Cruising on your sailboat or yacht should be the ultimate expression of freedom, but this is not so much the case when you have to either moor near shore power or live with none of the comforts of electricity. You could employ a diesel generator to solve the problem, but what about the noise and the smell?
Marine solar panels present none of these major disadvantages. Portable versions can be installed in minutes, while flexible panels can be used as a more permanent solution in the case of uneven surfaces. More to the point, these solar power systems for boats can generate clean, reliable and affordable electricity so that you can extend your cruise for as long as you please without being forced to come ashore.
RENOGY 400W Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit with Wanderer
NATURE POWER 120W Briefcase Monocrystalline Solar Panel
WINDYNATION 100W Solar Panel Off-Grid Boat Kit
- 1 What Are the Best Marine Solar Panels in 2020?
- 2 What Are Marine Solar Panels?
- 3 Why Should You Use Solar Panels for Boats?
- 4 How Do You Install Marine Solar Panels?
What Are the Best Marine Solar Panels in 2020?
Our means of harnessing solar energy have come a long way over the past few decades. Today, there is a solar solution to almost all problems – and boats make no exception. Whether you’re looking for a system that is powerful enough to charge all utilities on board, a modest trickle charger, or something in-between, you’ll find the product that suits you below.
1. RENOGY 400W Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit with Wanderer
This complete starter kit by Renogy includes almost everything you need to begin experimenting with solar power on your sailboat or small yacht. With an ideal total output of 2,000Wh per day, you can expect the four 100W monocrystalline solar panels to charge a 200Ah battery from 50% to full in just over 3 hours. Although the kit is not powerful enough to run an entire kitchen for a whole day, it can easily keep a mini-fridge, as well as a laptop, TV, and several small devices running off-grid.
The kit includes a Renogy Wanderer 30A PWM Charge Controller, which is an essential component of any complete solar power system. The charge controller allows you to connect anywhere from 1 to 4 solar panels at a time and can therefore be used to customize the system to your specific needs.
Although a rechargeable battery is not included, the set does come with everything you need to install it on your boat. The mounting Z brackets are easy to use and all the necessary connectors are provided by the manufacturer. The kit now also comprises an adaptor kit and an 8ft 10AWG Tray Cable that can help you connect the charge controller to your battery.
- One of the most powerful off-grid, marine solar panel kits on the market
- The package includes everything you need for easy installation
- Can connect between 1 and 4 solar panels of the same kind
- Slightly more expensive than other options
2. WINDYNATION 100W Solar Panel Off-Grid Boat Kit
This solar off-grid kit by WindyNation includes only one 100W panel by default, but can be extended to up to 4 pieces for 12V systems and up to 8 pieces for 24V. Using just the basic set, you can generate an average of 350Wh or 33Amph per day, which is not enough to power a fridge, but is sufficient to keep a laptop and several small devices running at all times.
The package comes with a WindyNation P30L Charge Controller, which features an LCD display, as well as a battery temperature sensor. In addition, the manufacturer provides all the necessary hardware for installation – 40ft of 12AWG cable, MC4 connectors, mounting brackets, fastener sets, and an installation manual.
To this, you need to add a 12V rechargeable battery and a DC to AC inverter before you are ready to use the marine solar panels. Once everything is in place, monitoring the system is simple and quick thanks to the useful information displayed on the charge controller.
- Although the basic set includes only one 100W solar panel, you can add up to 3 more for 12V systems or 7 more for 24V
- Even with a single panel, the system is powerful enough to keep several devices charged throughout the day
- Includes a charge controller and all necessary installation hardware
- Slightly more expensive than other options, especially if you want to extend the system with more solar panels for boats
3. SUAOKI 100W Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Not all sailboats have the appropriate space to accommodate conventional marine solar panels. In those situations where you have to work with an irregular, circular, or bumpy surface, the best solution is to go with flexible solar panels. One fantastic example is Suaoki’s 100W monocrystalline version, which strikes a decent balance between performance and cost.
