Solar Powered Pontoon Boats Guide (Guide + Pros & Cons)
You may be looking for a new pontoon boat, and despite having so many types of pontoon boats to choose from, you find yourself interested in solar-powered pontoon boats.
Before we take you on an informational ride to satiate your boating curiosity, let's take care of the formalities and learn the basics first.
Unlike a traditional deck boat with a v-shaped hull, a pontoon boat has a flat bottom and is more stable. Sure it may not be super fast, but that extra stability means you can afford to make more use of the space on the deck, for slow static activities like trolling, small parties, dinners, etc.
Given that pontoon boats aren't meant to be powerhouses for open water boating or racing, rather its design is more in line with trolling, marine sightseeing trips, or just plain cruising with family and friends, thus pontoons are meant to be a more relaxed experience.
That said, for these specific applications, there is no need to power the pontoon with a massive gasoline motor, where an efficient and quiet electric motor will suffice.
Which is where a solar-powered pontoon boat comes in.
What is a Solar Powered Pontoon Boat?
A standard gas engine pontoon, uses marine gas or marine diesel as fuel. On the other hand, a solar-powered pontoon boat is powered exclusively by electricity as its fuel, and an electric motor is used for its propulsion.
In a nutshell, a solar pontoon, as the name implies uses solar energy from the sun, harvests it through a system of solar panels, batteries, and electric motors, for it to run like a normal non-solar pontoon.
Now if you're hooked on the idea of a solar-powered pontoon boat, let's dig a little deeper to see what more or what little it has to offer depending on your own specific needs.
What are the Benefits of a Solar Powered Pontoon Boat?
As a pontoon that uses a solar-electric conversion via solar panel, and the fun fact that it uses a big ball of fire called the sun as a free and practically limitless power source, surely this solar pontoon has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Low Overall Cost
If you just love going on a trip with your pontoon out on the water frequently and take up hours and hours per trip it's going to need a lot of fuel.
However, these boats use solar power and boast amazing fuel economy compared to their gas-powered counterparts... well mainly because they don't need any.
Fuel wise you're practically set given the unlimited free fuel that the sun provides. This means you can take your boat out for as long as you'd like, provided you have a large enough battery storage and ample sunlight.
No fuel required means substantial savings in the long run. So if you fancy going on trips often enough you could in theory recoup the entire boat on savings alone.
A solar-powered boat on its own is a green alternative to standard gasoline engine boats. These electric boats are quite friendly for the environment and due to being solar powered and self-sustaining.
Given the advantages of electric motors, they do not produce any byproduct aside from the mechanical power required to move your boat. This means no exhaust, no smoke, no pollution, and thus no damage to the environment.
Lack of Noise
Reiterating the previous point, as an electric motor does use an explosive liquid to function, it has a huge advantage over a conventional motor in terms of noise, because it is quiet.
Now, this may be a deal-breaker for some, but for a boat designed with relaxing, trolling, and social gatherings in mind, running quietly is ideal.
An electric motor has a significantly simplified mechanical structure compared to a conventional motor. This means there is less stuff moving about, which also means less stuff to take care of, and an even lesser possibility that something will break.
These motors are as simple as they get and require the least amount of maintenance which is a boon for you in terms of saving time and money.
What are the Drawbacks?
Running a solar-powered pontoon boat is clean, it produces zero pollution, zero noise, and requires zero fuel, which undoubtedly makes them the future of pontoon boating.
However they're not perfect, so let's take a look at the other side of the coin and let you decide for yourself if solar power is the way to go.
A pontoon with an electric motor has a lower power output compared to a conventional gasoline-powered motor for the same price. Whereas there is simplicity in an electric motor's mechanical design, its construction and material choice make it expensive compared to conventional motors at the same price point.
Sure it could pull its weight and then some, considering that one of the activities intended for this type of boat is trolling, but in terms of speed it just loses out to conventional boats.
Sensitive to Weather Conditions
This type of boat isn't as flexible as conventional ones, weather-wise and the problem lies with its greatest advantage, solar panels.
