I started experimenting with solar panels about 10 years ago. I bought various solar panels from West Marine and other sources to “trickle charge” my 12 volt, deep cycle lead acid battery. At the time I was using a MinnKota Rip Tide 55 electric motor. The MinnKota motor was extremely reliable, totally resistant to salt water, but it delivered very little power – I often was unable to motor against a high wind or a strong tide in the bays near my home. In addition, the MinnKota was pretty heavy, especially when you considered the 50 lb. weight of the lead acid battery. The total weight of the motor and battery was about 80 lbs. together.
The term “trickle charge” was truly apt back then since it took 2 to 3 weeks to fully charge a depleted 12 volt battery. Not only was this an impossibly long time, but, if you did not monitor the charging process, you could burn out the battery at the end of 3 weeks. Since you could deplete the battery in 3 or 4 hours of use of the electric motor, this effectively made the solar panel useless and I gave up my experiments with charging my 12 volt battery.
About 4 years ago I came across the Torqeedo electric motor. I saw it a trade show. It was quite expensive, but it was also extremely interesting. At the time, they were showing a motor called the 801 Travel Motor. The total motor and battery weighed just 24 lbs. Instead of having a lead acid battery weighing 50 lbs., the Torqeedo had a lithium ion battery which weighed only 6 lbs. Best of all, it truly delivered about 2 hp, making it useful for motoring against the winds and tides that I experienced on my salt water bays.
Last Summer, I tested the new 1003 Torqeedo with a solar panel extensively on the bow of my Sea Eagle 14 SailCat. You could say this was a purely personal application – I needed the Torqeedo 1003 motor get out of my cove and motor 3 miles to Port Jefferson Bay – the big bay that I liked to sail in. The Torqeedo did this very well – it went through any winds or tides that my nearby bays could deliver.
But the battery range was still pretty limited (35 minutes at full throttle, 2.5 hours at half throttle). I yearned for unlimited range. When I connected the solar panel I had the great pleasure of seeing the battery charge without having to take it off my SailCat and or do anything.
But there were other advantages – the solar panel also greatly increased the range of power of the motor since it constantly charged the battery even when I was underway. Best of all, after motoring the 3 miles to Port Jefferson Bay, I would pull up the motor, go sailing and watch my battery charge up again – this was possible because the Torqeedo’s 1003 had a computer module which monitors your speed, battery level, energy consumption and the progress of it being charged by the solar panel.
It seems that thoughts and ideas do not occur in a vacuum and after other conversations with the folks at Torqeedo, I ran into a Torqeedo sales rep named Larry Smith who had the idea to incorporate solar panels into canopies. There is nothing extraordinary about this concept other than the fact that it did not dawn on me first.
We have been selling canopies for our boats for about 30 years. The truth of the matter is that putting solar panels on canopies really was not practical until there were solar panels suitable for mounting on canopies. Along the way, in meeting Torqeedo and Larry Smith, I met another guy named, Ron Mason, who was the sales manager of a U.S. company called PowerFilm. PowerFilm was unique in that it was made in a flexible sheet rather than in rigid frame. This meant that PowerFilm was durable, flexible and lightweight – all important features if you want to use it on a canopy.
I came across PowerFilm because I had been able to destroy the first solar panel that Torqeedo first sold me in 2 short weeks. This was probably because I put it on my SailCat and inundated the solar panel every day while sailing. In frustration with their own solar panel, Torqeedo had been talking with PowerFilm. When I demolished the first Torqeedo solar panel, Torqeedo suggested that I test the PowerFilm panel. The first solar panel that PowerFilm provided did not fare much better, but I did get a full month out it before I swamped it to death.
After discussions with both Torqeedo and PowerFilm, it became evident that neither company quite understood the full importance of the word “waterproof”. You have to realize that the way I tested their solar panel was totally different than the way they tested their solar panel. They poured water on it in a laboratory. I put it on the front of my SailCat, took it out in 20 or 25 mph winds and sailed with it. In doing so the solar panel got swamped repeatedly by waves of salt water, literally many gallons and mucho pounds of water at once.
And of course, I leave the assembled boat outside. This meant that even after the boat’s solar panel was repeatedly swamped, it was then left moored tied up to floating dock, outside in blazing sun or driving rain, in heat or cold. In short, my use exposed the solar panel to the worst conditions possible and made evident the necessity of having connectors absolutely waterproof and absolutely impervious to the elements. In due course, PowerFilm and Torqeedo put their heads together and came up with new connectors that were truly waterproof and impervious to the elements.
For the past 6 months, I tested the new PowerFilm solar panel with the new, truly waterproof connectors. I can now say that it truly works and it regularly charges the lithium battery in about 10 hours which is way better than 3 weeks.
Now we are taking this same technology and seeing if we can apply it to other obvious and perhaps, more universal uses. As you can see from the pictures in this blog, we have put a solar panel on our standard sun/rain canopy. It does the same thing as the solar panel on my SailCat, although it certainly is in a drier better position to take full advantage of the sun. This is yet another step on the long road to the realization of my solar dream.
We now sell Torqeedo motors and PowerFilm solar panels. Shortly, we will be offering transom boat packages which include our Sea Eagle 10.6, 12.6 & 14 transom boats with canopies, Torqeedo motors and solar panels. These will be available on our website this Spring and shortly thereafter, we will send out catalogs showing these solar/electric motor Sea Eagle boat packages. But as they say in TV commercials “that’s not all!”
We also are working on a new solar panel and Torqeedo pontoon boat package with larger canopy which will be able to accommodate 2 solar panels strung together in daisy chain to provide even faster recharging and to extend the range of Torqeedo motors even more. When these are available, by early this summer, we will put them up on our website and in our catalogs.
It is my hope that ultimately we will develop what I call “the perpetual Sea Eagle”. That is, an inflatable boat powered by an electric motor, being charged by one or more solar panels that is capable of going any distance during daylight hours without ever having to take the battery off of the motor to recharge it from a power outlet. This would offer the consumer boats that could be motored indefinitely without the use of gas and without the need to recharge from a power outlet. It is, of course, something of an impossible dream. It remains to be seen if this can really be accomplished. But, if it is possible, I would like to be the person to do it.
If you have taken the trouble to read this long blog, thank you for sharing my Solar Power Dream.
i have not yet purchased a sea eagle boat although i am looking at putting 1 in my travel trailer. the solar panel would be a great idea to use on the boat and maybe on the trailer when dry camping to keep the battery charged. keep me informed.
Thank you for your interest in this blog post – we will keep posting new developments with solar panels and electric propulsion as they occur.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
What a beautiful experience. It is an inspirational stuff. I found a new stuff from your post. This article will help everyone to know so much important information. It is very alternative for people and this article can help anybody. Nice post!!! I ‘ll try to follow these steps. I am always searching for informative information like this. It is a very useful information for anyone who wants knows this topic, thanks for sharing it.
What great example of ingenuity. An exciting story! I live in Austin Texas where this kind of solar energy tech is a big deal.
I appreciate your kind remarks.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
What a great idea! Please mail or email the info to me.
Thank you and, “smooth sailing.”
Thank you for your kind remarks. We will be putting a new catalog late this spring on new developments with this technology. I will also be making followup posts on our experiments with solar panels and electric motors.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
If I was running a sail-cat with a Torqueedo, in addition to solar panels I’d add one of those water current powered generators used as a back-up on sailboats. That would top the battery off in short order I imagine. In fact, this could be used with any SeaEagle using human or wind power, and might be able to provide a charge even when tied up at the shoreline, if the water’s moving it works.
Also, were I running an electric SeaEagle I’d seriously have to consider the thought of putting flex-film panels on the tops of the pontoons, in areas that I didn’t intend to sit. They could simply strap on and off as desired.
I’ve been Jonesing for a paddle-ski, with a Torqueedo to get me back when I poop out, now I’m even more enthused!
Holy Sirocco Batman
I greatly enjoy my paddle-ski with a sail rig except when the wind dies and I have to paddle home. This is an economical way to get out on the water. I limited my sailing range from home base to what I could paddle home from after a tiring day at sail. I tried a small electric motor and found it barely adequate for one “rescue”. On a 2 week camping trip without a power outlet I ended up sailing the same small section of very large lake (Lake Don Padro in CA) over and over again, and then hauling out, folding up. packing up, driving around the lake, then resetting up, and launching to get to sail anothter small section at the other end of lake. Now I can dream of a small motor/generator that could charge the battery while under sail and then reverse to power me home. Does anyone see a reason why this is infeasible?
Check these out. The options are out there!
I don’t want a gas or diesel generator cuz the odors kill me. I’m sure there’s something out there in the way of very small engine generators… I’d try to go with a super miniature propane powered setup, which I doubt yet exists, but where’s the fun if it’s all off-the-shelf?
It is true that electric motors have limited range and limited power, A MinnKota is fairly reasonable in cost, but the battery is quite heavy and carrying 2 batteries would be a pain. The Torqeedo has much more power, but still limited range. Carrying 2 fully batteries is quite practical, but a Torqeedo with 2 batteries is quite expensive.
It is true you could put a solar panel on the PaddleSki, but this would take up the front half of a PaddleSki and is also quite expensive. I think this best works when the boat is going to be near where you will be motoring or sailing, then you do not have to take off the battery as it get recharged. This also bring up the issue of how to rig a rudder when the motor is on.
This summer we will be coming out with a new kayak sail (a high aspect sail, not a lateen rig). This will also have a rudder oar that would allow you to have a Torqeedo on the PaddleSki at the same time.
It is pricey option, but it will work.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
Thank you for your comments. I am not very familiar with the water current generators you speak of. I would like to know more. I have been interested in wind power generators also although I do not know much about them. I think ultimately both may be of additional use in recharging batteries.
Regarding your idea of strapping on solar panels on the pontoons, this is feasible although it requires specific size panels and some D-rings to attach them. My guess is that you get more area for solar charging when the panel is between the pontoons. It could be that you could do both.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
Happy to share, or to return the favor, frankly. Yes, I had envisioned pontoon mounted panels as an extension of the clearly prime real -estate between the tubes.
The sailboat system drags a prop behind via a flexible torque shaft. A downsized version is completely doable. I think a downsized wind generator around five to ten pounds could go on the top of the mast, much heavier and larger would end up having to factor in the sailing technique, not good when the principal sail area is already a challenge to newbies.
I am falling in love with woodgas generators, hope to use them to run a bus and homestead someday.
The technology can be scaled up, so it can be scaled down too. I’d like to build a pup-boat to trail immediately behind a SeaEagle with a very compact woodgas generator driving a tiny air-cooled engine turning a small generator. This could be run whilst afloat, or at a shoreline at the destination or a rest stop. Can you imagine how cool it would be to decide to put a full charge in your battery while you lunch and take a few minutes to gather wood, maybe even pine cones?
D’oh! Forgot. Also, having heat to spare while on the water would be awesome for driving off the chill. Or warming some food. Or brewing some java. Or….?
Hello was an interesting solar power Dreamscape haw much to pay delivered to FINLAN I have your boat Fold cat 375 fc Sincerely mr.Kari Näveri
You could definitely use one of our canopies to hold one of our solar panels – we could rig the canopies so the solar panel can be put on or taken off easily. As you probably already know, we have a special canopy for the FoldCat. Also, we could provide special connectors for a 12 volt battery since I our records show you purchased a MinnKota electric motor.
You will find the PowerFilm solar panel listed on our website under electric motors. I would like to note, using a solar panel is pretty expensive and may not be for everyone. I think it makes the most sense when your boat is left on or near the water all the time. This allows the solar panel to recharge your battery when you are not using it without having to take the battery off the boat and to provide additional range when you are using it.
Let us know if we can be of help – best regards – Cecil Hoge
Hello I want more information solar power Drem.I have your boat Fold cat 375 fc TYPE.Slar power how much is shipping to Finlan ?Sincerely mr.Kari Näveri
I’ve just started my dealership for SeaEagle. The website should be active within two weeks. I like your forward thinking. Great.
Thank you for your comments. Good luck in being a Sea Eagle dealer.
Let me know if we can assist you in any way.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
This would be something I would buy for my one-man pontoon boat. The areas I could traverse in my boat not worrying about “getting home” would be wonderful. And, the inconvenience of nightly charging the battery in the motel room would be gone. Looking forward to your product application for the one-man pontoon boat. Keep up the great work!
As long as you can attach our canopy to your one-man pontoon boat you should be able to attach one of our PowerFilm panels. This makes the most sense when the boat is left on or near the water because the solar panel can charge your battery when the boat is not being used.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
CECIL: Great concept and nice blog. I just received my first SeaEagle boat and can’t wait for spring up here in the “north” country. I will watch for all of your updates,
catalogs, dvd’s, emails and posts; A small fishing boat like a FoldCat with a canopy
and solar panel may be ideal for our lakes. Thanks so much.
Thanks for your enthusiasm. We will keep you posted.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
Very interest.I’m wondering if it would on my SeaEagle 285fpb?Will you keep me informed.Thank Ya.
Dear San Romero,
To work on your SE 285, we would have to rig up a way to attach our canopy. This should not be much of a problem. If you are interested, let us know and we will check out how to rig your SE 285.
Once you have a canopy, the solar panel can go on top. This will probably restrict the use of your 285, since standing will be difficult and fishing with a canopy on can also be challenging. In any case, it probably can be done.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
Cecil – Thanks for the email and the blog on going solar. I’m going to check out the electric motor and solar panel as a possible replacement for my 6HP gas outboard for our ’08 Sea Eagle! Good luck in your goal to achieve the continuous re-charge (no down time) application. It will happen!!
Thanks for your kind comments. I don’t think electric motors, even Torqeedos, can replace the power and range of a gas motor yet. Torqeedo does have motors capable of providing more power, but it is still questionable that they can achieve the range even with 2 or more solar panels.
I will be experimenting in the next month with 2 solar panels, a 1003 Torqeedo (3 hp equivalent), a 6 hp Nissan, a small sail and oars all on a Sea Eagle 440. I think having alternate sources of power can reduce to the need for gas motors to almost nothing, but I am not sure you can actually eliminate the need some gas propulsion. I am still thinking you need a gas motor to go through high winds or heavy tides.
Total renewable power is, however, a holy grail ideal and I think it should be persued vigorously even if it is never 100% realizable.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
Regards – Cecil Hoge
It’s people like you, who dream and work hard, that have made America the land of true opportunity. I know you will find the answers if you don’t quit. I will help. One day soon I will own my own seaeagle!
Thank you for your highly complimentary comments. I will persue this to the limit, but I am not sure what that limit is.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
Wonderfull… I like more information
Thank you for your kind comments – Cecil Hoge
I purchased the SE 9 Fisherman’s Dream Package a couple of years ago. Can I use the solar powered motor on it? I use the boat on a nearby lake at the State Park.
What’s the cost . . . How soon can I get one?
You could put a canopy on an SE 9 and a solar panel on the canopy. We could provide you with the connections for charging either a 12 volt battery or a Torqeedo battery.
Please note, this is not an inexpensive option, so you should carefully consider whether this will work well for your use.
I think, as I have said in other comments on this blog, this make most sense when you leave the boat out where it can be charged from the sun – I don’t think you want to be taking a solar panel off and on every time you want to charge your battery.
If you think this is the way you want to use it, you may want to consider a MinnKota and a 12 volt battery since this will be considerably less expensive than a Torqeedo.
Let us know if you have further questions – thanks – Cecil Hoge
How about incorporating solar cells in sailboat sails to combine solar and wind power?
This is a very intriguing question – I will ask the folks at PowerFilm about this.
At the moment, I would think there are 2 problems – 1 – the present PowerFilm panel, while flexible, is much more rigid than sail material – 2 – If the panel was on the sail, I would think it would have to be 2 sided and the angle it was at may not accept power very well.
In any case, I think it is an interesting idea – regards – Cecil Hoge
Let me know your website as I am interested in maybe purchasing a boat, motor & panel
Thank you for your interest in our products.
Our website is SeaEagle.com. The solar panel is presently shown under accessories and then under electric motors.
Best regards – Cecil Hoge
Some years ago a commercial company made a sail boat using ridgid sails. By ridgid they were made from fabric but treated with something that made them ridgid, also used for skins on light aircraft. Then you could use an adhesive to apply the solar cells to the sails providing a larger area for cells and keeping them dry unless you fliped. Lots of luck and a very interesting project.
Thank you for the info on rigid sails – this could offer an opportunity in the future. I will speak with our solar guys and Neil Pryde, our sail folks.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
There has been several articles in Popular Science the last few years on this same technoligy.
I purchased a Sea Eagle Catamaran Kayak (14′ paddle ski boat) for my husband for Christmas. We have been planning to get a battery for it. Would this lightweight battery solution work on it as well?
The small battery on the Torqeedo will work quite well on out PaddleSki – I have tested the PaddleSki with the Travel 1003 and it motors quite well – this is a rather expensive option, but it works great. Since the PaddleSki does not a canopy to mount a solar panel on. I would think you would recharge your battery the old-fashioned way – through a power outlet.
