Fitting a solar panel to your narrowboat will give you much more freedom to explore the waterways and canals.
Tie up to the river bank to enjoy the peace of the countryside without having to worry about keeping the fridge cool, or restarting the engine. A real bonus!
Now you can take long walks along the canal towpaths while your solar panels are busy replenishing the electrical system, ready for an evening of cool drinks, music and television.
But how can a solar panel be mounted to a curved deck or cabin top? What sort do you need and how big does it have to be?
Three easy ways to fit a solar panel to your boat.
You will have seen standard aluminium framed solar panels fitted to other boats. These rigid solar panels are inexpensive and very effective at producing electricity. They can easily be fixed in place with aluminium brackets, PVC mounting pads or tiltable frames. To take full advantage of this type of solar panel, we recommend that you tilt the solar panel up so that it faces the Sun. This can be easily achieved with an adjustable solar panel mounting frame. In addition, the frame can be mounted to a curved deck or cabin top by using our adjustable mounting feet. The feet (made from fibreglass reinforced plastic) are glued to the deck and make a strong, stable and adjustable platform for your solar panel. The feet tilt to the shape of your deck.
The supporting stud is made from 10 mm stainless steel.
Also available are semi-flexible solar panels which can be glued directly to the cabin top or deck with a suitable adhesive. These panels can be bent a little to follow
the contours of your boat’s deck. They have the advantage that they are very thin and so once fitted are not likely to foul your mooring ropes and lines.
For a step by step guide to fitting a flexible solar panel to your narrowboat, take a look at Michael Tyler’s video blog:
If you do not want to fix a solar panel permanently to your boat, you might like to consider using a portable panel. These are free standing solar panels that are kept inside the boat until needed. When required they are taken outside and propped up facing the Sun. They tend to be smaller than conventional solar panels but have the advantage that they can be turned to face the Sun directly. Turning the panel to face the Sun directly means that the panel will be working to full capacity all of the time.
Whatever type of solar panel you decide on, make sure it uses ‘monocrystalline’ technology. This is by far the most efficient and cost effective type of solar panel available. Do not be tempted to buy polycrystalline, amorphous crystalline or thin-film solar panels. These latter types will take up far more room on your boat.
What size of solar panel do I need?
If you are only interested in trickle charging your battery fitting a solar panel of about 50 watts will work well, at least during the summer months.
Most owners will want much more power so we recommend a panel of at least 100 watts. This will provide a good maintenance charge and will keep your battery in good order. During the summer months in the UK a 100 watt panel will provide a lot of useful extra power and significantly reduce the need for a mains connection.
If you are looking for complete independence from the mains supply, we strongly suggest that you consider a solar panel array of 200 watts. This is best achieved using two 100 watt solar panels.
All types of solar panel can be used singly or connected together to form a more powerful solar panel system. If you decide to use more than one solar panel make sure that they use the same monocrystalline technology.
Fitting a solar panel to your narrowboat.
Find the best place for your solar panel. This should be on an area of the cabin roof or wheelhouse clear of other equipment. The solar panel will not interfere with the operation of the other equipment but items like t.v. aerials might cast a shadow over the panel and reduce its effectiveness.
Try also to imagine where you are most likely to walk on your boat. Avoid fitting the solar panel in these busy areas.
Next, work out a route for the cable to take from the solar panel to the battery. The cable has to pass through the deck at some point, and also has to incorporate a charge controller to protect the battery from overcharging. Try to keep the cable hidden away behind furniture, trims and bulkheads. Plan to use plastic conduit where the cable is visible or needs protecting from abrasion. Support the cable at 30cm intervals or less.
The cable will have two cores, a positive (red) and a negative (black). The positive connection of the solar panel will connect to the positive connection of the battery, via the charge controller. Similarly for the negative connections.
Finally, make sure you fit a fuse in the cable near the battery. Fit the fuse in the positive line of the cable.
Charging the engine and the service batteries.
You can charge up your engine battery and your service (leisure batteries) from the same solar panel. Simply use a dual battery charge controller. The dual battery controller will divide the solar panel electricity between the two batteries in the best way possible, automatically.
That’s about it. Fitting a solar panel to your narrowboat is very straightforward for anyone with average DIY skills. But to help you further we have added a few links to some useful items that will make your installation secure, safe and efficient.
SunWorks solar panel kits:
These kits provide the essential parts of your solar panel system. Once you have decided between rigid-framed panels and semi-flexible panels, pick your size of kit from our selection.
We include fully illustrated instructions which makes your job very straightforward.
Don’t hesitate to call us if you need help with any aspect of your solar panel system:
Tel: 020 8144 2475