This flexible solar panel can bend to up to 30 degrees, so it is ideal for sailboats or yachts where the only available space is curved or uneven. Although it is just as efficient as a regular panel, it only weighs 5.3lbs and has a light, frameless design that makes installation and removal even easier.
Suaoki’s 100W flexible solar panel is not sold in a set, which means that you must purchase a battery, charge controller, inverter, and other miscellanea separately. However, the panel does feature 4 pre-drilled holes that can help with installation, as well as a junction box for safety purposes and all the necessary MC4 connectors.
- Very light – easy to move, install, and remove
- Bendable to up to 30 degrees, which allows it to be installed on uneven surfaces
- Features pre-drilled holes that make installation a breeze
- Does not include a battery, charge controller, or inverter
4. NATURE POWER 120W Briefcase Monocrystalline Solar Pane
If you’re looking for marine solar panels that you can also use for other purposes, this briefcase design by Nature Power might be the right answer. The set includes two 60W monocrystalline panels that are neatly framed by an aluminum frame for durability. The highly efficient technology enables the kit to charge several small appliances or small devices throughout the day.
The kit comes with a tilt mount so that you can position the panels at an optimal angle regardless of your current location. Whether you take this briefcase on your boat, while traveling with an RV, or on camping expeditions, the panels take under a minute to set up and use.
In addition, the solar panels can be conveniently collapsed into a briefcase when they are not being used. Although the total weight of the case is just over 30lbs, the rugged handle makes transportation more facile, while the collapsed shape occupies minimal storage space. A rechargeable battery is not included, but the charge controller is.
- Briefcase design ensures better portability so that you can use these panels both on and off your boat
- The kit is powerful enough to keep small appliances/devices charged off-gridTakes under 1 minute to set upCharge controller and tilt mount are included
- The handle and tilt support might not be as durable as the panels themselves
5. SUNFORCE 5W Solar Battery Trickle Charger
These Sunforce mini-solar panels for boats are not designed to recharge batteries or appliances. Their purpose is to act as “trickle chargers”, which is to say that they charge the batteries on your sailboat or yacht by the amount these lose while in standby. As such, they are ideal for those long periods of time when you do not use your boat, as well as for fishing or simply drifting.
The trickle charger consists of an amorphous solar panel with a durable aluminum frame and built-in charge protection. The kit is entirely waterproof, so you never have to worry about bringing it on board or leaving it out in bad weather. In addition, the manufacturer provides all the necessary hardware for installation, together with battery clamps that you can use to connect the panel directly to your batteries.
The 5W solar panel might not seem like much compared to some of the other options presented above, but it is more than enough to maintain and trickle charge any vehicle battery. If this is what you are looking for, then there is no reason to opt for anything bulkier or more expensive. The marine solar panels by Sunforce are sleek, virtually maintenance-free, lightweight, and compact, so they are easy to install, use, remove, and store.
- Small solar panels that are ideal for trickle charging and maintaining batteries on your boat
- Completely water-proof, durable aluminum frameTakes under 1 minute to set upEasy to install and maintain
- At 5W per panel, these kits are considerably less powerful than other products described above. Only suitable for trickle charging and small devices
What Are Marine Solar Panels?
Marine solar panels use the same technologies as regular home solar panel kits. At present, there are four main types of solar panels for boats (which are really subsets of portable solar panels), which are categorized according to the material used in their composition:
Monocrystalline Solar Panels. Using the oldest, but also the most refined and efficient commercially available technology, monocrystalline solar panels are obtained by cutting into a single crystal of silicon. As such, they are rated with the highest purity, tend to have the highest efficiency, and can therefore use up smaller surfaces of the boat.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels. These panels are obtained in a similar manner, but they are cut from blocks that contain multiple small crystals, rather than a single crystal of silicon. The result is that they are slightly less efficient than their monocrystalline counterparts, but since they use newer and cheaper technology, they are also more affordable.
Amorphous Silicon Panels. Because their production involves only the simple depositing of silicon material onto a surface of glass, plastic, or stainless steel, amorphous solar panels are the least expensive type currently on the market. On the one hand, they are characterized by lower conversion efficiency, but, on the other hand, they work better in shaded areas or in extreme temperatures.
