The use of solar energy to recharge marine batteries and to provide extra power for on-board appliances (everything from refrigerators to that Seakeeper gyroscopic stabilizer) is not a new phenomenon. Both rigid and flexible solar panels have been in use on boats for several years now.
But we’re a little surprised that the marine industry hasn’t jumped into solar, making these efficient recharging devices standard equipment on new boats. The only manufacturer we’ve seen that offers solar panels is Scout Boats, which will install solar panels on console hardtops on some of its LXF models.
So boat owners should now be asking…is it time to solarize? We think the answer is “yes.” Let’s explore the reasons.
Solar panels, even the smaller ones, are great devices for generating small amounts of electricity from the sun’s rays which can be trickled into your onboard batteries, keeping them topped up and ready to go. Anyone who’s jumped onto their boat on a Saturday morning and turned the key only to hear nothing can appreciate that.
On smaller boats, those which don’t have self-bailing for cockpits or bilges, the solar panels will keep the batteries charged so that the pumps will always work to keep the boat dry.
On larger boats, the ones with all kinds of electrical systems that run everything from the GPS system to smartphone chargers to the sound system … having an inexpensive and reliable source of recharging energy is a great thing, and an anxiety reducer.
The good news is that solar panels, and the associated gear one needs to hook them up to your batteries, are coming down in price and increasing in efficiency and output. Panels come in all shapes and sizes, but the prices start at around $100.
The bad news is that many solar panels on the market today are made in China. That means thousands of them are stuck in container ships waiting off the Port of Long Beach. Getting hold of one to install on your boat can be a challenge!
Nevertheless, all boat owners should look into installing solar panels. Here are a few useful things to think about:
Fixed or flexible?
You can buy sturdy solar panels that can be affixed permanently to deck or hardtop surfaces, or the flexible kind that are more temporary. Solar panels work best when they face perpendicular to the sun’s rays, so knowing the sun’s transit pattern during the day is important when positioning a panel on your boat.
How much power do you need?
A typical 100-watt panel will generate approximately 5 amps every hour to trickle back into your batteries. If your boat is using 20 amps a day to run the pumps and service other electrical needs, it will take 4-5 hours a day to fully recharge your batteries. As it turns out, 4-5 hours a day is about the maximum time most solar panels will generate power during a typical summer’s day.
All panels will produce more power if they get direct sunlight. Mount your panels as best possible so they can be aimed in the appropriate direction, no matter what the season, course, or latitude. And watch out for shadows: they can decrease output dramatically, even if just 10 percent of the panel is covered.
Do you need multiple panels?
If you own a larger boat, with lots of electrical appliances that drain power from the battery, consider installing an array of panels. First, take a census of your appliances and calculate how much power they use, in either watts or amps. Then look at the stated output estimates for each panel and determine how many you may need.
There are numerous manufacturers of solar panels out there. A few noted brand names include Renogy, Eco-Worthy, Top Solar, Sensual, HQST and many others.
Call or stop into our service department at Ocean House Marina. Our technicians have installed numerous solar panel systems for our customers and we can help you choose just the right system for your boat.