulb goes out, the entire string of lights stops working due to the series connection. Similarly, solar cells still require a series connection because they lack the capability for parallel connections like LED Christmas lights, which operate on low current.

In summary, the design of solar panels must account for shade effects, series connections, and the importance of bypass diodes to ensure optimal performance and safety.

Standard Panels

Back mounted junction boxes.

solar panels for sailboat

  • 41.5” x 21.5”
  • 4×8 cells
  • 2 bypass diodes

solar panels for sailboat

  • 41.5” x 26.5”
  • 5×8 cells
  • 3 bypass diodes

solar panels for sailboat

  • 41.5” x 31.5”
  • 6×8 cells

Contact us for custom panel prices. Typical panels have bypass diodes every 15 to 20 cells. Increased number of bypass diodes increases the effectiveness of the panel but increases the cost. Custom panels can be any shape given a 5” x 5” cell formation.

solar panels for sailboat

Silent Yachts

Creators of the world’s first series produced, solar-powered electric yachts.

Unlimited Range

Noiseless cruising, zero emission, minimal maintenance, pioneering solar powered yachting since 2009.

Silent yacht with solar panels on the roof in crystal clear water

The Original Solar Yacht

As the original inventors of series produced solar-electric yachts, we pioneered this innovative approach. Our first model, the Silent 64, was launched to the market in 2016, several years before any other shipyard considered the possibility of going electric.

Silent yacht with solar panels on the roof sailing at high speed

Leading Technology

Our founders began to research alternative energy sources to power yachts during the mid 1990s. Today, the technology of our in-house developed solar-electric drivetrain has been perfected and is multiple generations ahead in terms of reliability, performance and efficiency.

historic yacht with solar panels on the roof

Historical Track-Record

In 2009, the Solarwave 46 was launched as our first prototype of a fully solar-electric, self-sufficient ocean-going catamaran. Since then, our electric yachts have cruised many 10.000s of nautical miles, performing flawlessly during a variety of weather conditions.

self-sufficient yacht with solar panels on the roof

Enabling Self-Sufficiency

What differentiates a Silent is the unprecedented level of autonomy provided by our yachts. Being able to produce your own energy enables a fully self-sufficient lifestyle on board. Travel the oceans sustainably while making them your infinite playground.

Solar-paneled yacht navigating the seas using solar energy

The award-winning entry to solar-electric yachts.

80 feet yacht with solar panels on the roof

Timeless design meets state-of-the-art technology.

120 feet luxury yacht with solar panels on the roof

120 Explorer

The boldest expression of solar powered yachting yet.

What Makes Us Unique

yacht with solar panels on the roof anchored in a bay of tuquoise water

The tranquility on board of our yachts is unique. A lack of noise, fumes and vibrations create a deep connection with the sea. Luxury and sustainability finally merged into a holistic experience, working hand in hand with nature by minimizing the impact on the marine environment without compromising comfort.

graphic of the connections between solar panels, batteries and motors of an electric yacht

For optimal performance and efficiency, our solar-electric drivetrain integrates seamlessly with all onboard systems. Compared to fossil fuelled powertrains of motoryachts, electric powertrains have very few moving parts, resulting in minimal maintenance, maximum reliability and significantly lower running costs.

Electric yacht sailing across the open waters with solar energy

The ability to recharge your own batteries with the sun marks a new era of freedom. Depending on cruising speeds and weather conditions, a Silent has virtually unlimited range, enabling you to live a fully self-sufficient lifestyle on board. Unbound by the limitations of fossil fuels, you are free to explore the horizons.

Website_Sketches-motors-batteries-solar_panels-1-edited

The technology powering our yachts today has been pioneered by our founders almost three decades ago. Continuous upgrading and steady optimization of the entire system are some of the key reasons our in-house developed solar-electric drivetrain offers a comprehensive portfolio of assurances and warranties.

Why Silent Yachts

A sensible approach to yachting which works in self-sufficient harmony with nature and creates a completely new experience on board.

Silent Yachts

Silent-Yachts emerges stronger under new ownership

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New Silent Drivetrain

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Tech shorts 2023

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Electric power event on the water

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Shipyard tour Italy by Michael & Heike

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What is the range of a solar electric yacht?

