Skip to content
Best Marine Solar Panels of 2023. Marine solar charger

Best Marine Solar Panels of 2023. Marine solar charger

    Everything you need to know about installing solar panels on boats

    Solar panels built specifically for use on boats are a great option as source of backup power when you’re out on the water. Solar panels act as a way to recharge the boat’s batteries and keep your appliances running, all without needing to buy gas for a noisy gas-powered generator.

    Marine solar panels are a relatively niche market, but there are plenty of options to choose from since typically, you can install any DIY off-grid solar panel on your boat.

    We’ve rounded up the best solar panels to buy for your boat depending on your needs, how to determine which size you will need, and why utilizing solar power for your boat is a Smart idea.

    Editorial note: This is an unbiased review: we have no financial ties with any of the companies mentioned, nor do we earn money from affiliate advertising. The content of this blog is based on research and information available at the time of writing.

    What is the best use for boat solar panels?

    Boats use a lot of energy for things like maintaining autopilot, keeping navigation lights on, and powering radio systems. Solar panels can provide the energy to carry out these tasks and maintain your boat’s battery if it happens to be sitting idle. In either circumstance, your battery will never run out of energy.

    Not to mention, compared to gas-powered generators, solar panels have the added benefit of being quiet. They also don’t produce excess heat that makes sitting in your boat with a gas generator unpleasant on hot days.

    You can use solar panels for any size boat. For smaller sailboats, the main job of your solar panels would be to keep the battery fully charged for your boat’s electricity. For larger boats, they help reduce or eliminate the need to use the engine to provide excess power.

    The average 30-foot boat would require about 300-350 watts of power. Depending on your energy use and boat size, you need more or less solar power to provide you with electricity.

    How to choose the right solar panels for your boat

    The first step to determining what size solar panel will work for your boat is figuring out how much power your boat is using. You can do this by checking the labels on your appliances for the typical amp hours and volts used.

    Or, you can use a battery monitor to measure the amount of energy your fridge, lights, or the other appliances on your boat consume while in use. After finding the amp hours your boat uses per day, you can determine the wattage of power your solar panels need to produce.

    Mini fridge 100W per hour 800W
    Lightbulb 60W per hour 480W
    Fan 90W per hour 720W
    Total watts used: 2,000W

    This example is extremely limited, you will need to determine how much energy your entire boat is using to make sure your panels provide enough power to keep your battery charged. But, technically if you had one 300-watt solar panel, or (3) 100W solar panels, they would generate 2,800W over those 8 hours. That energy would be more than enough to keep the above appliances running.

    The size of your boat’s battery will also factor into which size solar panel you need. For instance, many DIY solar panels are meant to act as a battery charger to a 12-volt lithium battery, which is the typical size within a boat. But if you have a larger boat with a larger battery, you might need more than 350 watts of power.

    Additional things to consider are whether you will need a charge controller and if you have enough unshaded space for your solar panels to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight.

    Do you need a charge controller?

    A charge controller acts as a regulator for the amount of energy that is transferred from your solar panel into your boat’s battery. This helps to make sure that your battery is not overloaded and overcharged, which can ruin the battery over time.

    While it is not necessary, it is a good idea to install a charge controller with your solar panel system to help manage the energy load that your battery receives. This will prolong the life of your battery while ensuring your boat uses the exact amount of energy it needs.

    Do you have enough space for boat solar panels?

    Having a dedicated spot on your boat that has access to the full sun is key. Any shading, such as from a sail on your boat, will reduce the amount of energy your panels produce. While simply bringing portable solar panels aboard is an option, permanently mounting the panels to your boat makes it easier to always have your panels ready to go.

    Because boats typically only have room for a small solar system, getting the most out of your limited space is key. With limited space, it’s best to look for high efficiency panels because you will need less of them to produce the energy you need.

    Or something as simple as the setup below can power your boat’s battery and be angled towards direct sunlight throughout the day while not taking up valuable space on the boat.

    What are the best solar panels for boats to buy?

    Any type of panel can be used on a boat such as monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin-film. However, it is important to note that some companies exclude salt water and marine environments from their warranties.

    We’ve listed some options below, you can choose based on where you have space to put the panels. For instance, thin-film panels are less efficient but they are flexible. So if you wanted to place a few panels on your boat’s roof versus one panel taking up valuable space, thin-film panels would be a good choice.

    On the other hand, monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels have higher efficiency ratings and will ensure you get the most energy from your limited space or during low-light conditions. So if you have a location that can support racking, monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels are a better option.

    Below are some of our top picks for solar panels for boats:

    Most practical

    Topsolar flexible solar panel

    Cost: 149.99 Buy Now

    best, marine, solar, panels

    The Topsolar 100W flexible solar panel is a practical, semi-flexible, cheap option. It does not come with a charge controller or an inverter but you can buy a few of these to create a simple solar panel system on your boat.

    This flexible panel also allows you to utilize more space since this can be molded to fit untraditional angels on your boat.

    Best quality, small cost

    Renogy 100W 12V solar panel

    Cost: 103.44 Buy Now

    The Renogy 100W 12V solar panel is a great option. At 21%, it is a high efficiency monocrystalline panel manufactured by a reputable solar panel company.

    There are pre-drilled holes for easy drilling to a mount on your boat. If you have space to secure solar panels to a mount, the Renogy panels will help you maximize energy output.

    Best overall

    SunPower 170W solar panel

    Cost: 399.00 Buy Now

    The SunPower 170W panel is a great flexible solar panel for off-grid use. Choose this option if you are interested in the versatility that a flexible solar panel offers and also want a reputable brand name with a high efficiency rating.

    While these panels do not come with a solar charge controller, they must be used with one, so add one to your cart like the Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT charge controller.

    Why solar panels are a good choice for backup power on boats

    Having source of backup power on a boat is very important, you do not want to be caught far from land with a dead battery. Solar energy is the perfect choice because on a typical boating day, there is ample sunlight available as renewable energy. Because boats rely on a battery for electricity, a solar panel can ensure that this battery always has power.

