Solar panels, you may think, surely don’t belong on a boat. You may well assume that they’d be clunky, awkward, and take up precious space on your boat, not to mention prove problematic in their installation and exposure to the elements. Indeed, you might well think that neither solar panels nor solar power can generate enough electricity to power your on-board electronics, let alone your boat’s motor. Thankfully, you’d be wrong.
Marine solar panels are designed with your specific needs in mind. Whether you operate a wind-powered sailboat, a gas-guzzling speedboat, or utilize a mixture of both wind and electric, you’d be surprised at just how useful, and how powerful marine solar panels can be. Installing a solar system aboard your vessel can be incredibly cost-effective in the long run, and doesn’t have to take up space. Flexible solar panels allow you to harness sun power anywhere on deck, whilst a framed panel can be installed out of the way of any potential shadows cast, in order to maximize its potential. All marine panels are designed to withstand the unpredictable and often extreme weather conditions out at sea, and are thus equally as useful to captains of trawlers, sailboats, speedboats, commercial sailors or casual ones.
Having researched the market, we’ve picked out three of our favorite marine solar panels.
Our top pick due to its well-rounded features at a killer price. Though it offers a smaller wattage than other models, this is a highly durable panel (made to last in the water) that boasts a superior output to solar panels with higher wattage. This is a highly popular and consistently well-reviewed product.
At only 40$ this is a very small price to pay for a portable solar panel but it still brings a compact, durable design, high-tech composition and adequate energy conversion rate to the table despite its increased affordability.
A heavy-duty panel from a leading brand that takes our premium pick. This is a powerful panel with enhanced durability (making it perfect for marine use) that incorporates top of the line safety features and an easiness of installation among its main additional features.
How Do Marine Solar Panels Work?
You’ve had a look at our best in category choices from the marine solar panel market, and as such, we’re sure you’re already impressed by what little you’ve seen. The concept of free electricity via a weatherproof solar array would be attractive to any boat-head. And yet, you may well still be wondering just exactly how all this works. It’s all very well knowing how many watts this solar panel may produce, how versatile and flexible this one is, or what kind of charge controller another comes with, but without knowing the ins and outs of how a marine solar panel works, you can’t know for sure what you’re buying into.
Conventionally, on whatever boat you’re aboard, the on-board appliances, electronics, and motor will all be powered by gas (petrol or diesel). As you’ll well know, gas prices are high and boat engines guzzle the stuff. Running your appliances off of fossil fuel generators on board, or via the battery powered by the engine is a costly means of keeping those appliances running. Marine solar panels can drastically reduce (if not wipe out altogether) that cost. Instead of guzzling gas, they convert the free, limitless light from the sun (to which you have maximum possible exposure when out at sea) into consumable electricity. This electricity is then typically stored in a battery, which in turn is connected to your appliances and electronics. Simple as that. However, there are a few other nifty details it’s worth explaining, and of course we should also talk about the mechanics behind solar power, too.
Solar panels are frames comprising many individual, connected solar cells. These cells are made of polycrystalline or monocrystalline silicon film, which has one very special property: when this silicon is exposed to sunlight, it reacts both chemically and physically in a natural phenomenon known as the ‘photovoltaic effect’. Through this effect, the energy of sunlight is converted into volts of electricity, which are then passed through the surface of the solar panel into a battery. From here, the electricity is yours to use as you normally would from a generator-fed battery.
Marine solar panels are designed to be waterproof and weatherproof to exacting standards. What’s more, they are deliberately versatile in installation options. Rigid solar panels can be mounted above deck, out of the way of passengers and crew, whilst there are also flexible solar panels, which are durable and pliable enough to actually attach to the deck, maximising the potential of your available deck space. Some marine solar panels are much smaller even still, intended to act as trickle chargers for your boat’s battery, rather than to charge any appliances, engines, or other electronics.
Many of the marine solar panels available on the market today come with a charge controller as well. A charge controller works by regulating the flow of electricity from the panel to the battery, in terms of voltage and wattage produced. In other words, a charge controller ensures that your solar panels’ output it optimised to suit the needs of your battery and appliances, minimising the risk of shortage or overcharging.
Pros and Cons of Marine Solar Panels
When looking to make any investment in new, renewable technology (just like you would with any other technology), it’s important to take a moment to review the advantages and disadvantages to purchasing. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of marine solar panels.
- Designed to withstand the elements. Whether it’s rain, hailstones, excessive wind or storm, or even a boilingly hot mid-summer’s day, out on the open ocean you are at the mercy of the elements. When sailing, you make sure that you’re dressed and protected appropriately, just like you make sure your boat is watertight, so it’s no surprise that you want the same from your on-board power source. Thankfully, marine solar panels are designed to withstand all but the most absolute extreme conditions (and even then, are not guaranteed to fail).
