Flexible Solar Panels – You Light Up My Life – Part II


Solar panels on the bow
Solar panels on the bow

Update October 2014:  We did find some rubbing on the Sunbrella canvas top at the bows of the enclosure.  That wasn’t going to work for us.  The enclosure is relatively new so we didn’t want to add any unnecessary wear.  The Captain came up with a new installation still using the canvas backings.  Aluminum poles with line and snap shackles at each end are inserted into the canvas side casings.  The panels are taken up to the bow of the boat and attached to the lifelines.  Now the panels have even better sun and we get the benefit of some shade for the v berth!

Flexible Solar Panels
Flexible Solar Panels

While we have a solid  8.5 kw Westerbeke generator aboard Magnolia, after our first year of cruising we decided that it would be an improvement not to have to run the generator as much when we are at anchor.  We didn’t want to erect a structure for traditional solar panels, so we looked into the newer flexible panels.  Since this wouldn’t be a primary source of power, we thought we could work with the flexible panels (component parts are listed at the end).

We were inspired by S/V Journey’s installation (their solar solution and Part I here).  Our plan is to use the panels at anchor and not necessarily underway when we would likely be using the engine at least some for power generation.  We will likely still run the generator for an hour or so in the morning since we gotta run that coffee pot and heat some hot water!

The Captain came up with a design to attach the four panels to two canvas backings which can be put over the enclosure and snapped into the enclosure panel cover snaps.  Considering the enclosure is relatively new, we didn’t want to add zippers or other permanent attachment to the enclosure itself.  The panels will be supported by aluminum poles underneath the panel canvas.  The project was proposed as a “simple” project!  Just a piece of canvas with webbing straps.  You know where this could go!  Actually this canvas project wasn’t too bad, but the project is “evolving.” 00720140617_094150






Solar Panel Canvas Backing

Time:  About 3 hours for each panel, including measuring and cutting.  Add time for revisions.

Cost:  Canvas $100, plus fasteners (webbing, grommets, plastic screws, ladderlock buckles) Tools:  Measuring tools and chalk, hot knife, grommet installation tools, V92 thread, Sailrite LSZ1


  1. Decide on finished size allowing for space around the panels, wiring, etc.  Add for hems or casings for support poles.  Note:  We started thinking that we’d have the poles on the sides and sewed casings on the side.  In the fitting we realized that this wouldn’t work.  Next revision was to sew casing underneath the panels.  The poles are 1″ in diameter so the casings are 3″ wide with 1/2″ stitching.

  2. Measure cut length and width on canvas, double check math and measurements.  Cut with hot knife.

  3. Make casings for poles.  Cut two at 4″ wide by length of backing.

  4. Position, mark and add grommets to the backing.  The panels we got have grommets so they are attached using plastic washers, screws and acorn nuts.

  5.  Test fit the panels to see the best way to attach the panels.  We are using snaps for the plastic glass panel covers.  Measure in from finished ends for webbing placement.

  6.  Make one short webbing piece (~6″) with a snap at one end and a ladderlock buckle at the end. Cut a longer webbing strap (~ 16″) with the hot knife and attach it to the canvas backing.   This way you have an adjustable strap.

Tip:  Hold the hot knife blade at a 45 degree angle when you cut the webbing.  That way it will be easier to feed it into the buckle.

There may be a step 7 and further revision.  We may add some chafe guard if we see any chafe starting on the enclosure.

To read the Captain’s more technical version of the solar panel installation on Magnolia’s blog, click here.

Follow on blog here.

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Magnolia’s Solar Panel Components

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