    There are many solar panel options available for your boat and can easily be installed DIY. They will help with your sense of security while saving money because you can skip out on the traditional gas generator and rely on a self-sufficient solar power system.

    How much can you save this year by switching to solar?

    Key takeaways

    • Solar panels on your boat maintain your battery’s charge to ensure that your appliances always have power, without a loud and expensive gas generator.
    • An average 30-foot boat will need about 350 watts of solar power to maintain electricity.
    • To determine how many panels your boat needs, you need to figure out how much power it uses, which you can easily do with a battery monitor. It also depends on how big your boat’s battery is.
    • You can install solar panels in unique locations on your boat but it is important that they can track the sun’s movement throughout the day.

    Ana Almerini

    Marketing Communications Manager

    Ana is the Marketing Communications Manager at SolarReviews, working within the solar industry since 2020. With a Master’s in Climate and Society and professional experience within marketing, she helps communicate the value of solar to homeowners and build out awareness of the SolarReviews brand.

    Recharge batteries and power up marine electronics by using the sun’s energy.

    Marine solar panels can generate renewable energy to power a boat’s electronic needs as well as personal gadgets while underway, anchored, or docked. These solar panels use photovoltaic (PV) technology to charge a boat’s batteries, reducing the need to rely on a fossil fuel-powered generator or a dock line to provide electricity. By replenishing the boat’s batteries, they can supply the energy needed to run essentials like bilge pumps, depth and fish finders, radios, GPS devices, lighting, fans, galley appliances, or other boating operations.

    By harvesting the sun’s rays throughout the day — almost every day — marine solar panels can help to minimize the amount of fuel you’ll need to carry onboard to keep electronics fully operational. The best marine solar panels available today are designed to withstand maritime weather conditions so they can continue to power a boat’s electronics for many years to come.

    HOW WE PICKED THE BEST MARINE SOLAR PANELS

    In creating this guide, in order to provide a diversity of choices, we looked at many types, styles, and sizes of solar panels. This list of the best solar marine panels includes some of the top options for each type of panel such as portable, flexible, or rigid, and includes several sizes that satisfy multiple boating needs.

    In many cases, the manufacturers offer similar panels in multiple wattage options. For instance, if a solar panel was offered in 50-, 100-, and 170-watt sizes, unless each specific wattage type was unrivaled in its category, we wouldn’t award all of them to the same solar panel.

    While we focused on marine solar panels and systems, we also realize that these modules and systems are designed for other mobile platforms as well (such as RVs). As such, some of these products are marketed or cross-promoted that way.

    In all, we evaluated more than 75 professional reviews of more than 60 different modules and solar-energy systems, and also considered thousands of customer reviews across nearly 20 sites and resources. In that research, we found 20 top brands manufacturing solar panels intended for the marine environment. We used tools to help ensure that the customer reviews were generated by actual customers, and selected those ranked highly both by consumers and professional reviews.

    While solar panels are an environmentally friendly means of generating electricity (much more so than diesel or gas generators), only two companies currently have some panels in their inventory that are Cradle-to-Cradle certified. That means that towards the end of the product’s life, the consumer will have to decide how to dispose of the solar panel. It’s one downside to this sunny solution (although most solar panels have a relatively long lifespan). We also checked to see if any of the specific solar products we included in this list carried any Cradle-to-Cradle certifications, but unfortunately, they did not.

    The ability for a product to be repaired is crucial to its overall longevity, so warranties and customer service were another important consideration. We chose panels from North American companies where we could, with the knowledge that many of the solar panels and their components are still manufactured overseas.

    BEST MARINE SOLAR PANELS: REVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

    Best Overall: Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel

    Why it Made the Cut : The Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel is one of the best options out there for most boaters’ needs. It’s powerful and compact, making it ideal for almost any size boat.

    Specs:— Dimensions: 42 inches L x 21 inches W x 1.4 inches H— Weight: 14.1 pounds— Claimed Efficiency: 22.3 percent— Cell type: Monocrystalline— Connectors: MC4

    Pros: — Compact size — High efficiency — Easy mounting options

    Cons: — Solar panel only; no mounting hardware included — Customer service slow to respond — No product end-of-life recycling programs

    If you’re just looking for an individual solar panel for your boat and already have the other equipment needed to tie it into your energy system (like solar controllers and hardware), the Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel is our overall favorite. It’s compact and can absorb up to 500 watt hours per day. Plus, the company rates the panel’s cell efficiency at an impressive 22 percent.

    The Renogy panel’s solar cells have bypass diodes that ensure each cell can send as much power as possible to the battery and charge controller. The solar panel is marine ready with an IP65-rated waterproof junction box and IP67-rated waterproof solar connectors. Pre-drilled holes allow for easy installation and are compatible with Renogy’s mounting hardware ( sold separately ).

    The panel is manufactured in Thailand and includes a five-year limited workmanship warranty and a 25-year output warranty (at 80 percent). Renogy offers a number of social initiatives, such as donating power stations to those affected by natural disasters, and the company also participates in educational partnerships to develop solar and sustainability projects.

    Best Runner-Up : HQST 100-Watt 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panel

    Why it Made the Cut : The HQST 100-Watt 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panel is a great option if Renogy’s 100-watt monocrystalline panel is out of stock. The HQST panel boasts similar specs, connections, and favorable reviews.

    Specs:— Dimensions: 40 inches L x 20 inches W x 1.2 inches H— Weight: 12.8 pounds— Efficiency: 22.3 percent— Cell type: Monocrystalline— Connectors: MC4

    Pros: — Compact size — High efficiency — Good mounting options

    Cons: — Solar panel only, no mounting hardware included — Fewer mounting options than the Renogy — Weaker frame

    The HQST 100-Watt 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panel looks and performs nearly identically to the Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel, only at a slightly lower price tag. In fact, some suspect that this panel may simply be a rebranded version of the Renogy panel (which can happen occasionally with imported modules).

