The perfect solution to battery maintenance on the water
Anyone who’s ever owned a boat will tell you that the joy of sailing it around is only a small part of the experience. There’s no denying boats are an incredible way to relax and unwind on the water, and explore parts of our world we would otherwise be entirely closed off from. However, with this comes the responsibility of keeping all parts of your vessel in top condition, and this includes your 12 volt batteries.
Of course, another thing anyone who’s owned a boat might tell you is that there is no single component on a boat that encapsulates everything you need to use a battery. You also need a charger, a power source, a charge controller, and plenty of other components to make the ship run. Right now, the leading preference in boating is solar power. It only makes sense, after all- why not use the power source that’s overhead twelve hours a day?
There are many different components to a marine solar battery system. This article will focus on the trickle charger that feeds it. Let’s take a closer look at this vital component at the heart of your vessel, and help you try to choose which solar trickle charger is right for you.
A deeper dive into benefits of a solar trickle charger
The easiest way for someone new to solar power to understand the process, and all the parts needed, is to run through the energy pathway, from the source to your battery. Obviously, this journey begins with the energy coming off of the sun. From there, it hits your solar panels. This is where the good stuff starts, for the invested boat owner.
Each solar panel is created from solar cells of silicon set in glass, in varying compositions. Solar cells collect the solar energy that will eventually power your marine vessel! To use that energy, however it needs to go through several stages, each of which is associated with a certain piece of hardware in your solar battery setup. The first stage is collection, which begins in the solar cells of each one of your solar panels.
From your solar panels, the solar energy then runs through your battery charger. This charger serves several important purposes, in the scheme of your battery system. The most obvious of these is, of course, that it charges your 12 volt marine batteries. The reason a charger is necessary at all is that marine batteries cannot directly store solar energy the way a solar panel can. The battery charger converts the solar energy from each solar panel into 12 volt power, which, like a car battery, is the type of electricity a marine battery stores. The way it does this, however, is most important.
A trickle charger has built in monitors and controls to ensure that the current of electricity entering your batteries, or voltage, doesn’t reach a damaging level. It does this by employing internal technology called a charge controller. When using conventional chargers, it is entirely possible to run the voltage of a battery so high it becomes unusable, or even worse, dangerous. Trickle chargers, however, do exactly what their name implies. They allow only a trickle of the energy collected by your solar cells into your 12 volt marine batteries. This method is slower, but much safer, and much more geared to extend the life of each battery.
It is worthwhile to note that solar trickle chargers, in their nature, are not a quick fix to a low battery. You will not be able to dock your boat in the sun somewhere and sail it in two hours. Solar trickle chargers need time for your panels to collect enough energy, and take their time to charge a battery carefully. It may take longer, but the charge controller inside your trickle charger will ensure that your batteries remain stable and healthy, and require much less supervision than, say, a plug-in or cigarette lighter charger.
From your solar trickle battery charger, the energy is free move to your marine batteries. For the boat enthusiast, this is the best part. This is when the energy becomes usable! Your battery bank stores all the energy from your solar panels, until it is needed to operate the boat and accessories.
Your solar battery system is made up of three major components. If any one is weak, the whole system will suffer, resulting in a weaker performance of your boat. The best solar battery system performance is grounded in understanding. Though these three components often come in a set, it’s important you get to know all three.
- A Solar Panel or Panels collect energy from the sun in their cells
- A Trickle Solar Battery Charger converts the energy from your solar panels into usable 12 volt energy and acts as a charge controller to ensure you won’t overcharge your batteries
- A 12 Volt Marine Battery stores the energy collected by a solar panel or panels until needed for use by the boat itself or accessories
Now that we have a solid foundation for how solar battery systems work, let’s break down a few options. All of the packages listed below include a solar panel, as well as a charger, but the listings are focused on the trickle solar battery chargers. One of these options will fit your needs.
Of course, it’s always wise to do additional research with the myriad of options available before choosing the best solar charger for your system. YouTube guides are a great, visual way to understanding solar battery chargers!
The best Solar trickle charger for you and your boat
Here, we’ve outlined the best solar trickle battery chargers for boat owners of different needs. Read each option carefully to find the trickle charger that fits your individual situation.
1. TP-solar Solar Panel Kit 20W 12V – The Crowd Pleaser
This is the trickle solar marine battery charger that has everything most people want, at a reasonable price. It’s something that will appeal to almost any boat owner for the charge power, the components it includes, and how easy to install it is.
This solar charger comes with not only a solar panel, but a junction box and two different kinds of terminal connectors, which are the ends of cables that actually make contact with your battery. They can attach with either alligator clamps, which are the most common connectors for solar battery systems, or o-rings, which are intended for longer-term use. O-rings fit around battery terminals, the metal posts that stick off of them, which can then be fastened on with a bolt. This allows you to leave a trickle solar charger attached to a battery for a much longer, more stable charge period. If you don’t need it hooked up for too long, it also comes with alligator clamps.
Like all trickle chargers, this unit comes with a built-in charge controller to ensure that voltage is kept at a safe level, and your battery is protected from overcharging. It also comes with solar panel that’s easy to install. The cells that will feed your solar charger are attached to a sturdy frame, which can be anchored with screws. This provides a much stronger hold than suction cups, or other methods.
Another great item that comes as part of this solar charger package is a waterproof junction box. While not necessary for everyone, a junction box is a great addition to your solar battery system. It opens up the opportunity to increase collection of your solar system by adding an additional panel, or more. A junction box helps you join the wires from each solar panel into one positive and one negative, each of which connects to your solar battery.
