With more people fitting solar panels onto their homes, it’s no surprise that many seafarers are now opting for the benefits of a solar system. However, the idea of solar panels on boats may initially seem strange or incomprehensible.
Will it look weird? Will it weigh down the boat? Where would I fit it? How many panels would need to be equipped? Why should I fit solar panels?
You might be surprised at how simple the entire concept is. There are many benefits and reasons for fitting solar panels onto your boat. But if all things solar power related are not in your wheelhouse (excuse the pun), do not fret.
I will guide you through everything you need to know regarding marine solar panels.
🍃 Why Opt For Solar Power On Your Boat?
Solar power is a completely clean and green way to power your boat and the appliances you have on board. You could rely entirely on solar power for sailing with the correct fittings and components.
This means you would have no carbon dioxide emissions spewing into the marine environment while cruising. It is also, of course, a renewable source of energy that is entirely free.
It is also an excellent backup power source, allowing you to sail with peace of mind knowing that you have that added security.
⚡ How Do Solar Panels Supply Your Boat With Power?
Let us just accept that these magical panels harness the energy emitted from the sun and convert it into solar power, which we can then use to power numerous electrical gadgets.
If you want to know more about exactly how these panels do this, watch Richard Komps TedEd’s video below explaining this.
|Advantages Of Solar Panels On Boats 👍
|Disadvantages Of Solar Panels On Boats 👎
|Low or no harmful emissions
|Immensely unfavorable conditions will affect your energy output
|Saves money on fuel
|It may not fit in with the stereotypical boating aesthetic
|Electric engines are silent
|Some panel types are cumbersome
|They can supply power even on cloudy days
|High initial costs
|It can provide power to your boat’s battery
|Cost of installation
|Can supply enough power to your appliances and outlets
|Cost of required components
|Varying designs mean that they can be installed on many types of surfaces
|Boats that run entirely on solar power are easily maintained
|Batteries are expensive
|Sturdy enough for the rough seas
🛶 How Much Solar Power Does A Boat Need For Its Size?
The simple answer is that your boat would require 100 watts every ten feet. So, if your boat is 45 ft., then 450 watts should suffice.
The more complex answer would require you to survey the energy consumption of all the appliances using electricity on your boat.
And then, work out an average of how much time you plan on spending on board. The items on your boat that require power should have the usage stated either on the back or on the label.
Suppose you have a microwave, fridge, multiple charging ports, lights, navigational equipment, and a laptop. In that case, you will most likely require more than the 10:100 ratio mentioned above.
I recommend reading our article on how much solar a boat needs to get a clearer picture. There is also a handy hypothetical example where we break down the calculation for you step-by-step.
☀️ What Types Of Solar Panels Are There For Boats?
There are three kinds of solar panels.
|Solar Panel Type
|What It Is Composed Of
|Monocrystalline silicon solar cells
More effective in hot weather;
More effective during cloudy days;
|Individual polycrystalline solar cells
|Cheaper than monocrystalline;
Long life span;
Best for smaller spaces
|Found primarily on rigid panels;
Does not perform well in high temperatures
|13 -16 %
Can handle high temperatures;
|Requires a larger surface area;
🏆 Which Solar Panels Are Best For Boats?
The best type of solar panel for boats would be monocrystalline. It is the most efficient, meaning you would have more kilowatt hours per square foot covered.
But monocrystalline may not necessarily be the best option for you and your boat.
You must ensure that your boat and budget can accommodate these panels and all the required accessories.
🔨 Things To Consider When Installing Solar Panels On A Boat
Deciding where you plan on placing your solar panels is extremely important. You may have limited options if your boat is smaller, but various mounting brackets can help with this.
Other essential things that need to be kept in mind:
- Type of solar panel
- Size of panel
- Size of boat
- Is it going to be permanently fixed?
