Solar panels and boats are a match made heaven.
It’s an easy way to generate electricity when out at sea, plus it keeps your marine battery charged up when not in use.
In fact, you’ll find marine solar panels on all types of boats from fishing trawlers to luxury yachts.
Afterall, how else are you going to produce electricity when away from shore?
I am sure you know this already, it’s why you’re looking for the best marine solar panel for your boat.
Well, keep reading because I’ve written this guide from my own experience with solar panels and boats.
Together we’ll go through the types of solar panel to consider, the best products available, and some handy tips to get you sailing with solar.
What Size Solar Panel Do I Need for my Boat?
The most common size solar panel used with boats is 100 watts.
100 watt solar panels give you flexibility and adaptability in how you set up your system.
For example, you could use a single panel to keep your deep cycle battery charged or you could add multiple to add more power.
To be honest, the size of the solar panel is up to you. It depends on how much energy you want to produce and the space you have available.
To start with, I suggest measuring the available space you have aboard to mount your panels. Then you can check the dimensions of each product to know what will fit.
Remember, you can always start off with one panel and add more as time goes on if you feel you need more power. For example, you could link together ten 100 watt solar panels for a 1000 watt (1kW) system.
Type of Solar Panels for Boats
There are a number of different solar panels available to use on boats. This can be broken down into two different categories:
- Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline Cells
- Rigid vs Flexible Solar Panels
For example, you can choose a monocrystalline rigid solar panel or a monocrystalline flexible solar panel etc. Let’s go through the differences.
Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline refer to the type of solar cell used in the panel.
Monocrystalline – This is the more efficient solar cell. Each cell is made up of a single silicon crystal. This results in a more efficient conversion of sunlight to electricity, but they are more expensive. You can spot monocrystalline panels by their dark black color.
Polycrystalline – You’ll be getting less efficient performance but a cheaper price. Each cell is made up of multiple silicone crystals. You can spot polycrystalline panels by their blue color.
To be honest, monocrystalline solar panels have come down in price in recent years. I’d always opt for monocrystalline as you’ll get better performance and save money in the long run. The sun’s energy is free, so might as well take advantage!
Rigid vs Flexible Solar Panels
You can also choose between a traditional rigid solar panel or a flexible panel.
Rigid – This is what most people think of when they picture a solar panel. It’s what you see on building roofs around the country. The solar cells are enclosed in an aluminum frame and tempered glass. This makes them highly durable to last for decades but results in heavier, more bulky, panels.
Flexible – Flexible solar panels are a brilliant invention and very popular on boats. They offer a number of benefits including the ability to mount on an uneven surface. Plus they are super thin, lightweight, and waterproof. The only downside is reduced durability as they are wrapped in ETFE plastic rather than metal and glass.
Next, we’ll move on to the top products for you to consider. I’ve broken them down into 3 sections to make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for.
Best Rigid Solar Panels for Boats
Let’s start with the best traditional rigid solar panels for marine use.
WEIZE 200 Watt 12 Volt Solar Panel Starter Kit
Kicking off the list is a complete starter kit from WEIZE. This is perfect for your first venture into solar power or if you’re a complete kit to get going quickly.
What you get here is two 100 watt monocrystalline solar panels, along with cables, solar charge controller, and mounting brackets. You can hook these up to your batteries as soon as it arrives.
The solar panels themselves deliver high efficiency while remaining durable thanks to the anodized aluminum frame and tempered glass. Once installed, all you need to do is give them a clean every once in a while.
An included 30A solar charge controller means you can safely charge your batteries without risk of overcharging or reverse current. Adding to this, two USB ports enable you to directly charge DC devices like smartphones and tablets.
A reliable solar panel kit to get your boat powered up quickly.
- Complete starter kit
- 30A charge controller
- USB ports
- Mounting brackets
- PWM not MPPT charge controller
Renogy 12 Volt Solar Panel 100 Watt
Next we have a highly efficient panel from the off-grid power experts at Renogy.
This is a single panel delivering 100 watt of power. A single panel is efficient enough to produce 41Ah of energy to your batteries each day in the sunniest conditions.
Of course, you can combine multiple of these panels to create a bigger system. You’ll need to add your own solar charge controller as this is not a kit. The monocrystalline cells provide consistent performance. Plus bypass diodes help to stop hot spotting and create smooth supply in shaded or variable conditions.
As you’d expect, it is highly durable and should last for years thanks to anti-rust aluminum frames and tempered glass protecting the cells. The highly waterproof junction box will keep the weather and water out of the electronics. This also allows you to clean thoroughly with water or low-pressure jets.
Finally, pre-drilled holes make installation super easy and you can combine it with your mount of choice.