The Bottom Line: the TP-Solar Panel Kit offers a variety of options in terms of both mounting your solar panels and connecting your solar charger to your battery, at a very reasonable price.
2. SUNER POWER 12V Solar Car Battery Charger and Maintainer – Best Upgrade Option
Don’t be fooled by the name. Though the first use listed is to charge a car battery, this battery charger will work for a variety of uses. That includes marine batteries. If you like to go all out, this is the solar battery charger for you. Everything about this unit is an improvement on the basics.
Higher wattage on the solar panels means more energy collection. This means more overall power for your solar battery charger, and the whole system. The solar panels included in this package are not only strong collectors, but strong, made from reinforced glass that’s designed for durability. These panels are framed with versatility in mind, equipped for mounting either with screws, or suction cups.
This is one of the most versatile solar battery chargers out there for other reasons as well. This charger comes with not only terminal connections to charge a marine battery, but a cigarette lighter connection to charge a car battery. This means one solar charger can meet the needs of all your vehicles.
This option is not only easy to install, but easy to use. The cord that runs from the solar battery charger to the actual batteries is equipped with an inline quick-connect. That means you can leave your clamps attached to your solar battery, even when you don’t need to charge it, and simply disconnect the inline piece. Reattach whenever you need your solar battery charger to do its job again.
This solar battery charger is equipped with a more advanced charge controller as well. That means less power lost and almost non-existent risk of overcharging compared to other chargers. This is what fulfills the maintainer part of the name. You can leave this battery charger connected almost indefinitely, with regular checkups, to keep your solar batteries topped off.
The Bottom Line: the SUNER POWER 12V solar car battery charger and maintainer is the choice for boaters who want more out of their solar battery charger. It’s versatility in use and installation, as well as superior power and control, make it one of the best choices for your solar battery system.
3. Wassery Outdoor 12V 20W Outdoor Car Boat Yacht Trickle Battery Charger Power Supply – Best Budget Option
For those who don’t need to get into the minutia of what powers their boat, there is a great way to save money without compromising quality. This option offers a comforting simplicity among solar battery chargers.
The unit itself has less pieces than most, consisting of only a solar panel and charger as one unit. With this simplicity comes a slight sacrifice in power and customization of the charge controller, but nothing significant enough to outweigh the benefit of savings.
This trickle charger loses a bit of versatility in terms of installment options, but not in use. Its frame is not fit for attachment with screws, so you’re looking at installation with suction cups, though this doesn’t necessarily mean a loss in strength. However, it does come with the option of a cigarette lighter, in addition to the alligator clamps for direct attachment to a battery. That means this one charger will serve its purpose for all your vehicles.
The lack of excess equipment could even be seen as a benefit to some boaters. There’s less to setup, making this option easier to install than most others. Simply position your panel in a good position for solar collection and hook it up to your battery or cigarette lighter. This option is great for those who have internal batteries in their boat, and cigarette lighter built into the bridge.
The Bottom Line: the Wassery 12V 20W Outdoor Car Boat Yacht Trickle Battery Charger Power Supply is a great way to save a little money without compromising quality. This option is especially favorable if you enjoy simplicity or have internal batteries for your boat with a cigarette lighter, and can be used on multiple vehicles.
4. Nature Power Amorphous Solar Panel Trickle Charger – Best Alternate Option
Like the previous option, this unit combines the solar panel unit with the battery charger. There is less equipment involved, which makes for easier installation. You do lose a bit more power and control, but this option serves another, different purpose.
Previous solar panels listed all shared one thing in common. They were either monocrystalline or polycrystalline types of panels. This is the type that is most familiar to the layman, with divided cells layered with silicon crystals. These types of solar panels are generally more efficient than the type we’ll talk about now, amorphous panels. But amorphous solar panels have a very specific advantage to them. They’re more flexible.
Crystalline solar panels have a very rigid structure because of the way the class and silicon is layered. Amorphous solar panels, however, do not have these rigid layers. They do not have cells. In an amorphous solar panel, silicon is sprinkled throughout the substrate, like glass. This means they are far more flexible, which in certain cases, makes them far more durable.
This unit has a weather-resistant frame, on top of being amorphous in nature. That means that the strong winds some areas are prone to will not pose as much of a threat to this solar trickle charger. Where some units might snap, this one will give a little. This also goes for the impact damage that a solar batter charger will suffer over time if used on rough waters. The harsh vibrations can disturb the rigid cells of a crystalline panel, but an amorphous one will distribute the shock much more evenly.
The Bottom Line: the Nature Power amorphous solar panel trickle charger is a great choice for those who sail in rough weather conditions often. It comes with less hardware, and so less control options, but the amorphous design trades high power efficiency for extra durability. In rough weather, this solar panel won’t let you down.
And the Winner Is…
Each of the solar battery chargers above fits a different boater’s needs. But there has to be one that stands above the rest, right? The best overall pick of the selection? The winner of that title is:
The SUNER POWER 12V solar car battery charger and maintainer! It is the most expensive, but he discrepancy in price, even from the budget option, is beyond worth the benefits this hardware set gets you. Aside from the increased price and lack of a cigarette lighter attachment, there is no downside to choosing this option.
The solar panels are reinforced for durability and very efficient collectors. The frame of these panels is sturdy enough for either screws or suction cups, for installation. The charge controller is customizable and efficient. The charge controller can connect to the batteries with alligator clamps or o-rings for long term charging. This solar battery charger is simply everything you want in one.
It’s efficient. It has a high degree of control. It’s durable. If you’re a regular boater looking to invest in solar energy, and you’re willing to chip in just a little extra, this is the trickle battery charger for you.