- Free electricity. We mentioned it before, but we’re serious: the savings you can make on fuel bills with renewable energy are staggering. Whilst the initial investment in solar panels for your boat can be high, you’ll pay it off in no time with all of the savings in fuel you’re going to be making.
- Green electricity. As a sailor, you’re more than aware of the damage we’re doing to the planet – just think of the seas of plastic you have to push through when leaving land. As such, it’s important that your boat be as kind to the planet as possible – solar energy is carbon-free and helps keep our world healthy.
- Powerful. If you’re worried about renewable energy not being as strong as conventional non-renewable energy, don’t be. Solar technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent decades, and today it is not only affordable, but as powerful as an ox. Just make sure to measure your electricity needs before purchasing the panels to cover them; that way, you’ll not be disappointed.
- Flexible. Thin-film solar panels are so thin they’re actually made flexible, meaning that you can mount them on the curved surfaces of your deck, wherever you have the space. Turn empty deck space into a renewable generator with a flexible solar panel.
- Sunlight dependent. Out at sea, this shouldn’t be such a great problem, but it’s still worth noting. Solar panels require sunlight to operate, and as such can’t generate electricity at night, or in extremely low light conditions. Whilst the best of them (monocrystalline) can still work in low light, only in strong direct sunlight will your panels reach their full potential.
- Expensive. The initial investment in solar is, as we’ve said, often expensive. When you think about it, it makes sense: you’re buying a product which will produce electricity for you for free for years and years to come. Still, it’s worth taking this into consideration.
- Bulky. This absolutely does not apply to all marine solar panels, however you may find with multiuse solar panels (marketed not solely at the marine market, but also at mobile home owners and even residential building owners) that they are a little bulky and awkward to find space for. We most certainly recommend looking into flexible panels.
- Not all items included. Many of the marine solar panels on this list are just that: solar panels. With no frills or additional products included in the pack, you may have to search for and separately invest in a charge controller, wiring, battery, and maybe even mounts.
Best Marine Solar Panels Reviewed
Now that we’ve highlighted our favorites, it’s time to take a more in-depth look at what the market has to offer in terms of waterproof sun power, and quality marine solar panels.
#1. SOLPERK 50W Solar Panel Kit
- Brand: SOLPERK
- High Efficient Cells
- High sealing junction box
- Waterproof Structure
Though this may qualify for some as a mid to low range 50W solar panel kit, it is made of extremely high-quality mono crystalline cells with an elevated conversion efficiency of up to 24%. The panel itself is made of highly durable tempered glass, weatherproof film encapsulated in an aluminum frame intended for sustained extended underwater use.
This model utilizes a waterproof controller which has a highly durable case that eliminates the problem of any possible failure of said controller due to water. The advanced PWM algorithm completely protects the battery from possible malfunctions caused by: Under/over voltage, output overload and short circuits. The controller can easily enhance a value of 20% charging efficiency with no additional self power consumption.
Intuitiveness and ease of use is also covered. The solar panel comes with four mounting holes on the back while the mounting kits that come with the product can be used to straightforwardly install the solar panel on any surface. Once installation is complete an almost bare level of maintenance is needed, and the durability of the panel guarantees a lifespan of at least a decade.
Versatility is key and this model can function in a wide range of application. It’s primary use is obviously as solar battery charger and maintainer for a slew of different 12V DC batteries such as Wet, Gel, MF, EFB and AGM varieties. Just some of the vehicles (including water vehicles) the SOLPERK 50W Solar Panel Kit can charge include RVs, cars, speed boats, sail boats, lawn mowers, motorcycles, jet skis and more.
To think that all this comes at the unbeatable price of 90$ and you can imagine why this is our top pick and one of the overall most popular solar panels especially for marine use on the market. The warranty is a foolproof 12 months while on a final note, SOLPERK’s customer service is one of the most available on the market.
- Extremely well-rounded, high performance and high quality solar panel kit
- Extremely durable and waterproof build
- High compatibility with different 12V batteries and vehicles
- Fully equipped with all accessories for a speedy installation
- Great customer service
- Great value for money
- Almost none, except for its lower wattage than other models, the efficiency of the solar cells counter this though
#2. RICH SOLAR 2 Pieces 100W 12V Polycrystalline Solar Panel
- Brand: Rich Solar
- Excellent low light performance on cloudy days
- Certified to withstand challenging environmental conditions
- Fast and easy installation
A double panel kit from highly respected brand. These panels are the industry standard measuring: 39.6 x 26.4 x 1.4 inches with 3 inch cables with connectors that can generate up to 10.8 amp power and charge both 12 volt and 24 volt batteries. Thanks to its quick connect cables this solar panel duo can work in series or in parallel.
