Simplifying guardrail solar panels

From the beginning we have been planning Solar panels fitted to the guardrails. We have seen lots of boats with Solar Panels attached to the guardrails. However, as we are wanting to have zero fossil fuels we need more solar than most.

We have gone for Victron 175 watt panels for the guardrails and will start with 2 each side (as a centre cockpit we have more length available without blocking our view).

Later we plan to add more, although the extras will probably only be put in place when we are anchored.

The goal is for the panels to be:

  • removable (so we can take them down and put them below in a storm)
  • foldable (so we can let them hang down alongside the guardrails when we are docking etc)
  • tiltable (so we can improve efficiency by improving the angle to the sun). This will also allow them to compensate for the boat heeling so we can keep the ones on the “downside” out of reach of waves.
  • stackable (we want the edges to provide protection so that we can stack them on deck or below without damaging the actual panel sections).

We have been through lots and lots of ideas for attaching the panels looking at all the examples we can find while trying to keep the costs and amount of work to a minimum.

The existing stanchions are too widely spaced to be used to directly attach the panels (and a little too low). The wires between them will not be rigid enough (and neither are designed for these loads in addition to the load if someone is thrown against them). So we looked at adding legs to support them panels but then everything was getting very complex, heavy and time consuming.

Currently we have just one stanchion between the pushpit and side gate. That length is plenty for two solar panels.

So the current plan is to remove the one stanchion and replace it with four. Two per panel.

The panels will have two wood beams across their underside and these will bolt a point along the long edge of the panel to the top of a stanchion. The panel can hang down from the stanchions in it’s stored position and a dyneema guy-line going up to a low fiction ring attached to the nearest shroud will be used to lift the outer edge of the panel to adjust the tilt.

The aftermost of these stanchions will be very close to the pushpit (the panel will overlap the first part of the pushpit). We will use dyneema lifelines and as these stanchions are taller than the rest we will have 3 lines at this point (top one goes up from the pushpit and down to the gate).

To remove a panel we just need to undo the two bolts and disconnect the dyneema.

It looks like it will be cheaper to buy carbon fibre tubes and make our own way of attaching them to the deck than to buy stainless steel stanchions and bases. Plus Carbon Fibre tubes won’t need any bolts through the deck but it will be a bit more time consuming to fabricate. However, it is something we can put off for a while – we don’t need this to launch.

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