We live over 90% on solar power and did on our previous boat, too. It's fairly easy on nice days in the middle of summer, but we do okay even on partially cloudy short winter days with just a little extra effort.

More From Your Solar Panels

A few tips for getting the most out of your solar panels . . . on both our boats, we’ve lived almost entirely on the electricity generated by our solar panels. The photo above was our previous boat, a Tayana 37, with a total of 453 watts of solar. We now have 345 watts in one large panel on Barefoot Gal – the new panels and regulators are much more efficient and the use of LEDs and a more efficient watermaker and refrigerator have significant decreased our demand for power.

Still, we try to get every possible amp-hour out of the panels. And while some of these items we’ve been doing for a long time, we keep refining things and just recently added one more trick.

  • If it hasn’t rained in a while, take a damp rag and wipe the panels off. You’ll be surprised at how dusty they get!
  • If your panels tilt, readjust them a few times a day to get the best sun angle and fewest shadows.
  • We have lines tied to the two edges of the panel to keep it at the angle we’ve adjusted it to. That is, when we adjust the panel we also adjust how the lines are tied.
  • If you’re going to be away for the day, adjust the panels level with the horizon as the best compromise.
  • If you have panels on your dodger or bimini, use a boom brake or preventer when at anchor to “wing out” the boom so it’s not shading the panels.
  • And our latest refinement: check the weather forecast every evening for the expected wind in the morning and tilt the panels accordingly instead of just leaving them where they were at sunset. We find this is giving us an extra 5 to 10 amp-hours a day instead of doing it after we wake up.
Our friends Tammy and Bruce on Dos Libras recently posted a further refinement on their Facebook page. You know those days when it’s impossible to get good solar production because the wind direction is putting big shadows across the panels? They used a snubber tied from their stern to their anchor line to turn the boat sufficiently that the panels were getting full sun!

We live over 90% on solar power and did on our previous boat, too. A few tips to get the most out of them -- even on cloudy days!

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11 Comments
  • Andrea Clark
    Posted at 02 March 2016 Reply

    Kevin Clark

  • Keri Dunham
    Posted at 02 March 2016 Reply

    Josh Pekar

  • Tracey Lundberg
    Posted at 02 March 2016 Reply

    We love our solar panels!

  • Marcella Balkema
    Posted at 03 March 2016 Reply

    Tony Warner

  • Ginny Holland
    Posted at 03 March 2016 Reply

    Best investment we ever made. That engine running twice a day to charge batteries was so annoying.

  • Bruce
    Posted at 03 March 2016 Reply

    Good tips, Carolyn. As for leaving the panels level with the horizon if you are going to be away all day… If you are in a place with consistent winds (like the trades) and the boat tends to point in same direction, tilting the panels a bit to the N or S depending on the time of year and the hemisphere you’re in will definitely increase output.

  • Les
    Posted at 08 March 2016 Reply

    How can I tell how much my panels are rated for? My new to me boat has two panels on the bimini with no markings from the manufacturer.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 12 May 2017 Reply

      Hmm. Good question. I’ve never seen ones without markings. You could get a rough idea by measuring.

  • Brian Fogg
    Posted at 12 May 2017 Reply

    Carolyn, please tell me what kind of batteries you have and how many amp hours are they rated for?

  • Sage Hampton
    Posted at 07 October 2017 Reply

    Hi Carolyn, thank you for the tips. I am just beginning the liveaboard journey and appreciate the experience you share!

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