- Highly durable
- Buy single or multiple panels
- Pre drilled holes
- No charge controller included
Topsolar Solar Panel Kit 30W
If you don’t want so much power or just want to dip your toe into solar power, then consider this neat kit from Topsolar.
It is a much smaller 30W solar panel which is great for less intensive use. For example, it will keep your battery charged during periods of non-use. Plus allow you to run smaller or intermittent electronics. Handy if you just want to run one or two things on your boat.
The panel is simple to install and you easily run it to your battery with the 6.5 ft cable included. The 10A charge controller means your battery will be safely charged without risk of overcharging. And the crisp digital display makes controlling power output super easy.
Despite its size, it still packs all the performance and durability you need. Monocrystalline solar cells are wrapped in an aluminum frame and reinforced glass.
- Smaller and compact
- Complete kit
- 10A charger controller
- Not much power
- Need a bigger charger controller to add more panels
Best Flexible Solar Panels for Boats
Looking for flexible solar panels to put on your boat? These are growing in popularity thanks to brilliant performance from a much lighter, less cumbersome, product.
Giosolar 200W Flexible Solar Panel Kit
This dual set of panels from Giosolar gives you a healthy amount of power output while remaining bendy and lightweight.
From a performance aspect, you’re getting everything you need with monocrystalline cells and a rugged design. In fact, you’ll be getting an above average conversion efficiency of over 20%. Plus the ETFE covering keeps them weatherproof and waterproof.
You can easily mount these on a curved surface you often find on a boat or yacht. While the included junction box is completely waterproof too. Installation couldn’t be easier with steel eyelets around the edges. You can drill them into place, hang them from a wall, or even use Velcro to secure them.
You even get a 20A solar charge controller to get you off to the perfect start.
- Complete kit
- 20A charge controller
- More than 200W
Topsolar Flexible Solar Panel 50W
For a really smart looking flexible solar panel that comes in black and white, plus either 50W or 100W, then check this bad boy out.
Topsolar’s bendable panel ticks all the boxes with monocrystalline cells and a flex arc of up to 40 centimeters. Standing at 0.1inch tall and less than 4lbs, you can install this almost anywhere from roof to deck.
An ETFE wrap gives durability and brilliant performance thanks to improved light transmittance. It’ll scoop up photon after photon hitting its cells!
Adding to this, a TPT backsheet makes for efficient heat dissipation, waterproofing and low maintenance.
All you need is a solar charger of your choice to start delivering solar energy to your batteries.
- Multiple size choices
- Easy to install
- No charge controller
Renogy Flexible Solar Panel 100 Watt
The final flexible solar panel to consider is another top quality product from Renogy. You can pick from multiple sizes and add in a solar charger if required.
As you’d expect, it’s super thin and lightweight while still packing a punch thanks to the monocrystalline solar cells. In addition, it’s epically bendy up to a 248 degree arc.
You can happily hook this up to your boat and forget about it. The flexible Renogy will easily handle adverse weather like high winds, rain, and snow. Mounting should be a breeze and is best done with silicone adhesive.
The only downside is that the positive wire is quite short making it tricky to connect up.
- 248 degree flex
- Durable and weatherproof
- Lightweight and thin
- Can connect multiple together
- No charge controller
- Short cables
Best Portable Solar Panel for Boats
To end this list of reviews, I just wanted to throw in a portable option which can be handy on boats. This will allow you to move your panel around and even take it elsewhere in a van, car, or RV.
DOKIO 220W Foldable Solar Panel Kit
The Dokio foldable panel is one of the best options around when it comes to portability. This is because of its versatility.
With this, you’ll be getting a complete kit which can be used with marine batteries along with portable power stations. The inclusion of a solar charge controller means you can happily hook up to a deep cycle battery. This is often not an option with portable solar panels. Adding to this, you get adapters for most solar generators.
When folded it becomes a smart carry case with a handle, then simply unfold it to start charging in seconds. In-built USB ports also allow you to charge phones and tablets directly.
The main thing to be aware of is that it is not completely waterproof so keep it away from water splashes and rain.
- Use anywhere
- Connect to marine battery
- Charge phones
- Includes charge controller
- Not waterproof
Solar Panel for Boats Buying Guide: What to consider?
If you’ve read this far, you’ll have a great understanding of when products are available for your boat.
But you might still be a little confused about what to pick. Next, we’ll discuss the factors to take into account when making your final decision.
Starter Kit or Panel Only
The first thing to decide is whether you need a complete kit or only a solar panel. The difference is quite simple.
