Solar Panels Vs. Wind Generators For Boats (What to Choose)

Your boat provides hours of relaxed enjoyment, letting you wind down from your hectic life away from the water. Being a sailboat means that all the electrical consumers run off the battery pack. The system works well, but it is irritating and expensive having to start the engine to recharge the batteries. Wind generators and solar systems are the most viable methods of generating renewable energy for boats;. However, choosing between alternative energy sources can seem overwhelming. 

Solar panels and wind generators for boats offer unique pros and cons, thus, the best solution is a blend of both. Wind generators are perfect for wind-driven conditions, but you will be without power during lulls in the wind. A solar unit is more consistent but doesn’t work in bad weather.

Wind generators and solar systems are the most helpful, and everything else is too bulky or inefficient. However, choosing between the two can be tricky. We compare the two systems and arrive at a surprising solution.

Which Is Better, Solar Panels Or Wind Generators For Boats?

People want quick and easy answers, but the solution to this question isn’t as simple as it first seems.

Solar is generally a more efficient and effective technology than wind generating systems. Solar is cheaper to install, is more durable, quieter, and is a better sailing companion than wind. However, solar only generates electricity for a relatively small window every day, not in overcast and gloomy weather.

Wind systems are more expensive and less efficient. The wind is more effective than solar when sailing:

  1. In latitudes that enjoy more constant and higher wind speeds
  2. Traveling in the Northern and Southern reaches when the sun’s angle is shallower and solar becomes less effective.

In an ideal world where a sufficient budget is available, the most suitable solution is a blended system of the two technologies.

What Are The Electrical Needs Of A Boat?


Larger vessels use a considerable amount of electricity. Electrical consumers include the engine starter motor, powered winches, hatches, sail trims, radios, autopilots, cabin lighting, microwaves, and kettles, i.e., the electrical power needs of a boat are significant!

Typical installations are geared around a battery pack supplying the power. To achieve this the batteries, connect to an inverter which converts the energy from DC to AC, making it possible to power the equipment.

Once depleted, the batteries need to be charged, which can be achieved in several ways, including:

  1. Starting the boat’s engines and using the alternator to charge the batteries. In a motor yacht, this is quite acceptable. It seems almost an anathema to the whole sailing experience in sailing boats. 
  2. The engine is noisy. It’s polluting and will disturb other boat occupants if in the harbor.
  3. Starting the engine uses valuable fuel irrespective of whether it is powering the boat or simply charging the batteries.
  4. When the boat is docked, it can be connected to shore electricity. At sea or out on open water, this option is not available.

Sailors need energy, which is readily available, reliable, sustainable, and renewable.

What Is The Optimum Energy Source On A Boat?

sun and wind

The two most obvious sources of generating energy are the sun and wind. Each power source offers potential, but both have definite advantages and disadvantages.

Is A Solar System Viable For A Boat?

Solar is becoming the “go-to” energy source. It produces zero emissions and is entirely renewable. 

Scientists predict that the sun’s energy will be available for at least another 6 billion years. The sun produces more power than the whole world would ever need; in one hour, it generates more energy than the entire earth would use over 8760 hours (one year).

It makes sense that we maximize the usage of this energy.

The design of Solar panels makes them ideally suited for yachts. Some models of solar panels are flexible, which makes them easier to install over irregular surfaces; boats are not known for their flat planes and right-angle corners!

The Pros And Cons Of Solar As The Energy Supply For A Boat

solar boat

Solar has many benefits but also some notable disadvantages.

The advantages of solar are:

  1. If the sun is shining, power is available
  2. It is quiet
  3. It is relatively efficient (more so than a wind turbine)
  4. There are no moving parts, making it reliable and durable. 
  5. It is easy to isolate the problem and correct it if something goes wrong.
  6. It is very safe
  7. It is cheaper than a wind turbine

The disadvantages of solar are:

  1. It only functions when the sun is out. You must rely on the batteries overnight or when conditions aren’t suitable for solar.
  2. In most areas, maximum sunlight is only available for 5 hours a day. These are referred to as the “effective” hours. Before and after this period, a lower charge rate is produced. 
  3. The further North or South a voyage goes, the lower the angle of incidence of the sun. In the Northern and Southern reaches, this makes solar panels less effective.

Are Wind Generators A Viable System For A Boat?

Solar energy beats wind energy in virtually every other application due to its lower cost, better efficiency, and more constant energy source. However, the dynamics are altered somewhat when working with boats. 

Water-land boundaries and the open seas are renowned for their high winds and seemingly endless supply of windy conditions. The increased predictability of wind availability makes wind power just as viable for boats as solar generators. 

The Pros And Cons Of Wind As The Energy Supply For A Boat

wind generator

Wind Generators have strengths and weaknesses as the primary source of the boat’s energy.

The advantages of wind are:

  1. The wind is very accessible.
  2. The time of day and the cloud conditions do not influence its effectiveness.
  3. Where there is water, there is generally wind. The wind turbines may produce lower power than an equivalent solar system, but as in Aesop’s fable acting like a tortoise, slow and steady produce results.
  4. If the wind speed is 10 or more knots, the turbine will generate current.
  5. Average wind speeds are variable depending on the latitude. The further North the vessel travels, the more acute the sun’s angle and the less effective solar panels. There is a cross-over point when the wind-driven system becomes more efficient than a solar system.

The disadvantages of wind are:

  1. Wind systems are considerably more expensive than solar systems.
  2. Wind systems are less efficient than solar systems.
  3. Wind turbines are noisy. 
  4. Wind turbines can be dangerous. If a passenger or crew member gets hit by a spinning blade, serious injury will likely result. If a spinning turbine hits a dock or another boat, the consequences could be severe.
  5. Wind turbines contain many moving parts. Over time these will wear, and stoppages may result.
  6. In high winds, some wind turbines shut down automatically. Less advanced models may need to be manually tied down to ensure the blades don’t run over speed.


There is no ideal answer as to whether Solar Panels or Wind Generators are the better source of energy for a boat. Both systems have significant advantages and disadvantages which preclude the endorsement of one method over another. 

The best solution is to have both systems installed; this offers the best potential for an adequate, steady energy supply.

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