    However, while the HQST is rated as highly as the Renogy solar panel, it has fewer overall ratings and customer reviews. Its panels carry a 25-year power output warranty, guaranteeing that they will produce 80 percent of their rated efficiency after 25 years of service. The panels are manufactured in China and can be purchased individually or in a pack of two or four.

    Like the Renogy, the HQST features cell bypasses that allow each cell to perform to its maximum ability — even if parts of the panel are shaded. It also features an IP65-rated junction box, which means it’s fairly water-resistant and can withstand at least 15 minutes of spraying water — important protection to have against small waves or sea spray when the boat is underway.

    Best Flexible : SunPower ExpertPower Flexible 100-Watt Panel

    Why it Made the Cut: The SunPower 100-Watt Monocrystalline Flexible Panel is ideal for smaller boats and curved surfaces.

    Specs:— Dimensions: 46 inches L x 22 inches W x 0.8 inches H— Weight: 4 pounds— Claimed Efficiency: Cells between 22 and 25 percent— Cell type: Monocrystalline— Connectors: MC4

    Pros: — Lightweight — Highly waterproof connectors and junction box (IP67) — Thin and Flexible — Cradle-to-Cradle certified company

    Cons: — Less durable — Expensive — Shorter life expectancy than rigid panels

    SunPower makes some of the most efficient commercial solar panels available, and the company’s collection of flexible solar panels are equally as impressive. In fact, several other manufacturers use Sunpower’s PV cells for their own panels (even if the products don’t carry the Sunpower brand). It’s also one of two major solar companies that have achieved Cradle-to-Cradle certification. meaning it has a plan in place to recycle modules at end-of-life.

    These semi-flexible panels are ideal for curved boat surfaces, or for places where a solar panel is attached to something that’s more flexible, like a bimini or cover. The plastic covering on these panels makes them highly resistant to impact and weight (in case you accidentally step on them when walking around a swaying boat).

    Flexible solar panels generally have thinner layers of PV materials than rigid solar panels, and most are less efficient than monocrystalline (and even polycrystalline) rigid panels. Yet, SunPower still claims their Maxeon solar cells can deliver up to 25 percent efficiency in a flexible panel. We selected the 100-watt panel since it’s the most used in boating applications, but SunPower also offers them in larger and smaller sizes.

    All of SunPower’s flexible panels use the same type of MC4 connectors (cable adapters) and have a junction box that’s IP67 rated, making them more waterproof than competitors.

    Best Polycrystalline: Newpowa 100-Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel

    Why it Made the Cut : If you prefer a polycrystalline solar panel (which is a little cheaper, but larger), the Newpowa 100-Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel is an ideal choice.

    Specs:— Dimensions: 36 inches L x 27 inches W x 1 inch H— Weight: 15.4 pounds— Claimed Efficiency: 22.9 percent— Cell type: Polycrystalline— Connectors: MC4

    Pros: — Less expensive — Can withstand high winds — 25-year output warranty (at 80 percent)

    Cons: — Larger than monocrystalline solar panels — No mounting hardware included

    The Newpowa 100-Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel is slightly squarer and larger than the monocrystalline panels of the same wattage, but costs a little less than its monocrystalline counterparts. The squarer nature of the panel can also be useful in certain applications or surface areas of a boat. The solar panel features diode bypasses to help each cell produce as much power as possible in partial shade (by avoiding the shaded cells), and has IP67 connectors and an IP65-rated junction box.

    While some people worry about polycrystalline solar panels being slightly less efficient than monocrystalline, that just means it needs a little more space to produce the same amount of power. As such, polycrystalline solar panels should be considered for larger boats or boats with additional flat surface areas.

    The panel includes a two-year, limited material and workmanship warranty as well as a 10-year output warranty (for 90 percent) and a 25-year output warranty (for 80 percent).

    Best Kit: Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit

    Why it Made the Cut : If you need all the hardware and extra equipment to connect a solar panel to a boat’s battery, the Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit is a perfect choice.

    Specs:— Dimensions: 42 inches L x 21 inches W x 1.4 inches H— Weight: 16.5 pounds— Claimed Efficiency: 22.3 percent— Cell type: Monocrystalline— Connectors: Solar Panel: MC4, Battery: Eyelets

    Pros: — Full solar panel kit with controller and mounting hardware — Great value — Compact size — High efficiency — Multiple amperage controller options available

    Cons: — Mounting hardware limits options — Includes PWM controller (not as efficient as an MPPT)

    A solar panel alone is a great purchase, but if you need all the hardware and equipment for properly connecting a solar panel to your battery, check out the Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Starter Kit. The kit features the same Renogy solar panel as our overall top pick, but bundles in everything else you’ll need to get rolling. The Z-bracket mounting hardware included with the kit allows you to install the panels flush to the surface of your boat.

    To help regulate the flow of energy to prevent overcharging your batteries, with this package you can opt for a 10-amp, pulse width modulation controller (PWM), keeping the cost of the system under 200. Or, upgrade the kit to include a more advanced or higher amp controller, such a a maximum power point tracker (MPPT solar controller), which operates up to 30 percent more efficiently than a standard PWM device. This means the higher amp controllers can charge batteries faster and connect multiple panels into a system (but they cost more). These controllers can also connect to multiple battery types and voltages as well.

    Best Portable: DOKIO Foldable Solar Panel 100-Watt Solar Suitcase

    Why it Made the Cut : The 100-Watt DOKIO Solar Suitcase is ideal for boaters who want to bring solar power with them when they’re going out on the boat. It’s a lightweight folio with an integrated charge controller, so it can be used during various types of outdoor adventures.