“The Tesla of the seas! An amazing founding couple, a highly innovative product as well as a really cool story behind it. Furthermore, a lot of love and attention has been invested into every single detail – truly impressive!” Frank Thelen / TV Personality, Founder, Angel Investor & Disruption Expert
While the present has brought us the dawn of smart cars, I strongly believe the future will bring us solar powered smart boats – and I definitely want to be at the frontline of that journey. Michael Jost / Former Head of Group Strategy of Volkswagen Group
The idea of sailing while charging your own battery is super powerful to me – solar powered sailing is the perfect love story! Jochen Rudat / Former Tesla Central Europa Director, Advisory Board Silent Group
Elon Musk single handedly forced an entire industry to go electric, as a matter of fact if they don’t all go electric now they will soon die. I would like to see the same thing happening for boating. You are not just selling boats – you are the actual leading edge of a crucial and much overdue revolution to sustainable transport!” Klaus Obermeyer / Emmy Award Winner
I am completely excited about solar catamarans. I knew before they are great but now I truly believe this is the future. After so many boats I’ve seen in over 18 years with Boote Exclusiv, this yacht truly blew my mind. Such a silent and peaceful cruising experience – just the way it should be. Martin Hager / Editor in Chief for Boote Exclusiv - Yachts

multihull award winner 2022

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THE FUTURE OF SOLAR ARCHES FOR SAILBOATS

Strong and stylish, optimised for solar panels, custom fit for your boat, made from stainless steel, complete solar power solution for your boat.

Arch render_edited.png

We produce and deliver customised, affordable and stylish arches for mounting solar panels on sailboats.

Many sailors have a dream of a sustainable power production on their boat. It gives you the freedom for long passages and visiting remote destinations without having to worry about electrical power. Most sailors will choose a solution with solar panels which will raise the question; where to place them on the boat.? To get enough capacity, most often the panels will need to be placed on a solar arch on the stern of the boat.

Having a solar arch mounted, will also give you the option to carry and hoist a dinghy from the integrated davits.

As a sailor, you used to have two options, when looking to mount an arch on your sailboat to carry solar panels and  a dinghy on the stern:

Buy a 100% standard product, which you then cut and drill so it fits onto your boat. This can be relatively cheap, but is definitely not pretty, since often the material is aluminium, so "normal people" are able to cut and drill without problems. It does not look great when the other tubes on your boat are most likely polished stainless steel.  

Find a local blacksmith and ask them to make a one-off arch. That gives you maximum freedom to decide design (with the potential to mess it up, if you don't know what you are doing). This is always a VERY costly affair, as most one-off products are.

We have figured out a way to combine the best of both...

We have developed an advanced, yet simple process for our customers to perform the necessary measurements on their own sailboats, which we then use to finish a semi-standard product.

The result is a beautifully designed, structurally thought through stainless steel arch, optimized for carrying solar panels and a dinghy.

This net-zero boat could revolutionize maritime travel

A man stands on the platform of a boat docked in a harbor.

A boat pulled into Boston's Rowes Wharf recently that's unlike any other vessel in the world. Its name is the Energy Observer, and it's been traveling the globe for seven years using only renewable power to spread the word of sustainability on the sea.

The vessel is a demonstration project backed by a French hydrogen energy company and supported by many other tech companies in the renewable energy field. It set sail in 2017 and has been at sea ever since.

Probably the most striking thing about the catamaran-hulled boat that stretches 100 feet from bow to stern is that it's coated in solar panels.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by GBH News (@gbhnews)

The vessel's crew, including onboard climate scientist Beatrice Cordiano, recently gave GBH News a tour.

“So, if you want to follow me, as you can see, one of the sources of energy that we use are the solar panels,” Cordiano said as she walked over some of the hundreds of panels covering the boat. “We have covered the entire boat with different technologies.”

Those solar panels charge up lithium batteries, which provide short-term storage for the power that drives the vessel's electric motors.

“And then we have — which is the masterpiece of this boat — hydrogen, which is the long-term storage,” she said. “So, we produce hydrogen on board.”

