The Ultimate Guide to Marine Solar Panels for Your Boat 2020


Marine Solar Panels

Adding a marine solar panels charging system to your pontoon boat is a smart way to keep your boat’s batteries topped off and healthy.  And, depending on the size and power of your charging system, it can give you the freedom to use your electrical devices all day long.

Adding a solar panel can also provide security by providing an alternative way to keep your battery charged and ready to start your engine after spending the day pulled up on the beach.

What you can run on your 12v system is directly dictated by the size of your solar charging setup. So think wisely before you make the purchase because it can be costly if you go for the higher, more powerful sets.

If you are still trying to determine what size solar panel you will need, we have an informative article that covers how to design a marine solar charging system.  It is a one-stop-shop for all the information you will need from the design and decision-making process to the installation and maintenance of your solar panel system.

Marine solar charging systems are comprised of three primary components:

This guide will cover some top-pick solar panels that would be appropriate for the marine application.  All panels reviewed are available from Amazon and range between 10W to 100W.

Marine Solar Panel Types

Hard panels come in two primary types: Mono-crystalline and Poly-crystalline.

Mono-crystalline

Visually identified by their rounded edge, white, tile-like pattern across the panel.

They are:

  • More efficient than polycrystalline because they are made from the highest-grade silicone
  • Most space-efficient due to their overall efficiency
  • The longest-lasting of any solar panel type
  • More expensive than polycrystalline
  • Particularly sensitive to small amounts of shading

Polycrystalline

Visually identified by being a solid panel, no rounded corners, or non-solar panel tiles. They also have a “crushed glass” appearance as opposed to the uniform color of a monocrystalline panel.

They are:

  • Cheaper than monocrystalline because the manufacturing process is simpler
  • Are more heat tolerant than monocrystalline panels
  • Need more space allotted to panels because they are less efficient (roughly 13-16%)

Flexible Panels, Known As Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC)

Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC) are not as efficient as the hard panels for their size. They are about 50% less efficient than hard panels. Oh, and they are also about 50% more expensive.

Why would you consider them then?

Well, because they are light, and super thin, and can be installed in so many ways that the hard, rigid panels can’t.

What they offer are options. They can be sewn right into your bimini top. Cool! Or, they can be installed on a curved deck surface and even be walked on. Impressive!

Any of the above style marine solar panels are perfectly suitable for installation on your pontoon boat. The key will be to weigh your priorities (isn’t that a fancy word for a budget), your expectations (charging a cell-phone vs. a refrigerator), and your working space. Remember, it’s a matching game.

Best Marine Solar Panels

For simplicity, I listed them from smallest to largest.

The HQST 10-Watt Portable Marine Solar Panels

The smallest panel on the list is the HQST 10 Watt Portable Solar Panel.  This poly-crystalline panel is a great option for providing a budget-friendly, trickle-charge to your batteries.  It will do a good job of keeping them topped off and healthy (and extending their lifespan).

Polycrystalline Marine Solar Panels

At less than 2 feet long and less than 1 foot wide, it can find a place to be installed almost anywhere.  Or, at less than 3.5 lbs, it is easily removable and portable, so you can use it when you need it.

It is a small but sturdy panel with an aluminum frame.

It is best for trickle-charging and light device use.  However, it will not be the best choice for charging a discharged battery or keeping up with larger or multiple electronic devices. I would not depend on it if you are planning on spending a weekend out on the water.

Sale
HQST 20W 12V Monocrystalline Compact Design Solar Panel High Efficiency Module Off Grid PV Power for...
  • 20 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel can withstand extreme elements and severe weather. Outstanding electrical performance under high temperature and low irradiance conditions. 100% EL testing on all HQST Solar Modules, Guaranteed no Hot Spots. Top...
  • High Module Conversion Efficiency. Maximizes System output by reducing mismatch loss. Efficient silicon solar cells ensure excellent performance of solar modules and create maximum power output. Under the condition of full sunlight, High module...
  • Fast and Inexpensive Mounting. Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame for outdoor using. Easy to install with pre-drilled holes on the back of panels for fast mounting, securing and cooling. frame hole design is uniform easy to install with pre-drilled...