    Specs:— Dimensions: Folded: 24 inches L x 21 inches W x 2.8 inches H— Weight: 18.5 pounds— Claimed Efficiency: N/A— Cell Type: Monocrystalline— Connectors: Battery: Alligator clips

    Pros: — Portable and lightweight monocrystalline panels — Durable anodized aluminum frame — All-in-one kit

    Cons: — Stand could be more adjustable and robust — Can’t connect with multiple units — Somewhat expensive

    The DOKIO Foldable Solar Panel 100-Watt Solar Suitcase is ideal for users who need a powerful, yet portable solar power solution. The all-in-one unit includes a charge controller and USB ports for directly charging smaller devices. It also includes alligator clips for attaching to 18-volt batteries.

    Established in 2007, Dokio is an ISO 9001-certified company that manufactures its portable solar suitcases in China. What’s great about this kit is that it isn’t just for a boat; you can use it for car camping, glamping, and RV-ing as well. As such, it’s a pretty utilitarian solution, ideal for users with lots of adventure equipment.

    Unfortunately, the stand isn’t robust enough to use in bad weather conditions on a boat. However, since it is foldable and only about 20 pounds, you can quickly break it down and stow it in adverse conditions. It’s also easy to transport ashore to power devices like a laptop or USB speaker during afternoon sailing breaks.

    Best for Large Boats: Renogy 400-Watt Starter Kit (4 Panels)

    Why It Made the Cut: This all-in-one, the multi-panel kit can power up more advanced electronics without having to purchase panels à la carte.

    Specs:— Dimensions: Four panels: 42 inches L x 21 inches W x 1.4 inches— Weight: 72.8 pounds— Claimed Efficiency: 22.3 percent— Cell type: Monocrystalline— Connectors: Solar Panel: MC4, Battery: Eyelets

    Pros: — Full solar panel kit with controller and mounting hardware — High efficiency — Multiple amperage controller options available

    Cons: — Mounting hardware limits options — Expensive

    This Renogy 400-Watt Solar Starter Kit system is ideal for a larger boat or yacht, or the liveaboard boater who plans to use the sun to power not just minimal electronics, but also equipment like a microwave, small fridge, and a laptop. It features four of Renogy’s 100-watt solar panels, plus all the equipment to mount it and hardware to connect to a boat’s batteries.

    With four rigid panels, this kit needs more mounting space than a single-panel system, so it’s not ideal for smaller boats. However, if you have a larger boat with plenty of deck space, it can eliminate the need to charge batteries with a boat’s motor, paying back the initial cost of the system quickly with the free energy from the sun.

    The 400-watt solar kit from Renogy features Z-bracket mounting hardware (for flush mounting to a flat surface) and enough cordage and adapters to connect everything. Renogy also offers this package with multiple charge controller options (at varying prices).

    Best Small: ECO-WORTHY 25 Watts Off Grid Solar Kit

    Why it Made the Cut : This full, small solar kit can help keep a 12-volt boat battery topped off so that its electric components are ready to use.

    Specs:— Dimensions: 17 inches L x 13 inches W x.5 inches H— Weight: 4.2 pounds— Claimed Efficiency: 18 percent to 20 percent— Cell type: Monocrystalline— Connectors: Solar Panel: SAE;Battery: Alligator clips

    Pros: — Compact — Trickle charging — Inexpensive — High efficiency — USB connection in controller

    Cons: — Low power — Alligator clips are not a permanent battery connection — Included PWM Controller (instead of MPPT)

    If your sailboat has minimal power demands or you just want to keep your boats’ batteries charged while at the dock, the Eco-Worthy 25-Watt Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit for 12-volt batteries should meet your needs. The solar panel’s junction box is rated IP65 for waterproofness (protection against water jets), and the kit is easy to set up. If you’re using the kit to trickle charge a battery, it should be installed facing toward the sun and ideally at an angle to collect the most power throughout the day. In most of North America, that’s facing south and at an angle between 25 degrees and 35 degrees.

    It’s an inexpensive kit and the charge controller features a USB port for charging small devices as well. The 10-amp, PWM charge controller can also connect with gel or lithium battery technologies, and includes a built-in USB port. The charge controller will keep the panel from overcharging the battery during the day and also prevent it from draining the battery at night — when solar panel cells can operate in reverse.

    Best Large Rigid: Newpowa 210-Watt Solar Panel Monocrystalline

    Why it Made the Cut : If you’re looking for a larger solar panel for your boat, the 210-watt monocrystalline panel from Newpowa is a solid option. It’s still compact for its size, but is more powerful than 100-watt panels.

    Specs:— Dimensions: 65 inches L x 27 inches W x 1 inch H— Weight: 24.4 pounds— Claimed Efficiency: 22.9 percent— Cell type: Monocrystalline— Connectors: MC4

    Pros: — powerful than other options — Highly efficient

    Cons: — Larger than other options — expensive — No mounting hardware

    If you have more power needs than a 100-watt solar panel can provide, but still need a compact unit, Newpowa’s 210 Watt Monocrystalline Panel is a great option because it’s able to provide twice the charging power in a single panel.

    Since it’s larger, this panel is a good fit for boats with flatter surface areas or on racks built for holding solar panels.

    Like the others on this list, the Newpowa 210-Watt panel has MC4 connectors that are IP67 rated. Its junction box is rated IP65, making it ideal for marine applications. Its bypass diodes help ensure it can produce as much power as possible, even under partial shade.

    The panel comes with a two-year limited material and workmanship warranty, and is guaranteed 10 years at 90 percent output and 25 years at 80 percent.

    THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING A MARINE SOLAR PANEL

    When looking for solar panels for powerboats and sailboats there are many things to consider, such as the panel types, efficiency, wattage, size, and connection method.

    Solar Panel Power

    First and foremost, you want a solar panel or solar panels that are more than big enough to charge all the batteries and power up your appliances. In most cases, having roughly 20 percent more rated wattage in the solar panels than your estimated electric needs should provide enough on-demand power.