Thin Film Panels. These panels also rank low in terms of conversion efficiency, but they are favored when it comes to powering sailboats or yachts. Like amorphous panels, they are “shadow protected”, which is to say that they continue to work even when some cells are not exposed to direct sunlight. Boats tend to rock constantly and it can be difficult to predict with accuracy whether an area will be shaded when installing solar panels. Thin film panels do require larger surfaces to generate the same amount of electricity as fewer mono- or poly-crystalline kits, but they are more flexible and reliable thanks to their ability to function in spite of shade.
Why Should You Use Solar Panels for Boats?
Solar energy is readily associated with sustainability, but there are actually many more advantages to making the transition from diesel generators on your sailboat or yacht. In addition, if you’re new to the market, this is a great way to experiment with available technologies before implementing them on a wider scale, such as, for instance, in your cabin or home, or even adding solar panels to your RV.
Electricity Independence. You shouldn’t have to moor every time you need a recharge on your boat. Equipping your vehicle with enough marine solar panels can keep everything running for extended cruises and even for several days. Of course, completely switching to solar energy requires a considerable number of panels, but it also ensures that, while at sea, you are energy independent and can use your sailboat or yacht as freely as possible and keep that solar power bank charged as long as you like.
Cost-effectiveness. Perhaps the most significant advantage of going solar has to do with long-term savings. While the initial purchase and installation of a solar power system can be costly, the latter pays for itself in only a matter of years because solar energy is free, while fuel is increasingly expensive. These small to medium solar panels for boats are virtually maintenance-free, which means you are unlikely to encounter additional costs once the system is put in place.
Silent, Clean Electricity. One way to fulfill your electricity needs while on a cruise is to use a conventional fuel generator. However, the latter is notoriously noisy and can drastically decrease the quality of your time spent at sea. Most, if not all, marine solar panels are perfectly silent and will not bother you while they power up your boat and/or appliances. Plus, you can always add a solar power generator as well.
Easy Installation and Reliability. Like solar ovens and cookers, some marine solar panels are easier to install than others, but, as a general rule, all kits are largely DIY and require little to no previous preparation. In addition, these panels can be removed just as quickly and are not difficult to store. Finally, most solar panel kits are designed to be completely water- and weather-proof, so you can expect them to remains durable and reliable over the years.
How Do You Install Marine Solar Panels?
There are several ways to position and fasten marine solar panels on your boat in order to maximize their utility and maintain the aesthetics of the vehicle at the same time. Depending on whether you intend to use more or less solar energy, the installation might be more complex and might require some initial planning.
Deck Placements. One of the easiest ways to install solar panels on a boat is to place them directly onto the deck. You can do so by drilling the panels into the deck, since most kits come with pre-drilled holes, or, if you wish to avoid this, by using a strong adhesive. Another method is to employ VHB tape and create a series of attach points and fasteners, which also allows you to bypass the drilling of the deck.
Rails and Davits. A good alternative to deck placements is to install marine solar panels onto the rails and davits of a sailboat or yacht. This allows you to clear up the deck space you would otherwise clutter with panels or can even be done when deck space is not sufficient to fulfill all of your on-board electricity needs. Glass and flexible solar panels for boats are most suitable for this type of installation.
Canvas Installations. A more temporary setup that can make it easier to install and remove the solar panels at will is to secure them onto the canvases of the boat. This can be done by using Velcro strips and stitching them onto the panels or by using side zippers that are attached to both the canvases and the panels. Like with the other methods described here, this, too, requires some initial preparation, but the results are reliable and sturdy.
Overall, there are a few things to consider before you buy marine solar panels. These include an estimate of how much electricity you’ll need, the type of panels that would make the best fit, as well as how you intend to securely fasten the panels onto the boat. The one thing that is certain is that you can’t go wrong with any of the five kits mentioned here, all of which have been thoroughly vetted by previous customers and boat owners. (Looking for more cool solar products? Check out the best solar inverters on the market today!)