These Marine Solar Panels Features:

  • 10 Watts panels
  • Poly-crystalline cells
  • IP65 waterproof junction box (on the underside of the panel)
  • 5 feet of 18 AWG panel leads (without connectors)
BrandWattStyleSizeWeightPrice*
HQST10Poly-crystalline18.9 x 7.3 x 1.03.26$27.99

*Amazon’s price at the time of writing.

HQST 20-Watt 12 Volt Solar Panels

The next on our list is HQST 20-Watt 12 Volt Solar Panel which has twice the power output.  But it is not twice the size or the price.  And it comes with a 5yr/25yr warranty.

Monocrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Module Off Grid

The monocrystalline solar cells allow it to be more efficient for the surface area than the polycrystalline cell panels.  It is a smart choice for keeping the batteries topped off and allows for light electronic use.  Like keeping the radio on and the tablets charged while you have the boat beached on the sandbar.

The fact that it comes in at under 50 bucks and comes with a 25-year transferable output warranty and 5-year material and workmanship warranty, from a company that has already established its name in the solar industry, is simply impressive. This is a great starting point for all environmentalists out there.

HQST 10W 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Module Off Grid PV Power for Battery...
  • HQST provides complete after-sales service, including 25-year power output warranty, 5-year material and workmanship warranty and easy-to-reach customer support.
  • Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame for extended outdoor use, allowing the panels to last for decades. Strong aluminium frame for all weather conditions.
  • Sleek, lightweight, and durable, this panel is small enough to store and tow but powerful enough to charge your favorite electronics.

These Marine Solar Panels Features:

  • 20 Watts panels
  • Mono-crystalline cells
  • IP65 waterproof junction box (on the underside of the panel)
  • 12 AWG panel leads
  • IP67 waterproof MC4 connectors (pair)
  • 25 years transferable output warranty and 5 years material and workmanship warranty
BrandWattStyleSizeWeightPrice*
HQST20Mono-crystalline 18.51 x 3.5 x 1.04.8$42.99

Renogy 50-Watt Solar Panels

Renogy has built a name in the solar panels market for good quality and consistent manufacturing.  These marine solar panels feature the highly efficient mono-crystalline cell construction and are supported by a light, but sturdy aluminum frame allowing it to be hard-mounted in a variety of ways.

Renogy 50W 12V Power Monocrystalline Solar Panel

At roughly 2ft x 2ft and just under 10 pounds, this is pushing the limits of being easily removable.  Sure, it can be, just more awkwardly than the smaller panels.

This panel is big enough to keep your battery charged and your electronics plugged in.

It has a good balance between budget, size, and power.  It is made by an established manufacturer, and the aluminum frame offers many installation options. A great choice based on usability and cost.

Renogy 50W 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Module PV Power for Battery Charging...
  • 【Potential Uses】The Renogy 50 Watt Monocrystalline Panel can be used in various off-grid applications that include 12 and 24 volts arrays, water pumping systems, signaling systems and other off-grid application
  • 【Reliable】Advanced encapsulation material with multi-layered sheet laminations to enhance cell performance and provide a long service life. 100% EL testing on all Renogy modules; no hot-spot heating guaranteed. Bypass diodes minimize power drop...
  • 【Durable】Guaranteed positive output tolerance (0-3%); withstands high winds (2400Pa) and snow loads (5400Pa). Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame for extended outdoor use, allowing the panels to last for decades. Anti-reflective, high...

These Marine Solar Panels Features:

  • 50 Watts panels
  • Mono-crystalline cells
  • IP65 waterproof junction box (on the back of the panel)
  • MC4 waterproof connectors
BrandWattStyleSizeWeightPrice*
Renogy50Mono-crystalline21.3 x 24.8 x 1.29.9$82.00

HQST 100 Watt 12 Volt Solar Panels

This is the big-boy panel.  With a 100 watt panel at the center of your solar charging system, you can be charged up and powering up the lake.  With HQST 100 Watt 12 Volt Solar Panel you can entertain the idea of keeping you 12v coolers chilled, or the lights powered all night if camping onboard, and want to charge up the battery bank completely off the grid.