    When reviewing available products, we found that most solar panels for boats are around 100 watts. These panels are generally close to three feet long and nearly two feet wide, making them small enough to fit on many parts of a boat. Larger and smaller panels were considered for their unique applications as well.

    For a smaller boat or sailboat with minimal electric requirements, you may only need a solar panel that can provide 10 watts of charging power. Some of these panels are as small as a piece of paper.

    For a large boat (or a liveaboard) with a lot of power needs, you may want multiple solar panels that are 100 watts or even 400 watts. For instance, if you’re powering a microwave, TV, laptop, and sophisticated electronics, higher wattage panels would be needed. These panels are typically much larger than a basic, 10- or 20-watt panel.

    That being said, panels with more efficient solar cells pack more productivity into a smaller space. So, a 100-watt solar panel with less efficient solar cells could actually be the same physical size as a 200-watt panel with the most efficient solar cells.

    Rigid or Flexible

    Another key concern is whether you want a rigid solar panel or a flexible solar panel. Rigid panels are generally more efficient and well-suited for mounting on larger boats with flatter surfaces. They’re covered with impact-resistant glass in a metal frame, and often require hardware to install. Over time, a rigid panel’s hardware or frame can corrode in maritime conditions, so it’s important to choose a panel with added weather protection.

    Flexible solar panels are encased in plastics that make them easier to attach to a variety or surfaces, whether rounded or flat. You can more easily attach flexible solar panels to biminis or even sails, for instance. However, attaching them to flexing surfaces will cause more physical strain on the panel and its solar cells, which can damage them in the long run.

    Flexible solar panels have efficiency levels as low as 12 percent and generally are under 20 percent efficient. Hence they need more physical space than the other types of panels to produce similar amounts of power. Rigid solar panels are generally between 18 percent and 23 percent efficient since their photovoltaic cells are thicker and can absorb more light.

    The hardware used to mount flexible solar panels can be more minimalistic than for rigid solar panels. In some places, they can simply be glued to the hull of the boat. While flexible panels are encased in plastics to make them more impact-resistant, the plastic material can degrade due to salt and other weather conditions.

    Finally, a note on both types: warranties for rigid solar panels are often for far longer time periods. Many rigid solar panels have a materials warranty for 10 or more years. Flexible solar panels carry a vastly shorter materials warranty, generally from two to five years — even from well-renowned companies like SunPower.

    Photovoltaic Technologies

    The majority of solar panels for boats use silicon-based photovoltaic solar cells, which are among the most top-rated, commercially available cells. Within these types, monocrystalline cells are considered to be the most efficient and are made from a single, pure ingot of silicon.

    Polycrystalline silicon cells are made from multiple silicon crystals bonded together. They are close in efficiency to monocrystalline solar cells, however, they are often less expensive.

    Thin-film photovoltaic cells use semiconductors like gallium arsenide or cadmium telluride. These solar panels are generally cheaper to manufacture and are lighter and easier to mount in flexible substrates. They also contain materials that can be more hazardous and difficult to recycle at their end-of-life.

    However, there are other types of thin-film technologies currently being developed for online markets that require less energy to produce, and are also expected to be more efficient and less costly in the future.

    Voltage

    Most solar panels are designed to produce 12 volts or 24 volts of DC current. The given voltages and amperages of solar panels impact how quickly they can charge batteries (higher amperages can reduce the charging time).

    Placement

    When placing solar panels on a boat, look for flat areas on the deck, above the cabin, or on a bow pulpit rail (or similar durable railing). If you’re using rigid panels, you’ll want to secure them to a flat area on the boat that you’re not likely to walk on. You can also create a structure to mount them over the boat’s cockpit.

    If you’re using flexible or semi-rigid panels you can attach them to shade biminis (if they have a firm structure) or curved parts of the boat directly. It’s crucial to install them in a place where they won’t be impeded by shade from other structures (like a sail or mast).

    Depending on the type of boat, placing them high enough above the deck may also help reduce the amount of water and brine they get hit with, and help to reduce corrosion — particularly in salt water.

    Controllers/Regulators

    Connecting solar panels directly to a battery can overcharge it, and possibly lead to failure or even explosion. Integrated this way, they can also drain the battery at night.

    To prevent this from happening, you’ll want to use a controller or regulator when using solar panels to charge your maritime batteries. Charge controllers and regulators can also integrate multiple solar panels to properly charge all a boat’s batteries.

    If you’re just starting with solar, consider buying a kit that includes a charge controller as well.

    Panel, Kit, or Generator

    When you’re purchasing solar for your boat, you need to understand whether you’re purchasing just a solar panel, a kit that includes a controller, or a solar generator. If you’re adding to an existing solar system or replacing panels, you may only need more panels. If you’re installing your first solar system on a boat, a kit may be better because it can tie into your existing battery.

    A solar generator. however, is a solar kit that includes a lithium battery, built-in controllers, and usually an inverter. These portable systems also often have outlets that allow you to plug in your devices via USB, a DC connector or even an AC cord, and are popular for camping, RV-ing, and recreational boating.

    Connections

    If replacing or adding to a solar array or battery bank on a boat, make sure the solar panels are compatible. This is especially important when using multiple types of panels, particularly if you want to daisy chain them together before connecting them to a charge controller. Unless an advanced charge controller can handle panels of multiple voltages and wattages, the panels might not be able to provide as much charging power as they could with properly matched panels.

    The connections between panels must also be able to work with each other, and the wires and connectors need to have a high degree of resilience and waterproofness (look for IP67-rated connectors) to last in the maritime environment. Many panels use MC4-style connections because they remain tightly attached and can withstand outdoor conditions.

