How Solar Panels for Boats Can Cut Fuel Usage and Save You Cash

You know what’s lots of fun?

Climbing aboard your boat before an exciting weekend outing only to find that the battery has died and you’re going nowhere.

Wait… actually, that’s no fun at all.

Good thing you always keep a spare boat battery in your back pocket, right? No?

Well, then you’re gonna need a different solution here.

Marine solar panels are a great way to prevent your boat’s battery from going dead between voyages and to reduce the amount of fuel the batteries drain for recharging while you’re aboard. With enough well-placed solar panels, you can harness sunlight as the power source for your boat’s lighting, small appliances, and to charge your phone, tablet and other smaller electronics.

Boat solar panels make powerboats more energy efficient and can help reduce the need for use of propulsion systems on sailboats, too. From small cabin cruisers to larger yachts, all recreational boats can benefit from marine solar panels, and there are myriad types of solar panels with which you can retrofit your watercraft.

Can Boat Solar Panels Save You Money?

First and foremost, boat solar panels prevent batteries from going dead during periods of disuse. This can help you avoid an expensive battery replacement, as well as avoid the need for a repair tech to come and recharge a fully-functional but drained battery. Solar panels for boats also save you money while you are enjoying your boat by providing some of the energy needed to use radios, microwaves, lighting and all the other electrically powered parts of the vessel.

Harnessing power from the sun, instead of it being generated by the engine, you reduce the costly gallons of fuel your vessel consumes. And this is true for powerboats as well as for sailboats, which typically run a propulsion system at least once daily to charge their batteries.

What Kinds of Boats Can Use Solar Panels?

The short answer is that every single boat on the water can use solar panels, except perhaps submersibles. As previously mentioned, sailboats can use solar panels to minimize the need for propulsion system charging. Cabin cruisers and yachts can supplement battery power with solar power.

Even personal watercraft like canoes and kayaks can be upgraded with a compact solar panel to charge cell phones, GPS units, cameras and more. These can be small solar panels affixed to the hull or temporary solar chargers like hikers and campers often use. I’ve paddled along with a compact solar panel that’s kept my phone charged numerous times.


Why Permanent Boat Solar Panels Are a Good Idea

One of the most important times your boat solar panels are at work is when you are nowhere near your boat. Provided with decent weather, solar panels can gather more than enough energy to prevent the slow-but-steady battery drain that occurs when a boat is resting at anchor, in its slip, or up on the trailer. With permanently mounted solar panels, you’ll never worry about finding a dead battery the next time you head out on the water.

Why Permanent Boat Solar Panels Aren’t Always the Best Solution

You’d think large, permanent boat solar panels would be ideal for keeping the batteries charged, right? After all, once they’re in place and connected, you never have to worry about them again. The fact is that permanent solar panels for a boat will only operate at their full capacity for a short period of the day, because solar panels work best when positioned perpendicular to the sun’s beams.

Panels that can be repositioned several times a day to aim directly at the sunlight will gather much more power, though they will also require regular adjustment. Thus many boaters choose both a permanent solar panel bank as well as a movable panel.


How Much Do Solar Panels for Boats Cost?

As with just about everything in life, boat solar panel costs widely vary.

If you choose to have a professional company install a permanent bank of solar panels on the roof and/or prow of your vessel, you may end up spending well over a thousand dollars. If you opt for a small, portable solar charging panel you will set out on the deck to keep your phone and tablet powered up, you might spend less than fifty.

Here are three different solar panel options within an affordable price range and DIY category, all of which are a great idea for boaters depending on varied needs.

HQST 200 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Marine Kit

When you install the HQST 200-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Marine Kit (Check Price on Amazon) onboard your boat, you can kiss dead batteries goodbye for good. And I mean that when I say batteries: this system is designed to keep two batteries charged during periods of disuse and to add significant supplemental energy during active use.

In addition to their high performance and durability, the panels included with this kit are flexible and easy to install and position to best suit your vessel.

WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel

The WindyNation 100-Watt Solar Panel (Check Price on Amazon) is a large, capable solar panel designed for permanent installation on the roof or deck of a boat (or top of an RV or even a small cabin), and can generate plenty of power.

It’s rated at 100 watts (or 30+ amps) and will provide more than enough power to keep your battery charged during periods of disuse. In fact, in the right conditions, this panel will create enough power to serve as the primary electrical source for your boat (supplanting the engine, e.g.), provided you don’t need to run a toaster, hairdryer and flatscreen TV at the same time.

The kit also comes with a few dozen feet of wiring, so connecting the panel to your boat’s power system should be simple.

Suaoki 18 Watt SunPower Solar Panel

This Suaoki 18-Watt SunPower (Check Price on Amazon) is a slender, flexible solar panel bank is ideal for keeping a boat’s battery charged when it’s at rest by the dock or up on the trailer.

The panel can be laid out over roofs or decks of boats, secured in place using grommet holes punched into the corners of the bank. While these panels certainly add some power during active electricity use, the SunPower charging bank is best suited to keeping batteries passively charged and then being tucked away during the actual journey.

BESWILL 1000MAH Solar Charger

The BESWILL 1000MAH Solar Charger (Check Price on Amazon) is more like a backup battery unit than an active power generation system, but often that’s all you need; a battery that keeps itself charged.

It’s a good idea to have a unit like this aboard to keep your phone, GPS, or other devices that could be used for ensuring your safety charged up and ready. And as this unit also features a built-in compass and flashlight, it adds to the security you’ll feel when out on the water. Keep one on your yacht as a backup in case the power system fails or strap one to your dry bag while you’re kayaking to keep your phone or camera charged and ready for some great photo ops.

Are Solar Panels Right for Your Boat?

The answer is probably yes, but if you’re still unsure, start small. Get a lower cost setup that’s easy to install and move around or remove. Once you’re sold on the benefits, you can buy a larger array and start putting more trust in solar panels for boats. Chances are you’ll be sold fast, but you can always keep the smaller unit as a backup.

The sun is up there anyway, people, so you might as well use it!

Steven John lives just outside NYC with his wife and two kids. When not writing or spending time with his family, he spends as much time as possible on a mountain or in a kayak.