HQST 50 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Again, HQST fills a slot on our list.  This panel also comes with the same 25/5 year warranty and it speaks to their quality.

Yes, this panel is large and almost surely will need to find a permanent home on your boat, but if you really want some solar juice, this is a well-valued option. It is definitely worth the investment if you like to spend a lot of time out on the water and have enough battery power on your boat.

Sale
HQST 50 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel for Off-Grid On-Grid Large Solar System,...
  • High module conversion efficiency. Bypass diodes minimize power drop caused by shade and ensure excellent performance in low-light environments.
  • Monocrystalline panels come with high-efficiency solar cells that help increase space efficiency. Easy Installation. Pre-drilled holes on the back of the panel allow for fast mounting and securing. Compatible with different mounting systems such as...
  • HQST 50W 12V solar panel is perfect for 12 volt battery charging or multiple panels can be wired in series for 12 volt battery charging or for grid-tied applications. Includes MC4 connectors to plug into existing HQST solar system. Diodes are...

These Marine Solar Panels Features:

  • 100 Watts panels
  • Mono-crystalline cells
  • IP65 waterproof junction box (on the back of the panel)
  • MC4 waterproof connectors
  • 25 years transferable output warranty and 5 years material and workmanship warranty
BrandWattStyleSizeWeightPrice*
HQST100Mono-crystalline47 x 21.3 x 1.416.5$110.00

WindyNation 100W Flexible Solar Panels

WindyNation 100W Flexible Solar Panel squeaks in at just under $200.00, almost twice as much as the HQST 100W panel.  And it doesn’t come with the same robust warranty as to the HQST panel.  Though, WindyNation does have a strong following in the solar market.

What it offers are options.

Bendable Flexible Thin Lightweight Monocrystalline Solar Panel

This flexible panel weighs only 4.1 pounds and is less than a ¼” thick making it a portable option that provides a big amount of umpf to your solar charging system.

It has the capability of powering the most common electrical device you might have on your pontoon boat. Plus, if you wanted to take this same panel with you when you went off to the mountains for a little-unplugged getaway, it is light and flexible enough to grab and go!

It is truly an impressive set that can be used for multiple purposes.

The advantage of this panel is that it can be placed on top of curved or uneven surfaces.  Built-in grommets make for quick securing options. Or, it can even be held in place with Velcro.  For a super-clean, low-profile installation it can be incorporated right into your bimini-top fabric. It’s a great option and should not be overlooked just because of the price range.

WindyNation 100W 100 Watt 12V Bendable Flexible Thin Lightweight Monocrystalline Solar Panel Battery...
  • Semi-Flexible: the panel can be flexed to a maximum of 30 degrees. This allows the panel to be flush mounted to curved surfaces like RV's, sailboats, campers, tents, etc. Ultra-thin: solar pane is only 0.1 inches thick.
  • The solar panel and junction box are completely water resistant. Suitable for outdoor use in all weather conditions.
  • Extremely light weight and efficient. The solar panel weighs approximately 4 pounds and utilizes highly efficient monocrystalline solar cells. The panel is easy to transport and mount, which is ideal for mobile applications.

These Marine Solar Panels Features:

  • 100 W panels
  • Semi-flexible panels (up to 30 degrees)
  • All components completely water-resistant (suitable for all weather conditions)
  • Lightweight panels (4.1 lb.)
  • Very easy to mount and attach
BrandWattStyleSizeWeightPrice*
WindyNation100Semi-flexible42 x 21.5 x 0.14.1$181.00

Installing Solar Panels

Pontoon boats, probably more than any other type of vessel, have an array of mounting options due to their large, flat surfaces and lack of rigging. Let’s explore a few:

  • Pole mounted- panels placed on a “flag-pole” style bracket are out of the way and will take up a minimal footprint. Plus, they won’t suffer from shading. Some poles can be easily removable.
  • Bimini frame-mounted- Mounting panels on or above the bimini is a typical installation choice. A vast array of fixed or removable hardware attachment options are available to fit almost any boat.
  • Rail mount- Smaller panels can be mounted to the railing. Some even hinge up and down, which may provide a solution for trailering boats.
  • Velcro or bungee cords- The thin, flexible panels can be attached (and easily moved) when secured with velcro or grommets.