As Cordiano explained, they suck up sea water, run it through a system to desalinize it, and then use a device called an electrolyzer to separate water into its two parts: hydrogen and oxygen. That hydrogen is stored in tanks on both the port and starboard sides of the boat, and can be run through a fuel cell to be turned back into electricity when they need it.

Mélanie de Groot van Embden is the Energy Observer's onboard reporter, sharing the story of this carbon-free vessel.

“The maritime industry is very polluting for our oceans. And 90% of the goods we consume are being transported with cargo ships,” de Groot van Embden said. “And at the moment, they are still in majority using marine diesel oil, which accounts for 3% of our emissions in the world. So, we really want to raise awareness for that and show that there are solutions, that the technologies are mature, that they just need to be scaled up.”

Since its launch, the boat has traveled widely to spread that message.

“We went to Hawaii. We went to New Caledonia. We went to Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, South Africa, Brazil and now the United States,” de Groot van Embden said.

They even sailed in the Arctic, to show that its technologies could work in extreme temperatures. The boat has been well received in every port, de Groot van Embden said.

“The U.S. has always been the most enthusiastic about our technology, even though you're also the second-most emitter in the world,” she said. “So it's always a little contradictory.”

A boat with large vertical sails approaches Boston's shoreline.

The Energy Observer also uses wind power, but it doesn't use traditional sails. It was the first vessel to pioneer a technology called “ocean wings.”

Onboard engineer Luc Bourserie hit a switch and two wings raised up vertically from the boat like towers, 10 meters — or about 33 feet — high. They're fully automated to capture wind no matter what direction the boat is headed, he said. And they're easy to use.

“So, even if you have rough weather coming, you can put them down quite quickly and easy,” Bourserie said.

Because of their design, ocean wings are about twice as efficient as traditional sails, Bourserie said, and their rectangular profile doesn't cast much shadow on the solar panels beneath.

That forward motion under sail can also be turned back into electricity, similar to how a hybrid vehicle uses its momentum when breaking to recharge its batteries.

“ We can also use the speed of the boat that we have, thanks to the wind, to put our propellers in reverse mode and produce electricity from the speed, making the motors [act like] generators,” he said.

Bourserie sees some hope in the news last year that a cargo ship from Singapore was retrofitted with ocean wings, significantly cutting its fuel use. Some of the technologies on the Energy Observer aren't commercially viable yet, but the point of the vessel, Bourserie said, is to test them out.

“Let's not wait to be too late to develop these solutions,” he said.

The Energy Observer set sail again last week, and the crew plans to make it across the Atlantic to be back home in Paris in time for the Olympics there in July. It's an opportunity, for once, when the world comes to them.

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Smith Mountain Lake Association holds A Day at the Lake event

The Smith Mountain Lake Association will hold A Day at the Lake event

MONETA, Va. (WDBJ) - The Smith Mountain Lake Association will hold A Day at the Lake event Saturday, June 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Goodhue Boat Company - Blackwater in Moneta, VA.

The opening ceremony will include an announcement of $150,000 budgeted by the Commonwealth of Virginia to study algal blooms occurring at Smith Mountain Lake.

State and local officials will be recognized for allocating the funds involving the Smith Mountain Lake Association and Virginia Tech, which will be managed by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The free event will include raffles, prizes, food trucks, and free items.

Activities and exhibits will include,

  • Lakeside Scavenger Hunt
  • Become a Lake Ranger
  • Face paining and kids activities
  • Hands-on exhibits and displays
  • Free vessel safety checks
  • Boat docking clinic
  • Tours of a fire boat and Ferrum College’s research vessel

Freddy, the SMLA safety duck, will also be hiding at nearby businesses, and anyone who finds him will win a prize.

Click here for more information on the event.

Copyright 2024 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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Renogy United States

Which LFP Battery Specs Meet Your Needs?

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When we started our solar powered journey in 2012, nearly every off-grid RVer we met bragged about their 6V lead acid golf cart batteries (around 60 pounds each!) and the gas generator they used to recharge them. In just over a decade, these conversations have completely changed, and so has the technology fueling them. Today, deep cycle RV and marine batteries offer significantly more capacity, charge faster, last 5-10x longer, are safer to use, and weigh in at a fraction of those ancient, golf cart behemoths.

