Are solar panels on sailboats necessary?
Whether or not you should be installing solar panels on your boat is a matter of choice, not out of necessity. Sailboats get their power from the wind, by harnassing it in their sail. So if you plan to be sailing for the afternoon you probably don’t need solar panels.
You could charge a battery pack from the marina and that will probably see you through several trips. The problems only really start to arise if you are planning to be on your sailboat for longer periods, or even permanently. If you plan to live on your sailboat year-round, even if you spend 80% of it in a marina, you would be better off with some solar panels. Even if it is just as a backup source of power.
Are solar panels on boats safe?
Solar panels are generally pretty safe. They have no moving parts and typically have a very strong protective cover over them so you never come in contact with the electrics themself. So, as a source of power, they are generally pretty safe. The only time they may become unsafe is if they are badly damaged.
Solar panels are often covered by glass plating that keeps them safe. It also helps them absorb sunlight and warmth. This is great, except when the glass breaks. If the glass protective cover on your solar panels should crack and splinter you are at risk of serious injury from sharp shards of glass. Not only is the glass itself dangerous at this point, so are the electronic components inside. They have powerful currents running through them, and if you come in contact with them you may be in for a shock.
Furthermore, if these electronics get wet they can become deadly. Electricity and water do not mix well at all. Being as you are on a sailboat, at sea, the chances of them getting wet is very high. Luckily, the chances of them breaking in the first place are slim to none. The only real way they would break, besides vandalism, is by debris hitting them during a bad storm. There is not often debris at sea, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
What are the benefits of having solar panels on a sailboat?
There are so many great benefits of having solar panels on a sailboat. They can be a lifesaver if you find yourself at sea for a long time. There benefits range from trivial comforts to being the difference between life and death. Here are some of the benefits you might not have considered about having solar panels installed on your sailboat.
Solar panels are not cheap, it is far cheaper to just run a generator or charge your batteries from the marina the whole time. At least, it is in the short term. Over time, it can start to become very expensive. With solar panels, you are looking at a big initial cost (the solar panels themself) and then it’s smooth sailing. You don’t need to pay for power again. Solar panels last for about 40 years before they start to become too inefficient at producing power. The cost of a few solar panels upfront compared to 40 years of marina fees and gasoline for a generator is the financially savvy move.
If you find yourself at sea, the wind dies down (or becomes too strong), and you find yourself stuck bobbing around waiting for more favorable conditions you may run into trouble. Depending on how long you are out there, you may find yourself with dead electronics. Be it a satellite phone, radio, or secondary engine (depending on the boat). Having a set of solar panels and a power bank can be a genuine lifesaver in these situations.
Whether you are day sailing or making a week-long voyage, having access to the comforts in life can make the whole journey so much more enjoyable. The amenities may not be available to you without having a constant source of power at sea. Having access to a kettle, tv, videogame system, radio or microwave oven may be the only thing keeping you going at rougher times. As exciting as sailing can be, when you aren’t sailing and are just bobbing around it can be quite dull. The sea is beautiful, but there is only so much time you can spend looking at the water before you miss the comforts of land. With solar panels, you can bring those comforts with you.
There are only two alternatives to solar panels. A gasoline generator, and taking power from the grid. Neither of these is good for the environment. Luckily, solar panels are a great third option. Solar panels are completely eco-friendly and are great for the environment. This is not just great for the earth, and your conscience, but for the journey itself. If you are running a gasoline generator at sea you are going to be listening to it thrumming away and smell the burning gasoline. Wouldnt you prefer silence and nothing but the smell of the sea breeze?
How much do solar panels cost?
How much solar panels cost is almost entirely tied into both their voltage/wattage and whether or not they are portable panels. Portable solar panels are great for people who don’t spend a lot of time on their boat or are happy enough living off the marina’s power grid. Permanent solar panels, the kind that may need to professionally installed, can end up costing far more. They are also likely to be far superior and you can pretty much forget about them once they are installed.
