Featuring improved affordability and efficiency, marine solar panels are becoming a popular option for people looking to keep the appliances and lights running onboard their boats. Solar panels make it possible for you to replenish the DC power in the boat’s battery system – with 1 or 2 solar panels, you can maintain the power in the batteries even when you are unplugged from the shore power.
If you have never performed a marine solar panel installation before, you may not know how it is done. In this boat solar panel installation guide, we will show you the steps you need to follow to start charging your batteries via solar energy.
How to Perform Marine Solar Panel Installation
1. Determine the Number of Solar Panels You Need
Before commencing boat solar panel installation, you must have a good idea of the number of solar panels you need. Figuring the power requirements of the boat is the first step towards determining the number of solar panels your vessel will require.
Add up the energy used by each device on the boat. For example, if you use your boat for fishing, check the badge on your electrical fishing gear, including the fish finder and underwater fishing lights, and then use the amps or watts to make your computations.
Calculate the amp-hours or watt-hours for each device. This can be done by simply multiplying the amp/watt output of each device with the number of hours the device will be running per day. Sum up the amp-hours or watt-hours and then compare them with the power output you expect from each solar panel over 24 hours.
2. Fit Your Mounting Brackets and Panels
If you have already invested in the solar panels you need, you can start the marine solar panel installation process. You will need to mount the solar panels flat on your boat’s deck.
Mark out the position you would like the solar panels to go on your deck. Rather than worry about the size of the brackets and solar panel, you can simply mark out the outline of each solar panel. When this is done, lay out the brackets.
Once you are satisfied with the position of the brackets, go ahead, and initiate bonding. Before using the bonding agent, be sure to clean both the deck and the underside of the brackets – this will enhance the bonding agent’s effectiveness. Using a sealant gun, apply the bonder on your brackets’ underside and then place them in the correct position using the pre-drawn solar panel outline.
Once the brackets are in place, lay your marine solar panels in the brackets. Next, drill the deck in the position where you want the solar panel cables to pass. Install the cable gland (where the cables will pass) and use standard silicone sealant or bonding agent to create a 100% waterproof seal.
3. Install the Cabling and Charge Controller
Ideally, your charge controller should be within 5 meters of the solar panels and 1 or 2 meters from the installed boat battery. The basic rule of thumb to keep in mind during boat solar panel installation is that the shorter the cables, the better – this will reduce voltage losses when you are charging your marine battery, resulting in a more efficient system.
After figuring out where you will need to fix the charge controller, use a couple of small screws to fix it. You can also leave it free-standing. When in place, feed your solar panel cables to where your controller is. Strip 10mm of the internal cable to reveal the copper core but do not connect the panels to the controller at this point.
Next, feed a correctly-sized cable from your battery to the controller. You can opt to install a fuse on your negative cable or a blocking diode to prevent overnight discharge. However, with modern controllers, this is usually unnecessary.
4. Switch on and Fix Solar Panels
This is the last step in the marine solar panel installation process. At this stage, you can connect the charge controller to the batteries. If possible, always use 100% charged batteries for your first boat solar panel installation.
Once connected, your charge controller will go through the start-up process. When finished and if the status does not show any issues, you can connect your solar panels.
Before connecting the solar panels to the controller, cover them to ensure that they are not producing any voltage – this will help you avoid accidents. After connecting solar panels to the charge controller, uncover them. Your charge controller may go through a test phase and if everything is fine, it should show a green status indicator.
Now you can go ahead and connect the internal wiring system or other devices – including the portable fish finder and fishing headlamps – to your controller’s regulated load output. Once you confirm that everything is working as it should, you can fix the solar panels in place on the brackets.
To fix the solar panels, you will need to use some self-tapping screws supplied in the bracket set or bonding kit. Drill 2 to 3 mm holes through the side of the panel’s metal frame. If you will be using aluminum panel mounting frames, the frame will come with 6mm zinc-coated bolts and nuts for attaching the panel using predrilled mounting holes available on the frame’s underside.
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Allowing you to run your electronics while your boat is anchored offshore and still have enough power to start the engine and get home, marine solar panel installation is one of the best things that you can invest in. With the steps outlined above, you should be able to make boat solar panel installation much easier.
When installing your solar panels, you must ensure they are perpendicular to the incoming sun rays. Ensuring that the solar panels are always aimed in the right direction – irrespective of latitude, season, or course – will ensure that the solar panels are always producing maximum power.