Solar panels on boats: how they work and how to choose them


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solar panels on boats
Solar panels installed at the stern of the Mini Maxi 650 Kiraucassis

Cruising boat or racing boat, the converse is still valid: installing solar panels on board pays off. Whether it is energy to be harnessed on vacation, for utilities and electronic devices, or energy to power useful systems and services at regattas. Installing photovoltaics on your boat, in addition to being simple, is less expensive than you imagine.

Solar panels – How do they work?

A photovoltaic panel-or solar panel-is made up of a series of individual cells usually made of silicon that are capable of transforming solar radiation into electricity. Electrons in the panel react with photons of sunlight to generate direct current, which is then transformed into alternating current by an inverter. The peak power rating of a PV panel is determined by its size and efficiency (maximum voltage and power).

In addition to the amount of light, the angle of incidence of the sun’s rays relative to the panel must also be considered. We have maximum system efficiency when the sun’s rays are perpendicular to the panel, but we also need to consider the hemisphere where we are. If we are in thenorthern hemisphere, a panel slightly tilted to the south produces more electricity than one oriented to the north, and vice versa if we are in thesouthern hemisphere. To obviate the different inclinations of sunlight, it is usually preferred to install movable panels, so that the inclination of the panel can be varied according to that of the rays. Although rigid panels mounted on bimini are often seen, the best location for a movable panel would actually be a pulpit mounted aft or above the cockpit to avoid shadow from the rigging and sails. The energy transformed by the panel can be harnessed immediately to power the on-board grid, or it can be stored in on-board batteries.

Solar panel – How to choose and install the right one in the boat?

The solar panel to be installed in the boat must have very specific characteristics. First of all, the panel, cables, and all connections must be very resistant against weathering, especially salt water, but also against physical and mechanical stress. In addition to being waterproof, the panel surface must resist falling objects and weights, and it would be even better if it were walkable.

One must also carefully consider weight and size, depending on the area where they are going to be installed, and choose the most appropriate type according to the intended use. If you intend to use the panel as an auxiliary power source, you can opt for a small folding plug-and-play panel that can be mounted only when needed. If, on the other hand, the goal is energy self-sufficiency for a few days, it is better to install a larger, fixed panel that can be oriented according to the angle of the sun.

Many plug-and-play panels-for example, 12V panels-come directly with an inverter and regulator that allow the panel’s energy to be fed directly into the grid and stored in batteries. There are also folding panels that are very convenient for those who-in addition to a boat-also have an RV or go camping. These are ready-to-use solutions for which there is absolutely no need for invasive installation.

  • Inside you will find a complete guide to how solar panels work on boats.
    In the shop you will also find solar panels
    from top brands such as Sunware, Solara, Sunbeam and Phaesun, as well as everything you need – cables, adapters, charge controllers – to install a photovoltaic system on your boat.

SVB Marine will be present at the upcoming Venice Boat Show scheduled from May 31 to June 4, 2023 inside at the slipways area.


*in cooperation with SVB Marine



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