    Marine Ready

    Normal solar panels are designed to last in harsh conditions for 20 years. Maritime conditions are even harsher, exposing solar panels, wires and electric equipment to corrosive water spray — or even worse — saltwater spray. As such, it’s important that rigid solar panels are contained with corrosion-resistant aluminum frames and flexible panels are designed to resist corrosion as well. Similarly, all wires, electric boxes, and harnesses must be well-sealed with an inert material like silicone and waterproof. In addition, marine solar panels should have bypass diodes built into the solar cells to protect them from damage, or from cannibalizing the power produced by other solar cells in a system.

    Sustainability

    There’s an argument to be made that switching to solar to power a boat’s electronics is the most sustainable thing to do on the water. However, when it comes to the product’s end-of-life, there are few options for recycling solar panels entirely. In fact, to the best of our knowledge and research, SunPower and Solitek are the only solar panel manufacturers that have achieved any Cradle to Cradle certifications. (SunPower is included in our selections, but Solitek specializes in commercial solar and home applications and does not produce marine panels.)

    The most sustainable options are rigid glass silicone panels, which have the longest warrantied lifespan and are made from some of the more easily recyclable materials (primarily silicone, glass, and aluminum). Plastic and flexible solar panels are more difficult to break down and recycle and some thin-film solar panels are also challenging to recycle because some components in the cells are hazardous when not fixed in a solar panel.

    If you’d like to know more, the EPA has more information about solar panel recycling and reuse available. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) also provides information about companies and resources for recycling solar panels.

    FAQs

    Q: How much do marine solar panels cost?

    The price of marine solar panels varies greatly by their size and wattage. The least expensive solar kit we recommend in this piece costs about 60, but that’s for a 25-watt solar panel capable of slowly trickle charging smaller boat batteries. The most expensive marine solar kit we reviewed here is a 400-watt solar bundle that’s capable of charging multiple batteries and power personal devices. That kit starts at a little over 500.

    Q: How many solar panels are needed to power a boat?

    The number of solar panels required depends greatly on a boat’s energy needs and size. A small sailboat with minimal on-board energy demands may only require one small solar panel. For the electric needs of equipment on most smaller boats, a 100-watt panel is enough. For the electric needs of a boat with more advanced equipment or home appliances, more panels are necessary.

    Q: Can you overcharge a battery with a solar panel?

    Yes. If connected improperly or without a charge controller, a solar panel could overcharge a battery. Hence we recommend using a charge controller, which will also keep a solar panel from draining the battery when the sun isn’t shining.

    Q: How can I recycle an old solar panel?

    Unfortunately, there aren’t very many options for recycling solar panels across the country at this point and recycling solar panels isn’t free for you either. To learn more about recycling options, check out the EPA’s guidance on solar panel recycling and reuse. Another good source of information about recycling solar panels is available through the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), or Solar Recycle has a searchable database.

    Q: Can a boat run on solar power alone?

    A sailboat’s electronics can be run on solar power alone when the panel is used to charge a battery. There are instances of boats with electric motors powered by solar, like the Solarwave 62. but they still remain few and far between.

    FINAL THOUGHTS ON MARINE SOLAR PANELS

    No matter what your charging or power needs on a boat are, solar power is a great option that can help you save money fairly quickly. The marine solar panels and devices selected here are among the best options for almost all boaters, but if you want an efficient panel at a reasonable price, the Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel is a solid overall choice. If you’re looking for something with more power, we’d suggest the Newpowa 210-Watt Solar Panel.

    Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.

    Can you Charge your Marine Battery with a Solar Panel?

    With the sun shining brightly and your marine battery undercharged, you are yearning to charge your battery and go for a nice boat ride.

    But you don’t have a traditional battery charger available. You don’t even have a trickle charger. So what should you do?

    You remember the solar panels that you have in your backyard. Solar panels have done a great job of saving you on your home’s electricity bill.

    But could solar panels also charge your marine battery? If they could, how would you hook them up?

    Let’s get those unused solar panels in from the backyard and find out.

    Can You Charge A Marine Battery On A Solar Panel?

    Click the image for more info

    There are still doubters, but you can absolutely charge a marine battery with solar panels. Solar power skeptics have existed for decades, but these are the same skeptics who are paying more for their home electric bills because they refuse to add solar panels to help power their homes.

    The real question is: how effective will you be in charging your marine battery using solar panels?

    The effectiveness of a solar panel for charging is measured in “full sun” ratings. Basically that refers to the length of time the panel has been exposed to full sun.

    Full sun means the panel has been exposed long enough to form a sharp-edged shadow. At full sun level, 1000 watts of power are produced per square meter of panel.

    Solar panels have been used effectively in small boats, sailboats, and racing boats.

    Panels have extended charge time. They have even eliminated the need for engine charging completely in some instances.

    There are measurable environmental advantages as well. Solar panels have resulted in less carbon monoxide in the atmosphere.

    So the next time you are cruising along in your boat and enjoying the fresh air as it blows in your face and straightens your hair, remember that solar panels have helped make that possible.

    How Many Solar Panels Do You Need To Charge A Marine Battery?

    But how many solar panels will you actually need? A deep cycle battery with a 100 Ah designation that is discharged by one-half of its capacity will take two solar panels to effectively charge it.

    The panels would need to have a 100 watt rating, and the charging would take approximately one day.

    With this principle as a guide, you can determine other charging times.

    best, marine, solar, panels

    One hundred watt panels would complete the charge in approximately fifteen hours. Two hundred watt panels would complete the charge in about ten hours. Three hundred watt panels would take about five hours.

    Keep in mind, the sun provides peak absorption for approximately five hours per day. So our three hundred watt panel would actually need a day to complete the job.

    A marine battery has even been charged by solar panels with as low as five watts, although it took an entire year to complete the charge.

    Obviously, you don’t want to wait that long, but if panels with only five watts are effective, little doubt remains that the task is possible.

    The limitation is in the battery itself. You will notice in your battery manual that there is a maximum number of watts that it can handle.

    Batteries that charge slowly will still do so with solar panels.

    What Size Solar Panel Do You Need To Charge A Marine Battery?

    So if two solar panels are enough to complete the charge, what size should the panels be?

