How-to: Install solar panels on your sailboat


The day has come today is solar panel day. I think I got everything and I think I got my mind wrapped around it, but I want to kind of bring you guys through this with me, so you can learn to by my mistake all right.

So when you buy, when you buy solar panels, this is what you get big panel. This one’s flexible they don’t have to be flexible, a lot of them aren’t. The only reason I got flexible with lesser or significantly lighter and weight is a big issue on catamarans.

So what you get with this is you get a positive, cable and a negative cable all right, so this is all off the same one. Now there’s, two options either. I can take all the positives. This one’s, the positive on this side.

This one’s positive on this side. I put them together that’s called running it. In parallel, you can wire it. However, you want that way, but that’s, basically, what it is also there’s, an option where I can take the negative of one side and hook it up to the positive of the other side.

Just like this, and it makes it pretty, and then you can just string them all along, so what that does is it increases the voltage and keeps the current the same. The other way around would increase the current and keep the voltage the same.

If you don’t believe me, look it up, so I actually haven’t decided what to do yet well either series or parallel. But I’m thinking. I’m, going to go to parallel, just because the voltages are a little a little lower.

I don’t, want it to burn out the solar panels, so yeah let’s. Talk about the other stuff here all right – and this is a weird angle, but let’s, see if it works. Okay. So this is my solar controller. It’s called the midnight kid it’s, a MPPT controller like it says.

Mppt stands for multi point power tracking there’s, a couple different kinds of charger controllers you can get. These are a little more expensive, but they are more efficient. Batteries will last longer solar panels will last longer it’s, got built-in monitoring capability and a few different safeguards that a PWM controller doesn’t have so it’s worth the extra couple hundred bucks to get a good Controller, especially on a boat, this is called a shunt.

This goes in the negative side. This is for measuring the current that you’re using, so we put all the all the batteries negatives on one side and then put another negative wire out to the negative panel, and you can measure across this to see what the current usage is.

Right now and all day, the midnight kid has a program in it where it will tell you how much power you used everyday, which is which is really cool on a sailboat, because if you have something that’s using too much power are obviously Obvious reasons really so this is called the whiz-bang jr.

, this kind of a cool name, but this hooks onto the shunt here and goes back up to the midnight kid here and that’s for the monitoring, so that’s. A really good addition: this is a battery temperature sensor.

This. This will also hook up to the midnight kid and make sure that my batteries aren’t going over temp when it’s charging I talked to a battery manufacturer and he told me that the life of the battery is dependent upon How clean you keep it, how much water you keep in it, the life cycles of it and the temperature that it gets to and that’s, pretty much it.

They’re. Just big lead, you know weights, so this is important. All right, I got 10 gauge wire, positive and negative for the battery. This will be the hook up to the battery from here to the battery.

This is 10 gauge and then to the solar panel is 12. Gauge is 2 conductor, 12 gauge. This is what the connectors look like once they’re done. These are soldered in and then we would just hook these up to the sole of the solar panels.

Boom and booting. One panel would be super easy BAM done, but since we’re using more than one, we need to either wire them in parallel or in series, and I haven’t decided what to do yet. But I will alright the only other couple of things I need are a couple of circuit, breakers, 30 amp circuit breakers, because the the midnight kid is a 30 amp charger.

So I want to make sure that it doesn’t, you know explode or you know it. Doesn’t break. So I’m, going to put a 30 amp breaker on the positive of the of the solar panels. Of all the solar panels coming in and another one on the positive of the battery just in case, so if anything goes about 30 amps, it pops and it stops, let’s.

Talk about cost. I think the solar panels were 175 each and there’s, three of them the midnight kid was just over three hundred dollars, plus another $ 30 with the mounting bracket, the connectors they came with the boat, but I don’t think They’re very expensive, I looked, I looked them up and they’re only like 20 25 bucks for a pack, the whiz-bang jr.

that’s. This power monitoring device was, I think, like 50 bucks for 75 bucks, and this shunt was also about 50 bucks, 40 or 40 bucks. So all in all, I & # 39. Ve got let’s, see 300 plus I mean, like a thousand bucks.

Try a little little less than a thousand bucks, but it’ll. It’ll. Provide me with plenty of power, and I’ll – be completely off grid in autonomous all right here’s, the back of the charge controller and take this screw out.

You can access it inside. So here’s, where our PV wind input that would be for the solar panels. Positive and negative. Don’t screw those up, and then that’s for the load. If we want to add a load to our DC panel, which I’m – not going to do, I’m just going to use the batteries and then battery out right here.

So this wire will go into here and connect into there. But I want to use these. This thing came as a bunch of connectors and I really like these, but there’s, two of them. I think this is for, like you know, an RV or something, but they don’t.

They’re, not really made to both fit in there. You see how they’re hitting. So I’m, going to shave down the sides of them right here, so they’ll both fit because they look cool and it & # 39. Ll. Look cool mounted up here.

I’m, going to mount it up by the radio, [ Music ]. Okay. So now that the midnight kid right here, I’m, going to take it off to show you guys so here’s, the back of it! So I’ve got my. This is going to my battery.

These will go in here and then I & # 39. Ve got my whiz-bang jr.. It’ll go right there, but I & # 39. Ve got these go into my solar panels: the actual counts it’ll, go up on top of the hardtop up there, alright! So right now I’m working on this portion of it.