We jumped on board with LiFePO4 batteries in 2019 and haven’t looked back to lead acid…not even once. Our two 12V-100Ah Smart Lithium Iron Phosphate Self-Heating batteries power our off-grid rolling home and mobile business like a dream! Need help with sizing your own solar powered system? Our NEW video will walk you through it!

You may have heard a rumor that LiFePO4 batteries are too expensive. Like any new product that hits the market, prices start out high then begin to drop. In 2019, Renogy offered just a couple of different LiFePO4 battery options and the prices were upwards of $1200 for a single 12V-100Ah battery. After a couple of years, the options within their LFP line-up (as well as the features) increased and the prices began dropping. Today, Renogy offers 13 different LFP batteries with voltage options ranging from 12V to 48V and amp hours from 25Ah to 400Ah. The price of most LFP batteries have dropped by half of what they were in 2019! There are now LFP batteries to fit just about every lifestyle and budget.

If you have just started your research on deep cycle RV batteries, the charts in this blog will help you quickly compare the specs of various Renogy LiFePO4 batteries in one place, and the questions will help you narrow down the style that’s right for you.

Let’s start off by looking at 4 of Renogy’s 12V-100Ah Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries side-by-side to compare the differences in their unique features.

solar panels for sailboat

How is Lithium Iron Phosphate Different?

Simply put, a deep cycle RV battery is designed to cycle from a full charge to a specific safe depth of discharge and back to full charge several thousand times, and can be charged and recharged in a variety of ways including solar panels, DC to DC chargers, AC to DC chargers, inverter chargers, converters, and yes, even gas generators. Lithium Iron Phosphate is a newer technology for deep cycle batteries that differs from the Lithium Ion batteries commonly found in hand-held electronics. The LFP chemistry is much more stable, and virtually maintenance free. These batteries are not prone to overheating, and the internal computerized BMS (Battery Management System) provides protection against over / under charging, reverse polarity and temperature challenges. Because they will not off-gas, the options for installation can include the living space of your RV, van, boat, or off-grid home. With a decade or more of life expectancy and higher charging / discharging rates, these batteries represent an upfront investment that pays off within just a few years – all of this at almost a third of the weight of traditional lead acid. Before diving into specific questions, take a look at this complete chart of ALL Renogy Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries to review which batteries are available.

Which Deep Cycle Battery is Best for Your Rig & Lifestyle?

Once you have determined your average daily total watt hours using our Solar System Sizing Worksheet and have determined how many amp hours of batteries you need to meet your energy demands (see video above), it’s time to choose WHICH deep cycle batteries are best for you. Start by asking yourself these 3 questions…

At 23-27 lbs for 100Ah, LiFePO4 batteries weigh significantly less than other deep cycle batteries. Compare that to AGM and gel which weigh 64 lbs each for 12V-100Ah!  While each LFP battery has slightly different dimensions, overall LFP is smaller, lighter, and more energy dense than any other type of battery.

Unlike flooded lead acid batteries, LiFePO4 can be safely installed inside your camper, boat or living space, as they will not off-gas and can be installed in a variety of orientations (e.g., on their side).  Installing them Inside keeps them safer, warmer in the winter / cooler in the summer, and can simplify the wiring for the battery installation.

If you are going to live full-time (or even part-time) in an off-grid home, and plan to use the batteries for many years, you definitely want to consider LiFePO4 for your RV, boat, or off-grid cabin.  LFP has 5-10x the potential lifespan of any lead acid batteries.

solar panels for sailboat

If you’ve decided that LiFePO4 is best for you, ask yourself these 3 important questions to determine which STYLE you need.

Are you planning to run higher wattage appliances with your batteries or just some simple 12v appliances.

Different batteries offer different discharging rates which can affect those who are planning to run many higher wattage appliances at the same time. The higher the discharge rate, the greater the flow of energy out of the battery. Renogy’s new release collection of 12V - 48V CORE and 12V PRO series batteries offer higher maximum continuous charging and discharging rates.