    Depending on the condition of your battery, and the weather conditions when you are charging, you may need to go as high as 120 watt-sized panels.

    Besides the panel size, positioning is also important. Be sure that your panels are positioned perpendicular to the rays of the sun.

    Avoid charging in a shadowed area. To increase effectiveness, ventilate the back of the solar panels

    Don’t confuse your car battery with your marine battery. While the primary job of a car battery is to start the vehicle, a marine battery must keep working to keep the onboard components powered during the voyage.

    Solar is so effective in charging marine batteries, that batteries which are completely dependent on solar energy are available for marine use. Many boaters have chosen to go completely solar by purchasing solar generators as well.

    Experience the natural wonder of solar power and see if you are hooked.

    How To Hook Up A Solar Panel To A Marine Battery?

    Click the image for more info

    It is easy to hook a solar panel to a marine battery if you follow a few simple steps.

    First, mount your solar panels. If you have a roof or overhang on your boat, this is the ideal spot to mount the panels.

    Next, use the zell protectors that are included in the solar panel package to connect the wires from the solar panels together. This will result in the formation of one wire.

    Connect this wire to a solar charge regulator. A solar charge regulator has two purposes, it accepts the voltage from the solar panel, and it also provides an output voltage.

    The output voltage that comes from the solar power regulator is used to charge the marine battery.

    Finally, connect the charge regulator to the battery posts. Once the motor is running, you should not disconnect the charge regulator.

    You can even charge more than one battery with additional charge regulator connections. Typically, you would have one battery to start your motor and another to power your onboard components.

    Use the diagram included in the following YouTube video to make your hook up even simpler. Following this diagram, along with the instructions that come with your charge regulator, will result in a hook up that is completed correctly.

    Can I use a 24 Volt Solar Panel To Charge A Marine Battery?

    Yes, a 24 volt solar panel can be used to charge a marine battery. This is primarily because solar panels provide constant current.

    A concern arises when the power of the sun is diminished, such as on a cloudy day. In this case, consider using a power tracker.

    This device ensures that the panel is providing its best charge, even when light levels are diminished.

    You will find that there are two types of power trackers. You can choose a single or a dual axis tracker.

    Single access trackers can be used to track the sun from east to west. Since dual axis trackers rotate on two axes, they are able to utilize the sun rays directly.

    The makers of dual trackers claim that they improve power output by twenty to forty percent. By following the movement of the sun, dual trackers have greater exposure to the sun. So, in theory, they should produce more energy.

    Regardless, a 24 volt solar panel can be used to charge a marine battery. It is up to you to decide if a power tracker is worth the extra investment.

    Conclusion

    So we have seen that a marine battery can definitely be charged by solar panels. But the sun typically provides peak power for only five hours per day.

    So an entire day of charging will not equate to twenty-four hours of constant charging.

    You will need two solar panels to charge your marine battery. Be sure to arrange your panels perpendicular to the sun. Avoid charging where shade is present.

    You will need a minimum of 100 watt sized solar panels to successfully complete the charge.

    So if you don’t have a traditional charger, consider using solar panels. Or switch to solar panels altogether, and help to keep the atmosphere clean.

    I created this site to help people – to help you – with your boat problems. Instead of helping one person at a time, I want this website to be the “one-stop-shop” for everyone’s boating concerns. Read more.

    Top 5 Best Solar Panels for Boats (2023 Marine Buyer’s Guide)

    Each product and or company featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

    Written by Dan Simms

    Dan Simms is an experienced writer with a passion for renewable energy. As a solar and EV advocate, much of his work has focused on the potential of solar power and deregulated energy, but he also writes on related topics, like real estate and economics. In his free time — when he’s not checking his own home’s solar production — he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing. Learn About This Person

    Reviewed by Karsten Neumeister

    Karsten is an editor and energy specialist focused on environmental, social and cultural development. His work has been shared by sources including NPR, the World Economic Forum, Marketwatch and the SEIA, and he is certified in ESG with the CFA Institute. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the solar energy sector, studying energy policy, climate tech and environmental education. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace. Learn About This Person

    Why You Can Trust EcoWatch

    We work with a panel of solar experts to create unbiased reviews that empower you to make the right choice for your home. No other solar site has covered renewables as long as EcoWatch, which means we have more data and insider information than other sites.

    Jump to Section:

    Find the best price from solar installers in your area.

    Why Should You Install Solar Panels On Your Boat?

    Before we dive into the best panels to bring your boat into the world of clean energy, it’s worth discussing why you’d want a solar panel system on your boat in the first place.

    There are a few use cases that are important to consider. These not only dictate whether or not you need panels on your boat, but they can also help you decide which system is the best and most cost-effective for you. We’ll discuss the different reasons to go solar on your boat below.

    Blue Raven Solar

    Charging Emergency Equipment

    For anyone who has run into issues out at sea, the need for reliable emergency equipment is well understood. Whether you run out of gas, your boat breaks down or you have some other issue that precludes you from getting back to shore, having a way to reach out for help will keep your mind at ease.

    Depending on the type of boat you have and how well it’s equipped, you may have a radio system, a satellite phone, a regular phone or some other communication device for emergencies. All of these require power, and having a solar system on your boat ensures that you’ll always have access to these devices.

    Charging Recreational Equipment

    Even if you’re not running into problems at sea, you might want the ability to charge recreational equipment. It’s always nice to have the ability to charge smartphones, e-readers, speakers and other devices you might use for entertainment.

    This is especially important if you plan on spending a few days at sea and don’t want to rely on your boat’s batteries. Keeping those well charged for lighting, navigation tools and starting your boat’s engine is more important than getting your phone up to a full charge.

    Quality of Life at Sea

    For a lot of people, there’s a lot of joy in upgrading life at sea and making things just a little more comfortable. One of the perks of installing a solar system on your vessel is that you don’t have to worry about using your boat’s batteries for non-necessities.