- Sun exposure
Installing your boat’s solar panels can be an enlightening DIY project. It may seem technical, but many sailors have opted to do it themselves instead of sourcing professionals. Sailing Ruby Rose’s YouTube video is an excellent example of this.
Where Should You Install A Solar Panel On A Boat?
The ideal location for any solar panel is optimum sun exposure. This would be the roof. Some panels can be sewn onto the canvas of boats with such coverings, while others are mounted onto the hard top or deck.
Some people prefer to have the panels hanging from the side of the boat at an angle or on their own mounting bracket at the stern.
Wherever you decide to place your panels, you need to ensure that:
- It is easily accessible for cleaning or maintenance
- That has sufficient space at the back of the panel to prevent overheating
- That is in a position that receives an adequate amount of sun
Installations are not the only option for solar power on boats. Smaller boats have portable solar panels, which function just as well. For larger vessels, however, this may be an unrealistic option.
Other Components That Are Required For Solar Panels On A Boat
1️⃣ Mounting – the mounting you choose will depend on the layout of your boat and the size of your panel. For an idea of the various types of mounting systems, look at emarineinc.com’s selection.
2️⃣ Solar Cabling – the cabling for solar systems used at sea will differ from the standard cabling used for solar panels on houses.
3️⃣ Inverter or converter– depending on the power usage, you will have either an inverter or a converter.
4️⃣ Charge controller – charges your battery and will be the control board for your power.
5️⃣ Battery – is responsible for power.
⚖️ How Do Marine Solar Panels Differ From Ordinary Solar Panels?
When shopping around for solar panels that will be fitted to your boat, you cannot go for the same panels and components manufactured to suit houses.
The moisture, humidity and saltwater, and salt air will wreak havoc on the exposed parts of your solar panels and fittings that come with it. Marine solar panels are therefore fitted and made from non-corrosive and waterproof material.
How Many Solar Panels Would I Need To Run A Boat?
Solar panels do not come in one size with one allotted wattage. Instead, panels come in different sizes and different wattages. For example, a semi-rigid monocrystalline panel measuring 26 x 3826 x 38 inches would supply 55.4-amp hours, with a peak watt power of 120.
This is assuming that it has had six hours of sun exposure. One panel of this size could be enough to run a tiny boat or a single appliance. The number of panels you require is relative to the boat size and the items that need power.
Which Are The Best Solar Panels For Boats?
In terms of panel type, monocrystalline is considered the best option for marine solar panels. If you are asking about which brand is the best, the three most mentioned ones when ranked are:
- Renogy 100-watt monocrystalline solar panel
- HQST 100-watt monocrystalline 12V solar panel
- SunPower Flexible monocrystalline 100W
How Much Do Solar Panels For Boats Cost?
When installing a fully functioning solar array onto your boat, it won’t just be the panels you’ll be paying for.
For the panels to work, you would need the proper mounting hardware, lithium battery, inverters or converters, solar cabling, and a charge controller.
A complete marine solar panel kit could cost anywhere between $700 -$3,400. Again this would depend on the size of the boat, the size of your panels, and the amount of power you require.
Custom Marine Products has a wide selection of solar panel kits to give you an idea of what you could spend.
How Much Do Solar Panels Weigh?
On average polycrystalline solar panels weigh around 9.7 lbs. Monocrystalline panels weigh approximately 9 lbs. this is the weight of the panel itself. The mounting equipment will add more weight according to the mounting fixture you intend to use.
🗣 Final Words
Solar panels on boats have a lot of variables that should be taken into consideration. But the general consensus is that the long-term pros outweigh the cons.
Yes, you may be spending a little more on your boat, but you will save money on fuel and increase your safety and security while out at sea. Not to mention the colossal favor your will be doing for the environment.
Boats are as unique as people, and there isn’t always a “one size fits all” answer to questions you may have. Solar panels may not even register as an option for some people.
Nevertheless, choosing a panel and system that works for you couldn’t be easier. You can get all the necessary information right down to the inch and watt without moving from your laptop.