What system voltage are you trying to achieve – 12V, 24V, 36V, or 48V?

In order to create a battery bank higher than 12V, you’ll need to either purchase higher voltage batteries (24V or 48V) or buy 12V LFPs specifically designed to be wired in series. Renogy’s latest CORE series LiFePO4 batteries are designed specifically for series connections or even a combination of series-parallel. Or, you may consider a 24V or 48V battery such as the 24V-200Ah CORE or 48V-50Ah Smart LFP .

What is the lowest possible temperature in which you will use the batteries?

Many of Renogy’s Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries such as the 12-100Ah PRO or the 12V-400Ah REGO include an automatic self-heating function to handle any cold challenge! Check out this video to see how self-heating LFP batteries work .

If you are considering higher-capacity LiFePO4 batteries such as the 24V-200Ah CORE LT or 48V-50Ah, check out this chart for a side-by-side comparison of these features.

solar panels for sailboat

To appropriately monitor LiFePO4 batteries, and your entire system, Renogy offers several options including their new wireless Renogy ONE series , including the M1 and Core models. Connection to this latest generation of solar monitors is through built-in Bluetooth, Bluetooth Modules, or the Renogy Battery Shunt 300 (for all Basic and CORE battery models). The shunt is also compatible with all other deep cycle batteries, including lead acid or non-Renogy LFP. We’ve tested all monitoring methods with great success!

We hope these charts assist you in finding a battery that is best for your lifestyle, energy needs, climate, budget, and more. If you need further explanation or help with troubleshooting your solar installation, give us a shout! We are Solar Coaches and love to help people get started. Please contact us via our website at Freedom in a Can .

solar panels for sailboat

In 2012, Shari Galiardi & David Hutchison left behind careers and a comfortable home in North Carolina to travel with the vintage camper trailer they lovingly restored, outfitted with solar, and named "Hamlet." What began as a short break from careers and responsibility quickly turned into a love affair with roadlife. They have parlayed their higher education backgrounds, desire for life-long learning, and thirst for adventure travel into writing, photography, video production, and public speaking gigs from coast to coast. Known to their friends as simply Shari & Hutch, you can learn more about their full-time, solar-powered adventures on their website at freedominacan.com . Or, follow them on Facebook , Instagram , and YouTube as “Freedom in a Can, LLC.”

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IMAGES

  1. How to Install Solar Panels on a Sailboat

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  2. A shot of all 6 of the panels! El fin! Sailboat Living, Living On A

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  3. How To Sailboat Solar Panel Installation

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  4. Sewing 101: Mounting Our Semi-Flexible Solar Panels

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  5. How to Choose a Solar Panel System for your Sailboat, RV, or Home

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  6. How To Install Solar Panels on A Sailboat

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VIDEO

  1. How solar energy works on a boat

  2. Learning to add Solar Power to a Sailboat. Part 1

  3. Putting More Solar Panels on the Sailboat for a better Sailboat Life ⛵️ 🌞 Captain's Vlog 26

  4. Sizing a Solar Controller Based on Your Boat's Battery Voltage

  5. Sailing Vlog 14 I Shouldn't Have Drilled This Hole. Living on a Sailboat

  6. Attaching solar panels to small boats, the easy way

COMMENTS

  1. Top 3 Best Solar Panels For Sailboats

    2. Nature Power Rigid. The nature power rigid is a large, powerful, single solar panel. If you are looking for the right panels to power your entire boat comfortably, these are the ones for you. They are very large so they will need a large flat surface area. alternatively, they can be hung vertically from rails.

  2. Marine Solar Panels for Sailboats

    A solar-power installation on a sailboat is made up of two independent systems: one system to charge the batteries, and another system to provide 120-volt AC power for household appliances. In the charging system, the solar panels convert sunlight into electrical current and deliver it to the batteries via a solar charge controller.

  3. Sailboat Solar Systems and How-To

    He's been living aboard and renovating the boat for the past 3.5 years We're excited to show you the transformation as well as how he plans to propel the boat without the use of diesel or fossil fuels! 5280w Solar System for Electric Powered Catamaran. 16 Rigid solar panels (330w each) 20kwh of Lithium Batteries.