This is an extremely high performance solar panel that is highly waterproof and will work in the choppiest of weather and in all nautical conditions. Concerning standard weather, this panel boasts excellent performance in low light and on cloudy days. It is certified to withstand the most challenging environmental conditions thanks to its strong high transmission anti-reflective coated tempered glass and anodized aluminum frame.
Installation is fast and easy with 14 pre-drilled holes compatible with ground mounts, Z-brackets, side pole mounts and tilt mounts that all come with the kit.
- Two pieces, double the power and versatility
- High-performance cells even in low light
- High-quality and very durable composition
- Easy to install
- Glass covering the panels though completely waterproof is fragile to bumps (other solid surfaces)
#3. SUNER POWER 12V Solar Battery Charger
- Brand: SUNER POWER
- Charge Anywhere
- Charger & Maintainer
- Reverse Protection
- Durable & Strong
- One-way Quick Connector
Our top budget pick is a nifty solar battery charger that you can bring anywhere with you. This solar charger converts solar energy from into 12 volt DC electricity into rechargeable batteries. The SUNER POWER 12V Solar Battery Charger is an awesome, popular and versatile trickle charger and maintainer
It safely charges and maintains Wet, Gel, SLA, AGM and Deep Cycle batteries making it perfect for many, many different vehicles including marine vehicles such as boats of any kind (with a 12V battery). This is also due to its super durable frame, built with premium completely waterproof solar glass which can stand very high loads encased in a resilient upgraded ABS frame.
This model from SUNER POWER puts safety in first place. If used appropriately, the solar charger will not damage or over charge your battery as a built-in blocking diode prevents reverse discharges without draining of your battery. Lastly, this is a super-low budget kit that is extremely easy to install even for customers with little knowledge of solar panels.
There is no additional maintenance to the kit, and obviously no added electricity costs making it 100% eco-friendly. A lengthy 12 months warranty is included together with lifetime technical support all from a very popular brand pushing an extremely popular, well-reviewed and reliable solar panel kit for marine use.
- Compact and versatile solar panel that doubles as an efficient trickle charger
- High compatibility with many batteries and marine vehicles
- Durable build
- Exceedingly affordable
- Integrated safety features and 12 month warranty
- Voltage can actually become too high for trickle charging, so be very careful of overcharging
- No indicator light
#4. Renogy 175W 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panel
- Brand: Renogy
- Multi-layered sheet laminations enhance cell performance
- Guaranteed positive output tolerance
From Renogy comes our top premium pick, a heavy duty and high-tech mono crystalline power that is highly durable, reliable, powerful and compatible with a vast array of marine vehicles and their batteries.
The composition of the panel is a multi-layered lamination that enhances cell performance and ensures a long service life. All solar modules are EL tested this guarantees no hot spots. Bypass diodes are fixed in to minimize power drops caused by overcast weather or shade and ensure excellent performance environments with little minimal light. The TPT back sheet increases heat dissipation that ensures a consistent performance with no setbacks over a long period of time. As an increased safety measure, pre-installed corner protectors are built-in both to avoid cutting yourself on the sharp corners but to shield them from any impact damage.
This is an incredibly durable solar panel that can easily withstand high winds (2400Pa) and snow loads (5400Pa). The build is made of a corrosion-resistant aluminum frame with anti-reflective, high transparency, low iron-tempered glass with enhanced stiffness and impact resistance. The IP65 water resistant rated junction box provides complete protection against water and humidity making it perfect for extended marine use.
Featuring pre-drilled holes on the back of the panel that allow for a rapid and easy DIY installation on almost any flat surface. These pre-drilled holes are included for grounding and are compatible with almost all Renogy mounting systems and components such as: Z-Brackets, pole mounts and tilt mounts. Lastly, coming from such a popular and renowned brand Renogy provides complete and 24/7 after sales service through their very available customer service.
- Heavy-duty panel with a high output and energy conversion rate
- Extremely durable composition that is also highly waterproof and corrosion resistant
- Easy, intuitive installation
- Attentive customer service
#5. Sunway Solar Battery
- Brand: Sunway
- Solar Panel Power up to 1.8W
- For Any Rechargeable 12Volt Battery
- Stronger and Durable
- Simple and Very Easy to Use
A contender for the best budget pick the Sunway Solar Battery is a charger panel that can be easily mounted for example to the windshield or dashboard of your speed boat. Though it may be intended for land vehicles it works perfectly fine for a number of 12V battery watercrafts.
One of the main draws of this model its emphasis on safety, a common danger of trickle chargers is the risk of overheating the battery. This is not the case with this device. Built-in diodes keep the voltage in check and help to manage battery drain. This amorphous solar panel works very well even in inclement weather though it should not be ever submerged in water completely. Durability is also improved, the panel is covered with clear PV glass which that increases energy efficiency coupled with rugged ABS plastic housing for increased resistance to the elements.
