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.
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.
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
- Charge controller and cables are included
- Slightly more expensive than other options
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
- The LCD display makes monitoring the system even simpler
- Slightly more expensive than other options, especially if you want to extend the system with more solar panels for boats
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
- Comes with MC4 connectors
- Does not include a battery, charge controller, or inverter
NATURE POWER 120W Briefcase Monocrystalline Solar Panel
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-grid
- Takes under 1 minute to set up
- Charge controller and tilt mount are included
- The handle and tilt support might not be as durable as the panels themselves
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 frame
- Easy to install and maintain
- Includes battery clamps to connect solar panel to batteries directly
- At 5W per panel, these kits are considerably less powerful than other products described above. Only suitable for trickle charging and small devices