A solar panel kit comes with a solar charge controller which is required in any off-grid solar panel. The charge controller connects between the panel and the battery in order to properly charge your battery. If you don’t have a solar charge controller you risk overcharging your battery.
If you opt to go for a standalone solar panel you must ensure you already have or purchase separately the correct size solar charge controller.
The amount of power you need to generate from your solar panel depends on what you need to run. The easiest way to decide is to work out how quickly you want to charge your batteries.
A 100 watt solar power will be able to generate around 30 – 40Ah of energy on a sunny day. So this means it would take a couple of days to fully charge a 100Ah battery with 100 watts. Of course, you can increase or decrease your energy output by changing your solar panel size.
Most solar panels are waterproof. To be honest, all rigid and flexible solar panels should be completely weatherproof as they are designed to be placed on roofs and vehicles.
In fact, they should be anti-rust and highly durable for years. After all, you can only use a solar panel outdoors. But this becomes even more critical on a boat!
Double check the waterproofing of things like junction boxes. And be very careful about portable products as they are generally only water-resistant and should not be left out in the rain.
Ease of Installation
Are you planning to install the solar panels yourself? If so, then you want to make life easy.
Flexible solar panels are the easiest thing to install on a boat and you can do it without even having to drill holes. You can mount them using silicone glue and simply stick them down. You could even apply them to a canvas.
Remember, if you choose rigid panels you need to mount them securely in place on a structure that can support their weight. This will require drilling holes and specialist mounts.
So how much do solar panels for boats cost?
Well, the price very much depends on the system you are looking to install. It can range from $70 to over $1000. If you just want a small panel with a charge controller then you can pay less than $100. But if you want a big system and need to install batteries and inverter it can easily cost you over $1000!
Components of a Boat Solar System
There is a number of different components that make up a marine solar panel system. Of course, you need the solar panel and charge controller. You will also need a power inverter and deep cycle battery.
Deep cycle battery – Boat solar panels work by converting the sun’s energy into DC electricity and storing it in a deep cycle battery. You will struggle to draw reliable electricity without a battery.
Power Inverter – You will then need a power inverter to draw energy from the battery and convert it into AC electricity needed to run appliances.
So you will need 4 main pieces of equipment – solar panel, charge controller, battery, and power inverter.
How to Install Solar Panels on a Boat
If you’re new to solar panels, installation might be a little tricky so asking a professional might save you a lot of headaches. That being said, the process is pretty simple once you know what each component does. If you have multiple solar panels then consider whether you want to wire them in series or parallel before stating.
Here’s an overview of the steps to install your solar panel:
- Connect the solar charge controller to the battery. Connect the red wire to the red battery terminal (positive to positive) and connect the black wire to the black battery terminal (negative to negative). Always do this first.
- Connect the solar panel to the solar charge controller. Once again connect positive to positive and negative to negative.
- You should now have your solar panel charging your battery through the charge controller.
- Now you need to connect your power inverter directly to your battery. This is done by connecting the positive cable to the positive terminal. Then the negative cable to the negative battery terminal.
- You should now be able to draw power from your battery through your power inverter.
FAQ about Marine Solar Panels
Now it’s time to answer your burning questions
Solar panels are brilliant on boats and an easy way to generate electricity when at sea. Plus it helps to keep your marine batteries from running flat when not in use. Adding to this, once installed solar power is completely free. So overall, they are very good!
Yes, solar panels are designed to work with deep cycle batteries like marine batteries. You must ensure that your solar panel and charge controller match the voltage of your battery. For example, a 12V panel with a 12V battery. The charging speed just depends on the power of the panel and available sunlight.
No, you should avoid walking on solar panels unless specified by the manufacturer. This is because you will damage solar panels when walking on them. Adding to this, you risk injury as then it can become very slippery, especially when wet.
Final Words on Solar Panels for Boats
Well, if you’ve read this far, then you’ll be an expert in the best solar panels for boats.
There’s a few factors to consider which you’ll need to decide for yourself. The big questions to answer are:
- Do you want flexible or rigid solar panels?
- Do you need a solar charge controller?
- How much power do you need?
Other than this, I’d always recommend using monocrystalline products thanks to the high performance.
If you’re looking for a charge controller then read my in-depth guide to the Best Solar Charge Controller.
Thanks for reading and happy sailing Capitan.
Hi, I’m Michael, the editor here at Watt A Lot.
After years of experience with off-grid power like solar panels, inverters, and batteries I decided I should share my hands-on knowledge with you. In my professional and personal life, I’ve needed to find electrical solutions for remote situations from owning a food truck, to running events at the top of mountains, to my converted campervan. So whether you’re looking for the best products or fixing an electrical problem, you can rest assured my advice comes from real hands-on experience.