  4. Sailing with solar power: A practical guide

    THE AVAILABLE SPACE. In practical terms, a modern 40ft monohull would have the space for around 1,200W of PV panels (cockpit arch, sprayhood top, deck), maybe 1,500W with the addition of a few portable panels for use at anchor. The 1,200W of fixed position solar array could produce around 360Ah on a sunny summer's day (zero shading) or more ...

  5. 9 Best Solar Panels for Sailboats

    We had a 200w setup, nothing fancy but enough to supply our need for sailing the Bahamas. You will need between 2-8 solar panels for your sailboat. The exact amount depends on your sailboat's space and how many electronics you need to power. Most solar panels can absorb between 100-300 watts per hour.

  6. Top 5 Best Solar Panels for Boats (2024 Marine Buyer's Guide)

    Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, SolarEdge, Silfab, SunPower. 25-year manufacturer warranty; 10-year workmanship warranty, 2-year production guarantee. Considering installing solar on your boat for off-grid energy? Click here to see our top recommendations for boat solar panels and how to decide which one is best.

  7. How to Install Solar Panels on a Sailboat

    Another factor you'll need to consider is the size of your boat battery bank. In general, a 100Ah deep cycle battery will need 180 watts of solar to fully charge, assuming you have at least four hours of sunlight a day. Thus, if you have a 200Ah battery bank, you'll need at least 360 watts of solar. In this case, two 200-watt panels would ...

  8. What You Need To Know About Boat Solar Panels

    A 10-watt horizontally mounted panel should generate between 3- and 5-amp hours per day. We'll need at least 13 volts to fully charge our 12-volt battery. As most solar cells generate at least 0.45 volts, you'll want a panel with a minimum of 33 cells, which should provide around 14.85 volts.

  9. The Best Solar Panels for Boats of 2024

    Renogy Solar Panels for Boats. The Renogy are 100W monocrystalline solar panels providing an average of 400-500Wh or 33-41Ah of electricity per day, so you have reliable performance. It has bypass diodes that protect the solar cells from overheating, so you don't have to worry about maintenance.

  10. Everything you need to know about installing solar panels on boats

    For smaller sailboats, the main job of your solar panels would be to keep the battery fully charged for your boat's electricity. For larger boats, they help reduce or eliminate the need to use the engine to provide excess power. The average 30-foot boat would require about 300-350 watts of power. Depending on your energy use and boat size ...

  11. The Different Types of Solar Panels for Boats

    As boat owners seek eco-friendly and cost-effective solutions to power their vessels, solar panels offer a reliable and sustainable answer. Understanding the different types of solar panels available for boats is crucial in selecting the right solution for your needs, considering factors like space availability, budget, and desired efficiency.

  12. Thinking Through a Solar Power Installation

    600-watt solar panel system on Summer Twins 28 sailing catamaran Caribbean Soul 2. (Photo/ Clifford Burgess) The practical aspects of your solar panel system will be governed by the design and size of your sailboat, your overall project budget (% DIY project) and how you currently use your sailboat versus your future plans for your boat. The ...

  13. Best Solar panels for off-grid power and keeping batteries charged

    Giosolar 1,000W flexible solar panel. Best flexible boat solar panel. Delivering a mighty kilowatt of power, (not far off the amount used by a one bedroom house), this Giostar package comprises ten separate 100W panels, each of which is 1,050 x 540 x 2.5mm in size. Capable of charging either 12 or 24V batteries, a kit of this magnitude is one ...

  14. Picking the best solar panels for a sailboat: Buyer's guide

    The best solar panels for sailboats don't have to be powerful, but they better be efficient — find the number in the datasheet. For rigid panels anything over 18-19% is fine. Panels also should be sturdy enough to withstand seastorms. You generally also want good shading tolerance since panels often get shaded by masts and sails.

  15. 9 Best Marine Solar Panels for Your Boat in 2024

    These marine flexible solar panels by Renogy are a dream for boat lovers. They fit snugly into any curved surface, which is common in boats. Plus, their ultra-light and thin design is ideal for a smooth, hassle-free sail. 5. SUNER POWER 30W Polycrystalline Solar Panel.

