Solar panels for boats, the perfect way to keep your batteries charged.
Using a solar panel on your boat will free you from flat battery problems. The solar panel will convert the Sun’s energy into usable electricity, and store it away in your batteries, ready for when you need it.
So how do you fit a solar panel to your boat and what do you need?
Installing a solar panel on a boat: DIY or professional?
Will you fit the system yourself? If you have reasonable DIY skills and some spare time, you can install a solar panel system yourself. We will take you through this simple process, step by step.
If you need to use a professional installer, we suggest you ask your local boatyard for assistance. We can provide everything you will need including detailed instructions.
What sort of solar panel is suitable for my boat?
There are three types of solar panel for use on a boat:
- Rigid-framed solar panels. The standard type of solar panel, with an aluminium frame.
- Semi-flexible solar panels. These panels can be flexed by up to 10%.
- Marine grade solar panels. These panels can flex by up to 10%. The most rugged solar panels available.
Space for solar panels is often limited on a boat, but room for a solar panel can usually be found on an unused part of the deck, on a pushpit or perhaps on top of a wheelhouse, doghouse or bimini-top.
With the exception of marine grade panels, most solar panels cannot be walked on. So you will first have to decide if you can fit a solar panel away from areas where the crew are likely to tread. If so, either a rigid solar panel or a semi-flexible solar panel can be used.
If the only available space for the panel is in an area on the deck where the crew are likely to walk then a marine grade solar panel is the best option.
Permanent or portable?
If you are not sure about fitting a solar panel permanently to your boat, simply use a portable solar panel. Any type of solar panel can be made portable.
A portable panel can be laid out on the deck, fastened to a bimini-top or wheelhouse, or simply attached to the guardrails of your boat. You can use rope or Velcro to hold it in place. When not in use the portable panel can simply be taken inside the boat and stored away ready to be used another time.
The cable from such a portable panel can be taken inside the boat, through the hatch or weatherboards and connected to your battery. Of course, this kind of solar panel arrangement will only charge your batteries when you are able to leave it outside without fear of loss or damage.
Fitting a solar panel permanently, for example to the deck of your boat, involves a little extra work. But once done means that the solar panel will continue to work without any further attention from you. And your batteries will be charging up while you are away from the boat as well as when the boat is in use.
Fitting solar panels permanently to your boat or yacht.
So how do you fit a solar panel permanently to your boat? What items will you need for the installation? Fitting a solar panel system is very straightforward and we will now guide you through the process.
How you attach the solar panel depends on the type of panel and where to want to install it. Fit a rigid framed solar panel to the deck using aluminium brackets. This type of panel can also be screwed to a pushpit or other frame using suitable brackets.
Use a suitable adhesive to attach semi-flexible and marine grade solar panels to the deck. If you want to attach a solar panel to the guardrails or pushpit of your boat it is best to use brackets and screws. You can also tie it to the rails or fittings, but this method is less secure.
The frames of rigid solar panels can be drilled to take bolts or screws. NEVER attempt to drill a hole through the fragile active surface of the solar panel. This will damage the panel permanently.
For curved decks or wheelhouse tops it is best to use a semi-flexible or marine grade solar panel. These panels can be bent to follow the contours of a curved surface and so are convenient in areas where a rigid panel would not sit flat on the deck.
Solar panels for boats and yachts. Technology.
The most rugged solar panels for marine use are those produced by German manufacturer Solara. These panels are built to withstand the harshest weather conditions. They have an embedded aluminium backing plate and a coating of Nowoflon on the front and back making them suitable for extreme conditions.
Solara marine panels can be bent by up to 3%, and can be walked on.
Other semi-flexible panels can be bent up to 10%. Some can be walked on, with care. Mount them away from areas where ‘foot-traffic’ is heavy.
You may have read about polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels. Monocrystalline solar panels offer the most up to date technology and efficiency. All SunWorks solar panels are of this type.
Also available are amorphous or thin-film solar panels. Avoid these types. They are very inefficient.
SunWorks semi-flexible panels use an encapsulated aluminium back-plate for thermal stability. There is also an abrasion resistant front lamination.
What size of solar panel do I need?
Generally, a 30 watt solar panel will keep an engine battery or a small leisure battery topped up when the boat is not in use.
For the average family cruising boat a 50 watt panel will provide a lot more additional power during the summer months and will help power your television, computer, lights etc.. If you need total independence throughout the year you will need to consider a solar panel system of at least 100 watts.
Connect more than one solar panel together to increase the power. Make sure all of your panels are of the same technology.
Whichever solar panel you choose, connect it to your battery via an electronic charge controller. A good charge controller will protect the battery from overcharging, whilst maximising the charge into your battery. It will also increase the life of your battery.
Which charge controller do I need?
Charge controllers are available as ‘single battery’ types that will charge either your engine or leisure battery, or as ‘dual battery’ types which will charge both your engine and leisure batteries.
Charging both batteries from the same solar panel is a great way to make full use of your solar panel investment.
SunWorks can provide the correct charge controller and all the other accessories you may need to install a solar panel system on your boat or yacht.
Solar panels for boats and yachts. Should I use a kit?
The simplest way to ensure that you buy the correct products for your installation is to purchase a SunWorks solar panel kit.
These kits are available in several sizes. The smaller sizes will keep your battery topped up ready for your next trip. During the summer months the larger sizes will provide plenty of power to run a small television, laptop computer, lights, pumps etc..
SunWorks can supply kits with rigid or semi-flexible solar panels. For example the SunWorks 50-UNO kit contains a 50 watt rigid solar panel, the SunWorks Sb1C charge controller with LCD display, and all the cable and connectors you will need for your installation.
SunWorks FLEX kits contain semi-flexible solar panels. For example, the SunWorks 100-DUO-FLEX contains a 100 watt semi-flexible solar panel and the SunWorks DB1C dual battery charge controller, with LCD display. Also included are the appropriate cables and connectors.
Please contact us if you need help choosing a kit or if you need a special kit for your boat.
All SunWorks kits contain high performance, monocrystalline solar panels and the correct charge controller and cables. Comprehensive, illustrated instructions complete each kit. The instructions will guide you through every step towards making a professional job your solar panel installation.
Please take a look at our Product page for more details, and buying information.
Download the “SunWorks Guide to installing solar panels on your Yacht”. See the left hand column on this page.
Solar panels for boats and yachts: portable solar panels.
The simplest and quickest way to use a solar panel on your boat is to use a ready made portable solar panel. These panels have a fold-out stand that allows you to set the panel up outside the boat, pointing it directly at the Sun.
Thanks to the cleverly designed stand, the panel can be tilted up or down to suit the height of the Sun. Pointing the panel directly at the Sun makes it much more effective, increasing the charge stored in your battery.
The SunWorks 50 watt panel is capable of powering a small television or laptop computer on a bright sunny day.
To use the portable solar panel, simply take it out of its bag, set it up on the deck or pontoon, and clip the lead to your battery. That’s it!
The solar panel will convert the Suns energy into electricity and charge up your battery.
When the Sun goes down, unclip the lead from the battery and fold away the stand. Store the panel away in its polyester bag ready for the next sunny day.
Stout aluminium sections ensure that the panel is strong and stable.
Designed specifically with boats in mind, the SunWorks charge controller will protect your battery from overcharge. Your battery will receive the maximum charge possible.
The panel come complete with a strong and attractive carrying bag.
For more information, please take a look at our Product page which has more details and buying information.