How to mount your panels will probably not only depend on how big of a panel you need but how you use your boat. Do you trailer it? You might need to look at the easily removable options. Do you store it under a covered boat lift? Your panel might need to be remotely mounted. Do you go under low bridges? Maybe avoid the pole mount!?

Your panel installation will be a custom decision based on your boat, how you use it, and what type of panel array you need. But, here are some universal considerations:

  • Face the sun
  • Avoid shadows
  • Allow for ventilation if possible
  • Consider fastener and removal options

If you are not sure which solar kit is the best for your boat and your needs, make sure you check out the solar panel kit guide. And if you are only looking to learn about panels, make sure you read the marine solar panels guide.

Marine Solar Panels Maintenance

Honestly, the minimal maintenance needed to maintain your solar charging system is one of it’s most significant benefits. Once correctly designed and installed- it just works!

Of course, your batteries need to continue their maintenance schedule (water topped up, and terminals kept clean). Dirt can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of solar panels, so a quick wipe with a damp cloth will keep them cranking.

And, of course, connectors and wiring should be regularly inspected because, on a boat, everything is subject to getting chaffed or wriggled loose with the motion.

Misconceptions About Marine Solar Panels

A majority of the people do not understand solar panels and the way they work. This of course causes them to make a mistake and throw their money into the wing.

Below are some common misconceptions about solar panels.

Confusing Sun Hours with Daytime Hours

A sun hour is a unit of measurement used in solar to define the hours of the day during which we get the most out of our solar panels.

During the summer, days are longer, and it’s easy to think that solar panels are working overtime. 

However, even in the middle of summer, we are only getting seven sun hours in the middle of that day. This is where solar panels are working close to their maximum capacity. 

The rest of the day, solar panels are still working, but not up to their maximum capacity.

Under Estimate Power Consumption

We all have different devices on our boats, but not many of us know how much they’re consuming.

So how do you know what this stuff consumes?

There are two different ways.

  • Get a device that will measure the electricity consumed over time
  • Look at the information from the manufacturer that gives you an estimate

You need to have a pretty good idea of your power consumption before you buy solar panels.

Having Unreasonable or Unrealistic Expectations

You bought solar panels, and now you will be able to power all the electronics on your boar. Right?? Wrong. Very wrong.

You need to know the limitation of solar panels. 

I’d suggest that you start small with a light, and then scale up later once you figure out what is practical. Understand the limitations and the production of your system in the real world before you buy big.

Bad Solar Panel Installation

Not giving enough thought to how you’re going to mount the solar panel is a crucial mistake. Even though you are installing solar panels on your boat, you should still consider the angle and the direction of the Sun.

  • If you live in North America, point the solar panels to the South when docked
  • The angle that you mount the solar panel needs to equal the latitude of where you live

Also, people think that just because solar panels need the Sun to produce energy, they need to be hot. That is not true.

The optimal heat range for solar panels is about 77 degrees Fahrenheit. So make sure you have enough gap behind solar panels not to overheat them. If you do that, you will lessen the power output.

Too Good To Be True

We’ve all heard the phrases such as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. 

Beware of the “on-sale” signs at the home depot or where ever you buy your tools. Just because something is on sale does not mean the store has too much of it and needs to clear the inventory. It could be that the product is terrible.

If you find solar panels that cost 30 cents a watt, chances are those are grade B cells and are not sufficient. So before you buy, do some research and get some guarantees.

Define the Load

A lot of people make this mistake because they are not willing to do the research beforehand. You need to research to define the load of the power you need for your boat.

Do not go out and buy solar panels because you see them on sale because:

  • you will buy bad solar panels
  • you will buy too much power and spend too much money
  • you will not buy enough power

You need to have a plan, know the power you need, and how to install solar panels correctly to get the maximum potential out.

Which are the Best Marine Solar Panels?

So you have finally decided to become environmentally friendly and you want to start somewhere but don’t know exactly where. How do you decide where to start based on the price and need?

The above marine solar panels all have their pluses and minuses, the question is which one has more pluses for you personally. You are the one who has to decide which solar panel fits your needs the best.

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