(See bottom of this page for post-voyage updates)On land, we've lived for many years off-grid with a small solar electric system, so the transition to a boat with a similar system is relatively easy for us. Minimus has two 50 watt solar panels sending electricity to a charge controller and then to a 12-volt deep cycle battery. A solar electric system doesn't get much simpler than that. Small as the system is, our past experience suggests that it will produce more power than we'll typically need. Although we have quite a few electrical loads, all of them are relatively small. They include 2 portable LED lights for the cabin, 2 headlamps, a compass light, 2 handheld GPS units and 2 handheld VHF radios, all of which run on rechargeable AA or AAA batteries that get charged via a charger that's plugged into a 400 watt inverter. It's all pretty modular and portable. In addition, we have LED navigation lights, an AIS receiver, a wifi antenna for the AIS, a tablet and a smart phone. The charge controller has 2 USB ports that will allow us to charge the tablet and phone directly.
One of the oddities on many sailboats is the location of navigation electronics and service panels near the companionway. Given that electronics and saltwater don't mix, we instead moved the center of electrical activity to the driest part of the boat, a locker forward of the cabin. It will be a bit less convenient but more reliable, a good trade to our way of thinking.
Two 50 watt Renogy solar panels mounted on the stern pulpit provide all the
electrical power on Minimus.
Solar generated electricity goes to the charge controller, which is the upper unit
mounted on the bulkhead. LED lantern hanging in the foreground is powered
by rechargeable AAA batteries. AIS receiver is the lower unit on bulkhead.
From the charge controller, electricity goes into a 12-volt deep cycle lead-acid battery.
The battery is mounted in what used to be the water tank. Any acid spillage will
be contained within the tank.
We won't usually be using more than 10% of the charge daily, so the battery
should have a relatively long life.
From the battery, electricity goes to 12-volt loads such as the LED navigation lights,
the AIS receiver and an inverter which provides 120-volt power. A charger for double A
and triple A batteries will be plugged into the inverter, as will the handheld
Our two anchor lights are LED solar yard lights inside plastic peanut butter jars
to protect them from salt spray.
During the day, the two solar anchor lights are stored in fittings in the lazarette hatch
cover where they charge up for the next night.
Post-voyage comments (updated 10-14-2017):
Our electrical system worked well. We were especially pleased with how well the concept of using portable electronics with rechargeable AA and AAA batteries worked out. Of particular note was that when lightning threatened, we could easily put all the sensitive electronics like VHF, GPS, and the InReach into the pressure cooker, which acted as a Faraday cage to protect them in case of a strike.
The solar yard lights as anchor lights were a bust. They wouldn't hold a charge for the whole night and even if they did, were too dim to be of much use by morning. Eventually we switched to an LED lantern powered by 3 AA batteries which was much brighter and lasted for several nights before needing recharging.
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