  16. Solar Panels For Boats and Yachts

    The Benefits of Adding Solar Panels To a Boat or Yacht. When it comes to adding solar panels to your boat, the benefits are endless. Here are just a few for you to consider: Silence: Noisy refueling at docks and extremely loud on-board generators are a thing of the past. Cruise the seas in with zero mechanical noises, and enjoy the natural ...

  17. Solar Panels For Boats: What You Need To Know

    One 100-watt solar panel that receives direct sunlight for 5 hours will produce approximately 500 Wh of electricity (5 hours x 100 W = 500 Wh). Not considering conversion losses, that's enough electricity to power a mini-fridge for 24 hours or power a boat's GPS display for 10 hours.

  18. Highest Efficiency Marine Solar Panels, Lithium Batteries And Complete

    Questions call 773-965-2546 Recreational cruising sailboats and powerboats (and commercial) - Having plenty of electric power on board while cruising can make the difference between a fantastic experience and a marginal one. We know; we are cruising sailors. If you are considering solar power for your sailboat or powerboat (or camper van) and want to learn more about the technology, check out ...

  19. Premium Marine Solar Panels For Boats

    Solar panel shading is a major issue on many boats. Shading can reduce a standard panel performance by over 60%. Custom Marine Products has developed a series of semi-flexible shade tolerant solar panels that have superior performance when partially shaded by boat equipment or nearby objects.

  20. SunPower Marine Flexible Solar Panels

    Look for the SunPower logo. Sun Powered Yachts is an authorized dealer of SunPower flexible solar panels 50W, 110W & 170W. High efficiency, marine flexible solar panels for your boat or yacht. Best warranty, highest rated & most durable. Disconnect from the dock and start sailing with the sun.

  21. This yacht sets sail with solar

    The Silent 60 is a solar-propelled yacht less than half the lengthBaltic yacht and price, which reaches 6-8 knots on solar power alone. The Path does not feature electric propulsion and therefore relies on diesel engines when the wind dies down. Since the Path uses a sail for propulsion, the team installed 154 bypass diodes and 12 solar panel ...

  22. Open Waters Solar

    Discover the elegance of our thin marine solar panels that seamlessly blend with your boat's aesthetics. With their slim profile, our panels integrate discreetly into your vessel, preserving its sleek appearance. Embrace a sophisticated design and maintain a streamlined look, all while benefiting from efficient and effective solar power ...

  23. ® OFFICIAL Silent Yachts

    The Original Solar Yacht. As the original inventors of series produced solar-electric yachts, we pioneered this innovative approach. Our first model, the Silent 64, was launched to the market in 2016, several years before any other shipyard considered the possibility of going electric.

  24. Solar Panel Arches for Sailboats

    Having a solar arch mounted, will also give you the option to carry and hoist a dinghy from the integrated davits. As a sailor, you used to have two options, when looking to mount an arch on your sailboat to carry solar panels and a dinghy on the stern: Buy a 100% standard product, which you then cut and drill so it fits onto your boat.

  25. This net-zero boat could revolutionize maritime travel

    A boat pulled into Boston's Rowes Wharf recently that's unlike any other vessel in the world. Its name is the Energy Observer, and it's been traveling the globe for seven years using only renewable power to spread the word of sustainability on the sea.. The vessel is a demonstration project backed by a French hydrogen energy company and supported by many other tech companies in the renewable ...

  26. Smith Mountain Lake Association holds A Day at the Lake event

    MONETA, Va. (WDBJ) - The Smith Mountain Lake Association will hold A Day at the Lake event Saturday, June 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Goodhue Boat Company - Blackwater in Moneta, VA. The opening ...

  27. Which LFP Battery Specs Meet Your Needs?

    When we started our solar powered journey in 2012, nearly every off-grid RVer we met bragged about their 6V lead acid golf cart batteries (around 60 pounds each!) and the gas generator they used to recharge them. In just over a decade, these conversations have completely changed, and so has the technology fueling them. Today, deep cycle RV and marine batteries offer significantly more capacity ...