So let me show you guys a little trick that’s. 10 gauge wire comes down right here. All the way down through that wall connection right there and then behind the fuel tank, which I don’t know. If you can see it back there well, and then I routed it around right here, all the way down this line and down down down down boom and that’s where it will attach.

This is my negative and here’s. My positive right here, okay, that’s, the same place with the ad amp charger for the boat attaches, so they’re already cut into lengths. Now I’m just going to peel back that layer.

Add some connectors and connect it up the trick. I want to show you the guys, though, is right here. This is your normal tool that everybody has for doing this, but this isn’t the best tool for the job.

This is the best tool for the job they’re about 50 bucks. They are crimping tool, the crimping tool and a wire cutter tool, and it this thing is awesome, so I definitely recommend if you’re going to do something like this invest in a good set of tools, and then I buy these in, like the Two hundred packs they’re good for everything I have them.

I usually mount them like inside a door like open the door up and there’s a whole pack. Let me just slide them out one at a time and valuable. This is what I’ll use to cut the sheathing, and then I’ll use this and put these connectors to connect it all up.

So also, if you’re going to do anything like this, this is double wall heat shrink, it’s, got a little bit of adhesive inside it and as soon as it shrinks down the adhesive warms up and kind of spurts out And it makes it watertight and more airtight for saltwater air getting in there and corroding everything.

So these are also the shrinkable kind, so put your wire in there you crimp it and then you can shrink this down onto it and then you & # 39. Ll shrink this over top of the whole thing, so it’s, just a double protection kind of thing: [, Music, ], all right! That’s.

What there’s only three Lord ago, okay, so this is the shunt and I’m, going to install the whiz-bang jr. on top of it. So here’s, the is being I’ve got instructions here, and basically it just says they give me a bunch of standoffs, so you know put it on there.

First of all, we want to shut off our battery killed. Everything with my battery system, I’ve, got two separate ground loops one ground that goes to the engine from both batteries. They go to both engines, that’s like a big loop and then another ground loop that goes to this panel.

One lead for each battery all right, so here’s. The DC panel in the back. This is the ground bus. So this wire right here comes from the starboard battery bank and this one comes from the port battery bank.

What we want to do is get both of these on the best side of the shunt and then have a little pigtail go from here to here. That way, all the power will run through this shunt that everything that’s being used for the house.

So in order to do that, this one’s long enough. I can just take this one off and it’ll reach, but this one is going to have to be lengthened. So I’m, going to use this butt connector on this wire. This is extra wire.

I just got it like a six foot piece of it and I’m, going to take this one off and cut that terminal off and then but connect it to this. Put some heat shrink over it and then run this one. All the way up over here all the way up to here so here’s, the butt connected in it’s on and then it income off.

And then I’m, going to slide some marine-grade shrink tubing over the top and then shrink it down. So it’ll. Look all nice to do this. You need this tool. You need a big crimping tool. This thing it’s, big, so not for everybody, but you can go to an electronic shop or electric store and they’ll have this tool.

So let’s. Let you borrow it alright. I finish this shun so tick that off it’s down here that’s. My couple with some heat-shrink ran it up over and up to here, okay and then it’s got a little pigtail. That goes back down to the bus cool and then this control wire here is but connected in with this gray wire and the gray wire runs the same length all the way down up and back and out there right there, alright, so solar panels.

Here they are on the floor. They’re spaced up just about where they would be on the hardtop, pretty close, so it’s, the exact. So I’m. Taking the positive wire, I decided to do it in parallel. Instead of series, I just think that’d, be better, so in parallel, all we have to do is hook all the positives together and hook all the negatives together and then those two lines coming down.

We hook that to the charge controller. So what we’re going to do is take this positive hook it to this guy right here and then we’re, going to take this line and have two going in to this guy’s to this town’ll positive and then we & # 39.

Ll also have two going in to this panels positive and then that one will go down to the charge controller which that wire is already run going through the tubing. I wanted to show you guys doing. One of these connections for the solar panels – here it is so it’s important when you do this, that you don’t connect this up.

It’s just kind of sitting here. These panels are not connected right now. If they are connected – and you want to connect them all up – put a blanket over them, because you’re dealing with a lot of current or a lot of voltage depending on how you’re wiring them up, they don’t quite fit in here I got a fan them out and kind of send them out a little bit.

So we’re, going to just take off a few of these little strands on both sides. Here now we can put them together twist them up, make sure they’re relatively the same, and once we solder it together, it won’t, lose much of its conduct, ability there for being thinner, but now it will fit inside.

Here we need to do is open this a little bit see not not a fitting. Now we can solder it well when it’s done. It should look something like that. Okay, so when these connectors come, they come like this all right, you unscrew them and they & # 39.

Ve got a little a couple, little parts in there, so it says don’t, disconnect the solar panels under load, but just to be safe. I’m, going to connect them under load because the sun’s out. So I’m, going to put a blanket over them to make sure that they’re, not not going to shock me or destroy the other panel cool.

So I need to you, know, clean up the wires and tie wrap them and tie them down to this, but it looks awesome. It’s all done little 5,200. In there there’s, no water, getting in tough inside there coming out.

One so negative negative goes to negative and negative goes to negative and then positive, positive, positive right here. So it’s. All strung together, positives are strung together, negatives are strung together, so they’re there in parallel.

If they were in series, I would have just hook them up it of an easier, but this is supposedly better. So all right wish me luck. You [, Music, ],