    For example, many recreational boaters connect their solar array to an electric cooler. Others use their solar modules to power electric water heaters for hot showers and constant hot water.

    The possibilities for improving your at-sea experience with solar are really up to you, which is part of what makes bringing renewable energy to your boat so exciting.

    What Are the Top 5 Best Solar Panels for Boats?

    If you’re convinced you want to install solar on your boat, but you don’t know much about the available options, you might be overwhelmed by the choices. You’ll have access to seemingly countless brands and models.

    To help you narrow down your options and choose panels that will meet your needs, we’ve done extensive research and chosen just a few product lines that we recommend. We’ll provide a quick breakdown of the different options below, and we’ll dive deeper into the specifications in later sections.

    SunPower 170W Solar Panel Renogy 100W Flexible Marine Solar Panel EcoWorthy 25W Solar Kit NewPowa 30W Solar Kit TopSolar Solar Kit
    EcoWatch Opinion Best Overall Best Value Easiest Installation Great Budget Option Best Starter Kit for Backup Energy
    Power Output 170 watts 100 watts 25 watts 30 watts 20 watts
    Price 399 220 42 60 50
    Equipment Included Solar panel only Solar panel, controller and wiring Solar panel, controller and wiring Solar panel, controller and wiring Solar panel, controller and wiring
    Relative ConversionEfficiency High Above Average Low Average Average
    Waterproof Rating (Ingress Protection [IP]) IP67 IP67 IP65 IP67 N/A (noted to be waterproof)

    SunPower 170W Solar Panel

    SunPower is a leader in the residential solar industry, so it’s no surprise that we found that the company also makes the best solar panels for use on boats.

    This panel is pricey, but it’s significantly more powerful than most other options. At 170 watts, you can use these panels to charge your boat’s main battery, provide backup power for emergencies, or live large on the water by powering coolers, hot water heaters and much more.

    best, marine, solar, panels

    This panel doesn’t come with a solar charge controller like many other options do, so not only is it expensive, but you’ll have to lay out more money for a controller, inverter and battery. However, we believe the efficiency and power output are well worth the investment.

    These panels are also rated with a waterproof rating of IP67, which means they can withstand immersion in water up to about three feet for around half an hour. If you need more protection than that, you have bigger problems on your hands than losing a panel.

    • High-efficiency panel for maximum power
    • High-quality, durable materials
    • Trusted and reliable brand
    • Waterproof up to a meter for 30 minutes

    Renogy 100W Flexible Marine Solar Panel

    The Renogy Flexible solar panel designed specifically for use on the water is our pick for the best bang for your buck. It’s about half the price of the SunPower panel, although it does have a little more than just half the power capacity.

    At 100 watts, this panel is great for middle-of-the-road power. It can serve as a reliable backup source of energy, or you can use it to recharge phones, GPS devices, e-readers, laptops and other electronics. It’s possible to use it for the quality-of-life items mentioned above as well.

    This panel also has an IP67 waterproof rating, which is ideal for maintaining peace of mind on the water. Although it’s less expensive than our top pick, it includes a controller and wiring to connect your panels. You’ll just need an inverter and a battery to complete your setup.

    • Excellent power output
    • IP67 waterproof rating
    • Includes controller and wiring
    • Reliable brand name

    EcoWorthy 25W Solar Panel Kit

    The EcoWorthy solar panel kit is one of the easiest photovoltaic (PV) systems to install, so it’s our top pick for those looking to get started with clean energy. You can purchase this kit with a 10 amp-hour (AH), 12-volt battery, and the MC4 connectors are plug-and-play for a quick and painless installation.

    This panel has a much smaller output than our top two picks, so it’s best reserved for backup power or for charging cell phones and other small electronics.

    This kit has a waterproof rating of IP65, which means it can withstand being submerged in around five feet of water for up to a half hour, and it will also be protected from sprays of water. This is a great option for maintaining peace of mind when you’re on the water, especially if conditions are rough.

    Lastly, the kit includes a panel, a controller and wiring, so you’ll just need to add a battery and an inverter to complete your kit.

    • Doesn’t include a battery or inverter
    • Significantly less power than our top picks – Only ideal for light-duty use

    NewPowa 30W Solar Panel Kit

    This 30 watt solar panel kit from NewPowa includes a panel, a controller and wiring. If you add a backup battery and an inverter, you can create a complete off-grid solar kit for less than 150 without leaving your home (thanks to Amazon).

    With an output of 30 watts, this is the best marine solar panel for light-duty use, although you could use it for non-essential electronics like an electric cooler or a small solar water heater. Those more demanding devices should be low-use, though.

    The panels and controller are IP67-rated, so they’re suitable for use on just about any boat.

    Best of all, the partial solar kit is just 60, so this makes our list as our top budget pick for going solar without breaking the bank.

    The kit has pre-drilled mounting holes and is compatible with a wide variety of mounting brackets. As such, your installation process should be relatively straightforward.

    • Affordable
    • IP67 waterproof rating
    • Includes a controller and plug-and-play wiring

    TopSolar Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit

    The off-grid solar kit from TopSolar is a great affordable option, and it’s what we’d recommend as a starter kit for backup energy for beginners. It only puts out 20 watts, so this is not the best option if you’re looking for something to charge your recreational devices or quality-of-life equipment. However, it’s an affordable and easy-to-install kit for emergency power.

    Unfortunately, this kit doesn’t include a specific ingress protection (IP) rating, but the manufacturer does note that the product is waterproof. Based on customer reviews, it appears that this product is safe for use on the water.

    The kit includes a small PV panel, a controller and wiring, so you’ll need to buy an inverter and battery separately if you want AC power or backup power.

    Best of all, the kit is super easy to install. It has pre-drilled holes and is compatible with most mounting brackets and clips.

    • Affordable
    • Great option for backup power
    • Easy to install
    • Includes a controller and wiring

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *