Guide To Solar Charge Controller And How To Use It


Solar Charge Controller

Deciding to add solar to your pontoon boat can be a fun and rewarding project.  Installing solar adds the ability to enjoy your favorite electrical appliances and devices while being away from the dock (like out in the middle of the lake).

Solar can also help your batteries keep topped off- extending their lifespan.  And solar can provide security that your battery will be charged enough to start your engine after a day being beached on the sandbar with friends and enjoying the radio.  It is also a project well within the realm of even the most cautious Do-it-Yourselfer.

Any solar charging system is made up of three parts;

  • the solar panels (to make the power),
  • the batteries (to hold the power until you use it),
  • and the solar charge controller (to regulate the power pouring into your battery so you don’t cook it).  Unlike chicken, you don’t want to cook your battery.

This guide takes a closer look at the charge controller and wades through the options to find five solid options in the 10 to 30 amp range.  All these controllers can be purchased from Amazon.

What is a Solar Charge Controller?

The charge controllers job is to regulate the amount of power being pumped into the battery by your solar panel.

When the battery is discharged, it allows the power to come in faster (but not too fast).  As the battery starts to become charged, the controller slows the power even more.  And when the battery is full, the charge controller just keeps is topped off.

Most charge controllers in the 10 to 30 amp range have three to five different charging stages.  The charge controller even keeps the battery from losing power to the solar panel at night. Without a charge controller, a battery can become irreparably damaged very quickly.

What Type of Solar Charge Controller Do I Need?

There are two primary types of solar charge controllers on the market. Pulse Width Modifier (PWM) and Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT).  Many long discussions (and some heated forum posts too) have been waged on the topic of PWM vs. MPPT solar charge controllers.

Let’s tackle the subject ourselves.

There are significant advantages to the way MPPT controllers work and they can be up to 30% more efficient than a PWM charge controller.

Great.

Debate resolved.

Except, to see these advantages in efficiency, a larger battery bank and solar panel to be installed. For solar charging system made with less than 200Watt panels the benefits of an MPPT controller generally do not outweigh the additional cost. And, since a solar array of this size is not usually seen on most pontoon boats, all the charge controllers featured on this list are of the PWM style.

For simplicity, the panels are listed in order of amperage.

Note: If you are unsure of how to figure out what size charge controller would fit your setup best, or are just starting to consider adding solar, check out our “How To Install Solar Panels On Pontoon Boat” article.  It will walk you through all the steps to design your solar charging system with confidence. Even if you are brand new to solar.

PowerEZ 10Amp Charge Controller with LCD Display

PowerEZ 10Amp PWM Solar Charge Controller

The first charge controller on our list makes an impression with its easy to read and easy to set display.

PowerEZ 10Amp Charge Controller, like all charge controllers, should be placed near the batteries.  It will also need to be housed in a water-sealed compartment.  This is not a marine-grade made solar charger, per se, but it does offer a budget-friendly option that, if housed properly, will perform adequately on your pontoon boat.

It does feature two USB ports directly on the front of the charger, making it easy plug in phones or other devices without needing to add additional sockets on the boat.

Charge ControllerAmperageWaterproofDisplayUSB outletsPrice*
PowerEZ10NOLCDYES $14.99

*Amazon Price at time of writing

WindyNation Waterproof 10A Charge Controller w/ LED Indicators

WindyNation Waterproof 10A 12V Solar Charge Controller

The next charge controller on the list comes from WindyNation.  WindyNation Waterproof 10A Charge Controller has two big advantages.

First, it is waterproof.  Yes, you might think all charge controllers that could be used in the marine and outdoors would be waterproof.  They are not.  But this one is.  And that is good.

Second, it is thin and designed to be attached directly to the underside of the solar panel itself.  It even comes with the MC4 connectors pre-attached. This makes for a tidy installation option.  Though you would want to make sure you don’t have a long run from the controller to your batteries, you do want to keep that short.

The display is simple, instead of a digital readout, it has a series of LED lights.  This is advantageous if you are mounting it on the back of the panel, but maybe less desirable if not.

Charge ControllerAmperageWaterproofDisplayUSB outletsPrice*
Windy Nation10YESLEDNO $19.99

ALLPOWERS 20A Charge Controller with Display and USB Ports

ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller

ALLPOWERS 20A Charge Controller offers an affordable option for a midsized solar panel array.  However, let’s address its biggest obstacle first, it is not waterproof.  You will need to place this charge controller in a protected location.

If you are already planning on locating your charge controller in an enclosed locker (say, the battery box compartment on your pontoon boat), then this unit has a lot going for it and is certainly worth considering.

The ALLPOWERS 20A PWM charge controller will safely regulate the charging of your battery with a three-stage charging system and prevent over-discharge of the batteries as well. The easy to manage and read screens will let you know the status of your battery and charging system at a glance.

The two USB outlets give a convenient option to quickly plug in your electronic devices.

Charge ControllerAmperageWaterproofDisplayUSB outletsPrice*
ALLPOWERS20NOLCDYES $20.99

Renogy Voyager-20A Waterproof Charge Controller w/LCD and LED

Renogy Voyager - 20A Negative-Ground PWM Controller

The Renogy Voyager Charge Controller is hard to beat.  Just look at it, it has the whole package.  It is made by a solar manufacturing leader, which is big.  It’s waterproof, which is huge. It has a clean and uncomplicated display that has both an LCD screen and an LED light bar, making it easy to read in any lighting conditions. And at 20Amps, and its 5-stage PWM charging, it will handle most solar arrays that would be found on a pontoon boat.

At 59.99, it does jump up in the budget department, but it has a lot to offer for it.

This one falls into the confident-buy category.

Charge ControllerAmperageWaterproofDisplayUSB outletsPrice*
Renogy-Voyager20YESLCD and LEDNO $59.99

Renogy Wanderer 30A Charge Controller

Renogy Wanderer - 30A Advanced PWM Negative-Ground Solar Charge Controller

The majority of solar charging setups on pontoon boats will not have the need for a 30A charge controller, but if you have selected to have a larger solar array on your boat, or if you want to expand your solar array in the future, Renogy Wanderer 30 A Charge Controller is a solid option.  This PWM charge controller features 4-stage charging and temperature compensation to regulate the power going into the batteries.

While this unit doesn’t have the convenience of a digital screen or USB ports, it has the advantage of being made by one of the big names in solar manufacturing.  This unit, like the majority of charge controllers, will also need to be housed in a weather protected location.

Charge ControllerAmperageWaterproofDisplayUSB outletsPrice*
Renogy-Wanderer30NOLEDNO $38.68

Conclusion

So there we are. I hope I was able to give you a better idea of how important solar charge controller is and which controllers are worth looking into.

If you want to learn more about solar panels make sure you read Marine Solar Panels Review articles.

Please let me know what you like or don’t like about this article and if you would like to see more similar content.

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