Portable solar panels will cost just a few hundred dollars each. You will need a few to be sustainable, but that’s not going to be much of a problem. These portable solar panels can just be rolled out on the deck of your boat, weighed down, and then hooked up to a battery pack. The battery itself here is going to be the most expensive part of the whole set up. A decent-sized battery could set you back a $1000. But, when charged fully it will last days. Even with constant use.
Permanently installed solar panels can cost one or two thousand dollars in some cases. The advantage here though is once they are installed that’s it, you can forget about them. You don’t have to put them up, take them down, and find somewhere to stow them every time they need using. They too will need to be hooked up to a battery, the battery is still only going to cost you $1000. If you are installing permanent solar panels because you plan to be making long voyages, it is ideal to have two or perhaps even three large batteries hooked up to your boat. One to run off, one or two for emergencies.
How do I maintain my solar panels?
Solar panels, unlike gasoline generators, are generally pretty easy to maintain. They have no moving parts and are thus pretty self-sufficient. They don’t need taking apart and they last as long as 40 years. That being said, if they do break they need repairing as soon as possible. The exposed electrics can be deadly when water is thrown into the mix. Which, on a boat, is almost always. The glass cover will need replacing and the electronics inside may need repairing, though not always. Don’t ever attempt to do this yourself unless you are experienced at making these repairs. The cost of hiring someone to do it for you is preferable to being dead. Solar panels have very powerful electric currents, that when in contact with water and yourself can be fatal. As mentioned above, these panels rarely break so you will likely not ever run into this problem. If you do, hire a contractor.
Do my solar panels need cleaning?
Solar panels work by converting the light and heat of the sun into useable power. The process itself is rather complicated but the results are simple to understand. That being said, there are some reasons that your solar panels will stop working as effectively. They all revolve around a lack of sunlight. It could be because it is night time. It could be because it is very cloudy. Or, it could be because they are dirty. If solar panels become too dusty, dirty, and become too covered in grime they stop operating at maximum efficiency. This is not as much of a problem at sea, the sea spray stops dust settling. The biggest thing you will need to clean off your solar panels is salt build-up and slime. This is easy enough to do with some warm soapy water. Freshwater, not seawater. You want to be removing as much salt as possible. Salt is corrosive to electronics, so removing it is important. Never clean your solar panels using pressure washers as they can crack the glass.
Which are the best solar panels for sailing?
There are so many options on the market at various price points. Here are three very different options that will all make good choices, depending on your needs. It is important to consider not just price but power output. Spending a lot of money on solar panels now might not feel ideal, but it is the most cost-effective decision.
1. Renogy Starter Kit
This starter kit is going to be perfect for installing on almost any sized boat. There are four solar panels, each can be fitted permanently to the boat. They can be mounted (and unmounted) easily, for your convenience. They do require a flat surface, but they are small enough that that likely won’t be too much of a problem. This starter kit is very middle of the pack price-wise but should provide enough power for a small to medium-sized vessel easily. It is also possible to buy extra panels individually should you need them.
Wattage: 400/4 (100 per panel)
2. Nature Power Rigid
The nature power rigid is a large, powerful, single solar panel. If you are looking for the right panels to power your entire boat comfortably, these are the ones for you. They are very large so they will need a large flat surface area. alternatively, they can be hung vertically from rails. This is an inefficient way of using them, so you would need to buy more this way. Nature power makes various solar panels so you could find some smaller ones of the same brand to supplement it. This one is not so easy to install, you might need to hire someone to install it for you.
3. Nature Power Monocrystalline
Nature power makes a portable solar panel that fits inside a special briefcase. It is perfect for stowing away easily and only taking it out when it is needed. It is decently powerful considering its portable, but there is the inconvenience factor of having to set it up each time. If you planned to buy the nature power rigid, buying one of these portable panels might be ideal for supplementing your power supply when it is especially sunny. Though, it may be cheaper for you to just fit more of the Nature Power Rigids.
Hopefully, you now have a good idea about whether solar panels would be right for you and your sailboat. Sailing is great, but the lack of power at sea can be dreadfully boring. Luckily, there are so many great options available on the market. Not just the ones mentioned above. Buying a solar panel is an investment, the initial cost is minor compared to the steady return from all the savings you will make.