Regards – Cecil Hoge
You beat me to it! Last September I bought the same model with the canopy and I was going to mount the solar panel to the canopy for my Torqeedo! But by the time the boat arrived, the season was over! Now I have to wait for the ice to melt! Thanks for proving the concept!
JonB – Stoney Point, Ontario
Thank you for your mail regarding your experience with solar power it was very interesting. I bought a Sea Eagle Kayak last year and used it on the Norfolk broads U.K. while camping. It has turned out to be an excellent buy and very good value considering the high quality and strength in the materials used. I am also interested in solar powered light weight boat technology. What I would like to know is if the batteries for the Torqeedo can also be topped up at night using a wind powered unit back at the camp site or would this have an adverse effect on there life. Also should the batteries be left in a discharged state for any length of time will they become damaged or do they need to be charged regularly throughout dormant periods. Due to the cost of the batteries the expected life span is definitely an issue.
I do not yet have experience with wind poer generators, but I am interested in this same concept. I think you need a secure platform or stand to mount a wind generator on. I also have no idea how long a wind generator may take to charge up a Torqeedo battery. If you just plug it in to an electric outlet, it takes about 5 hours.
Regards – Cecil
I’m not into sailing, but I was reading your blog and found it interesting. Since you have a flexible boat covering made out of solar power producing material, why not use it for the sail on the boat? You would increase your square footage of solar panel tremendously, thus increasing your solar power charging capability too. I imagine that one day the outside of building will be coated with this material and make electrical power almost unlimited and save tremendous amounts of fossil fuels. Perhaps I’m just a dreamer too, but imagine 30% or even 70% of a city’s building producing their power with NO fossil fuels! Someday…. 🙂
Cecil: Congratulations for your perseverence and hard work. I’m in the process of converting my 21 foot sailboat to electric power. We christened it “Solar Wind” last summer. Sailboats are the original “hybrid”. I’ll be using “Solar Wind” at boat shows to demonstrate safety and conservation principals. Sea Eagle’s solar panel and canopy may be the answer to my charging requirements. Please contact me by separate E-mail. I have some ideas you may find interesting. Thanks!
Since the output of thesolar panels vary a lot, to maintain a constant voltage charger, a switchmode inverter can be used…ie Vin 6 to 24 voltags..Vout = contyant 14 volts.
These are quit common in the radio electronics industry.
Good thinking..I have a crystal solar panel on my fishing boat for several years to charge the battery. 30 Watts cost me $600 then ( $20.watt, I think they are cheaper now.
EJM Power electronics. Consulting engineer.
Hi Cecil, this is a great initiative and i really cant wait to see more and improved solar powered craft especially as prices hopefully become more feasable.
Until that happens i’m seriously considering a torqeedo motor for my paddleski and i was considering the Travel 401 or 801 models but torqeedo seems to have dropped those models this year in favor of the new Ultralight. The problem is that i’m not sure this motor is a good fit for the paddleski especially with the rudder in place. Any idea if and perhaps the best way to fit an Ultralight to a PS395? Or would you recommend the 503 or 1003?
I recently purchased the hobie adventure island (a trimaran with two trampolines), and have considered buying the Hobie Evolve (by torqueedo). And now the v2 motor has the solar charge connector. I believe on this system if I could connect two solar panels in place of the trampolines, I should be able to make this work without much drain to the battery I believe each panel could put 50-75 watts from the avaiable 16 sq feet. I need to talk with Hobie and Torqueedo to see if this is an option they may want to approach Powerfilm for custom panels to fit inbetween the outriggers.
I am copying two gentleman named Larry Smith (at the firstname.lastname@example.org) and Ron Mason at Powerfilm.
They know more about this than I do. In any case, I think you are right. Larry or Ron probably can weigh on this, but I think Hobie is already experimenting with Powerfilm solar panels specifically for a Hobie Adventure Island.
I wish all the luck on your peoject.
Best regards – Cecil
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what a great post. been looking for solar power boat motor energy. i will keep coming back for more info. thanks so much.
I am from India and really interested in this solar panel.I will keep reading your blog to try it in our area too.
Yes….Yes….and Yes….I believe we all share your dream of economical, all-day solar powered boating AND Portable!…..Keep up the good work!
I am looking for a torqueedo-set-up to power a motorcatamatan while trolling. Do you think anything like that is available for trailerable boats?