We are often asked "why do I need to go solar aboard my boat?" and there are many, many advantages but here's our top 5 based on our personal experience cruising, from living off-grid, chatting with boat owners and listening to the feedback from our customers.
1. It's so much quieter with solar panels
For us personally this is the number one reason above all else for going solar on your boat, it's the biggest advantage. If you currently only have one option for charging your batteries and that's listening to a noisy engine (or generator) then clean & quiet solar panels improves life aboard dramatically.
Before adding solar we found that when on anchor the engine ruins the experience of being on anchor (supposed to be quiet!) and whilst sailing the engine ruins the experience of sailing (supposed to be quiet!) In fact we've had occasions where we were so heeled over it wasn't possible to run the engine whilst sailing even if we needed to!
As you can probably tell listening to a noisy engine gets old very quickly, sure you don't mind listening to it when it's in gear and you're making some progress to your next stop. But when you're sat still in a beautiful anchorage, or sailing along nicely with the sun shining overhead, you don't want to be listening to a noisy engine.
"You can't underestimate the importance of running a quiet boat", Steven, Nordhavn 63
Not to mention the neighbors in your anchorage, and even more so in a mooring field, will appreciate you having solar too. Nobody wants to be anchored next to "that guy" with the generator on deck buzzing away whilst some cool sundowners are trying to be enjoyed!
Nobody wants to be "that guy" with the noisy generator on deck!
2. Stay on the hook longer
Having solar panels aboard gives you an increased level of independence and freedom to stay out on anchor longer. You are no longer needing to plug into shore power as often and so can enjoy being out on the hook and explore more remote locations. Often with boats you are limited by the amount of "roof space" available for solar panels so it's a case of maximizing the number of solar panels aboard. More solar is always better and will help get you closer to a 100% offset of your power usage aboard.
With plenty of solar you could even be running your watermaker and so don't need to come into a marina for water and can stay out on the hook even longer! In fact you can get to the point where you only need to come in to get rid of trash and head to the stores to top up your provisions.
SV Delos often stays on the hook for months at a time
3. Keep your batteries topped up and happy
Your batteries will be happier when you have solar panels giving them a charge each day. We all know that batteries take a bit of a pounding aboard but with better charging you will help increase their lifespan. With lead acid and AGM batteries you should really not discharge below 50%, easier said than done! With solar you can be sure that you will be getting a nice charge and keeping the batteries as topped up as they can be. The advantage of lithium is that you can discharge much deeper
With the correct set up you can even make sure your starter battery is also getting topped up with solar and will start your engine when you need it to.
Calico Skies has a lot of SunPower solar panels aboard their Sabre 36!
4. Cleaner water around your boat in the anchorage
We found that a big advantage of going solar was cleaner water around the boat whilst sat in an anchorage. With the engine running you're pumping out oily, dirty warm water around your boat which means no swimming for a while and probably no water making being done - who wants to suck that up into your filters. It's generally much better for the environment to be running your diesel less often, both cleaner water and clearer air.
5. Explore further
By having solar panels aboard charging your batteries you don't need to use as much diesel for charging only and it can be used more for propulsion helping to extend your range. On our Dufour 382 we have a 200l diesel tank, and with enough solar aboard, that diesel can now all be used for propulsion, amazing! That greatly increases our range, and also means we don't need to carry so many jerry cans of fuel aboard lining the decks, awesome!
By using less diesel you don't have to plan your journey around re-fueling and are also spending less money on diesel.
To be fair we have focused on cruising sailboats with a diesel onboard, but if you have gone electric then there's even more reason to go solar. You can charge your batteries up whilst underway and help extend your range & time on the water and help alleviate some of that "range anxiety".
Sailing Nandji is exploring further in Indonesia