We take a look at 6 of the best solar panels for boats, from folding units to cutting-edge flexible panels
For many in the boating community, boat solar panels represent something of a holy grail. They are, after all, the gift that keeps on giving, aren’t they? Free power forever, (or many years anyway), coupled with zero running costs – what could possibly be better than that?
All you have to do to make this dream come true is banish the memory of the purchase price from your mind – something boaters are notoriously adept at doing – and wait for the sun to shine. If only it were that simple…
The fact of the matter is that there are costs associated with boat solar panels beyond the price of the panels themselves. While some types of panels can be simply laid on the deck, in many cases some form of mount will be required.
Then there’s the wiring to hook them up to your battery, plus any fitment and/or cosmetic work needed to hide the cabling from view. If your panels are to be left connected permanently, you’ll require a regulator too.
This will prevent both overcharging and a reverse flow of power out of the battery after dark. If you do not fit a regulator, a blocking diode can be used to halt the reverse flow instead.
But once all of the above have been overcome – and providing you’ve done your homework to ensure your panels will generate sufficient power to cover your needs – then, yes, it’s a power free for all!
There are many other benefits to boat solar panels too: First and foremost, they work all on their own – solar panels are automatic, so you can just let them get on with the job.
Apart from the occasional wipe over and a wiring check, they’re largely maintenance-free too. Unlike wind generators, (especially like the one with wonky bearings on that boat moored next to you), they don’t make any noise.
And finally, your battery will be pleased, because keeping it from going flat can extend its life.
Here’s our choice of the best boat solar panels.
6 of the best boat solar panels available right now
Giosolar 1,000W flexible solar panel
Best flexible boat solar panel
Delivering a mighty kilowatt of power, (not far off the amount used by a one bedroom house), this Giostar package comprises ten separate 100W panels, each of which is 1,050 x 540 x 2.5mm in size.
Capable of charging either 12 or 24V batteries, a kit of this magnitude is one for the most serious of solar enthusiasts – Eco Experts reckons 660-990W is sufficient for a liveaboard.
Giostar panels are abrasion resistant, anti-rust and dust proof and their junction boxes are sealed and waterproof. The panels are also light, thin and flexible, and can withstand being bent up to 30 degrees.
Reasons to buy: Incredible amount of power, panels are abrasion resistant as well as anti rust + dust proof
Reasons to avoid: Premium price
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Mobisolar 100W foldable solar panel
Best foldable boat solar panel
Mobisolar’s foldable panels are light (4.5kg) and measure 121 x 56.5 x 3 cm when unfolded, with the longest dimension reducing to 60 cm when folded, making them easy to transport.
The panels use advanced technology to provide superior performance, with each panel subjected to a thorough testing routine before and after assembly.
So confident is Mobisolar in its products that the company stands behind its panels with a two-year defect warranty and a five years’ electrical performance warranty.
For maximum flexibility in operation, three USB power outputs are fitted per panel, one delivering 100W, the second 60W and the third 10W.
Reasons to buy: Foldable, lightweight and long warranty
Reasons to avoid: Not resistant to the elements, doesn’t feature mounting holes
Eco-worthy 100W solar panel kit
With 100W panels being ideal for keeping batteries topped up, our second offering in this power class is from Eco-worthy, a major player in the solar panel field.
Competitively priced, our link below is for a kit which includes an LCD control unit and four ‘Z’ brackets in addition to the panel itself.
The Eco-worthy 100W panel is of the monocrystalline type, which means their cells are made from an ingot grown from a single silicon crystal of high purity. It’s also a rigid panel, so this particular product would need to be mounted on a frame or flat surface.
Reasons to buy: Competitively priced, Features LCD panel, brackets
Reasons to avoid: Only a year warranty, not resistant to elements
PV Logic 20W Flexi solar panel
Offered by Force 4 Chandlery, this lightweight semi-flexible solar panel comes complete with a dual battery solar charge controller.
The panel is completely waterproof thanks to its six-layer, heavy-duty laminate finish, and should a wayward crew member plod over it in their size 9s the panel’s dimpled top surface is ‘self healing’.
The controller can handle both 12 and 24V systems and the panel’s PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) charging system is efficient and battery-lifetime friendly.
Supplied with LED battery-status indicators and 4 metres of cable, PV Logic Flexi panels can be bonded to flat or curved surfaces.
Reasons to buy: Lightweight, waterproof, dual controller
Reasons to avoid: Lacks mounting options
Powoxi 10W solar panel
At the budget end of the market comes this Powoxi 10W solar panel charger kit. While you won’t go far on just 10W of power, this kit claims to be capable of charging and maintaining various 12V batteries.
The kit features a fully automatic charging and maintenance controller, which provides intelligent three-level charging and protection against short- and open-circuits, under voltage and overloading.
A reverse flow system is included and the interface is described as ‘plug and play’. While the panel is rainproof, it will not withstand immersion in water, so this is a product to perhaps leave behind on the dock when you take to the water.
Reasons to buy: Great budget option, plug and play
Reasons to avoid: Not waterproof, won’t go far on 10V
Eco-worthy 10W/5W solar panel
The least pricey option we could find anywhere, this baby 5W solar panel is simply a trickle charger. But if that’s all you need then look no further, for this is another Eco-worthy product.
The technology in the panel is polycrystalline, so it’s not the most efficient on the market, but for this power that’s hardly a great concern.
The panel is supplied with two charging options; a pair of crocodile clips which attach directly to the battery, and a cigarette lighter plug.
According to the product’s eBay listing, this seller alone has sold approaching 3,000 of these units – and at this price, we can understand why!
Reasons to buy: Incredible price, can be charged via car lighter plug
Reasons to avoid: Small, not very efficient