The versatility with this compact panel is incredible as it can be used to charge and maintain any thing from a car, truck, motorcycle, tractor, ATV or snowmobile to the marine vehicles that are our focus such as boats and other personal water crafts. As long as it has a 12V battery, it can be charged.
- Highly affordable (cheapest on our list)
- Capable safety features to prevent overheating of battery
- Durable and compact design
- Cannot be submerged (not waterproof)
- Longevity is less than other models
#6. Newpowa 210W Monocrystalline 12V Solar Panel
- Brand: Newpowa
- Multi-layered sheet laminations enhance cell performance.
- Supported by a wide range of mounting options including flat surface, pole and wall installation
- Uses Newest high efficient mono cells encapsulated in EVA
This is a pretty solid starter choice for a solid (non-flexible) marine solar panel made of a durable white glass design that increases cells efficiency and an increased light converting rate. Made to withstand extremely high winds, and adverse weather conditions and with a water-resistant IP65 rating.
Though not flexible this 210W solar panel can be installed flat, by screwing through the ready-made, heavy-duty anodized frame, or via a pole stand. This means that even if you install in a shadier area the panel will maximize its exposure to sunlight on your boat, even in sub optimal conditions.
Additional features include the panels diodes that are pre-installed in the highly waterproof junction box together with a pair of pre-attached 3ft MC4 cables. Newpowa also offers an extended 25-year transferable power output warranty on its more powerful panel kits such as this one.
- Affordable price for such a powerful model
- New design that enhances output, conversion rate and durability (very waterproof)
- Gathers light even if placed in low-light position
- Extended warranty
- Heavier than other market competitors
Marine Solar Panels Buyers Guide
What features should you be looking for when buying marine solar panels?
Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline?
The difference in solar cells matters a lot when you’re out on the water. Mono crystalline technology is designed to charge even in low-light conditions, and whilst you can get away with poly crystalline during bright weather, you’ll still not be pulling as much power from the sunlight as you would be with mono crystalline cell solar panels.
Flexibility and Space
Given that space is at a premium on most waterborne vessels, it’s important to work out what working space you actually have for your marine solar panels. On larger boats, this might not be as much of a worry, but on smaller boats it is absolutely crucial. Flexible solar panels allow you to actually mount the solar panels directly on deck, no matter the curvature of the space – great for compact vessels. Rigid/standard panels, on the contrary, might not be flexible, but can be mounted wherever your vessel is most likely to attract sunlight, whilst keeping them out of the way of anything which might cast a shadow.
The wattage of any given solar panel roughly equates to the amount of power (voltage) it is going to be able to produce. The higher the wattage, the more powerful. It is important when you’re shopping around to consider what you’ll be using your solar panels setup for. If you just want something to keep your battery from draining dead, then a panel as low even as 10W will do the job. However, if you’re looking to run your ship entirely on solar power, or you want say to power the ship’s galley with solar, then you’ll want 100W-200W panels, and probably a whole system of them.
This seems obvious, perhaps, but price can be tricky, when buying solar. The higher price doesn’t always equate to a better quality product. You might actually be paying for a feature you don’t need – like the ability to fold away a solar panel (unnecessary if you plan to mount it on your ship), or perhaps you’re paying premium for Bluetooth-ready charge controllers, which you don’t actually need. Sometimes, all you need are a reliable set of affordable panels, which can be quickly and readily installed as part of an ongoing renewable energy project or system.
Taking into account the price , versatility, ease of install, durability, and brand reputation, our best marine solar panel has to be the SOLPERK 50W Solar Panel Kit. Though of a smaller wattage than other models on the market, the efficiency of the mono crystalline cells it employs secures a very high output. It is also very durable, highly waterproof, versatile and comes at an almost unbeatable price.
Check out our updated Pinterest board with the best marine solar panels:
Whilst undoubtedly installing a whole solar system is expensive, in the long-run it is one of the best ways to save money on fuel (not to mention the fact that, aside from maintenance, solar is a one-off expense, whereas fuel costs you constantly).
Depending on their wattage and output, solar panels at sea can be used to power anything from just keeping your battery from dying (or charging a dead battery) right the way up to powering your entire boat, from the engine through to the kitchen kettle.
Of course. Provided you kit yourself out with the correct adapters, and find a good way of storing any surplus energy produced by your solar system, you can use any combination of fuel (renewable and non) to power your ship’s engine.
Renewable energy is a surprisingly simple and rewarding technology to master. Most solar panel kits are designed with the beginner in mind, and some come with absolutely everything you need to get started, including easy, straight-forward instructions, mounting units, brackets, and simple wiring setups.
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