A solar panel needs solar energy to function and charge its batteries, so what happens when the weather is non-ideal and there is no sun? Being dead in the water is not something we would like to happen, and it's not like you can just ask for a tank of gas from a fellow boater.
Nighttime boating is ultimately very risky for this type of pontoon, and although nothing is impossible if you have enough batteries to take you there and back, the added weight and buoyancy issues you'll face due to this will be sure to give you a massive headache.
Taking the previous points into account, a conventional boat can just hoard gallons of gasoline or diesel for extended boating trips that take days on end and actually becomes more fuel-efficient as that extra weight gets burned off, but a solar power one needs sunlight, and unless you live in the tropics, it might be an issue for you.
Solar power despite having practically unlimited fuel technically loses out to conventional boats in terms of range, depending on your intended usage.
High Upfront Cost
Remember that solar energy is free and unlimited, and you could eventually recoup the money spent on buying the boat if you use it enough times.
Well, although the energy used is free, the technology, such as the solar panel and battery system required to utilize that free energy, isn't and it is going to make you pay more upfront.
If you prefer short and occasional boating trips and would like the most bang for your buck, solar power boats aren't your thing.
How do Solar Powered Pontoons Work?
Solar power from the sun is harvested by a series of solar panels on the roof of the boat, then this electricity charges a high capacity onboard battery, and then finally this battery is what powers the motor.
Of course, you could just skip the solar-powered part, and just slap on a huge battery on the boat and hope it takes you there and back. But do you really want to risk that when you could simply add a few solar panels on the roof of the pontoon and have the batteries charge while you go about your business.
Time to focus on what makes a solar pontoon tick, and what parts you're going to need if you intend to build or buy one.
It goes without saying that you're going to need a boat to house all of these components together, so pick a pontoon that best suits your needs.
Once you have your boat, you will need a source of propulsion for it. This should be the first component to consider as it will dictate the capabilities of your boat on the water.
The size and power of the motor should be in line with your intended use and should be attached to the boat with a proper mount while ensuring it is properly submerged under the water.
We recommend the Minn Kota Trolling Motor for ample thrust, good speed resolution, and efficient battery usage.
The next thing that you're going to need will be batteries on board. The battery you choose should have a power output high enough to run the motor in full throttle when needed, and a large enough capacity to get you to where you want to go and back to give you some leeway in case the weather turns bad.
For something that focuses on the topic of solar energy, a solar panel is an absolute necessity for this boat. These panels are important components that give this system its signature identity and are what keeps the boat going on the water.
These panels come in different sizes, some are small and some are huge, and although bigger is better when it comes to solar panels, the solar panels that you're going to use are to be mounted on the boat and thus should have a proper area that is big enough to achieve as much coverage as possible while being small enough that it can be safely mounted on the boat.
Go for a panel that comes with a high energy output for faster charging if you can. A panel with lower output will still work regardless, but it will affect charging speed.
Most panels are the rigid type and are mostly mounted on flat surfaces but a few specially made panels are quite flexible and require little effort to fit your boat's aesthetic.
We recommend these panels from Goal Zero because of their high output, and relatively small footprint.
Solar panels provide power sure, but they can't be directly connected to the battery, as it requires a dedicated charger which leads us to the next item.
Before the solar panels can provide the energy needed for the boat to function, it needs to pass through this system first.
This is basically a control board and acts as a charger for your battery. A good controller paired with an ideal solar panel system can get your battery to full in a relatively short amount of time.
Conversely, even if you have the best solar panels and batteries in the world if the controller is lacking, you might as well be paddling when the battery runs out.
So to make sure you get the absolute best efficiency in charging your batteries with your panels, here's an absolute powerhouse of a controller from EPEVER.
You're going to need a couple of mounts including sets of nuts, bolts, and tools required to install the motor, solar panel, and battery.
Getting an angled mount for your panels as flat mounted panels may not be ideal in some cases since the sun only appears overhead depending on the location and time you do your boating.
Check out the Adjustable Solar Panel Mounting Brackets by Link Solar Store.
Which Pontoons Come as Solar Powered?
Now if you're the type that just wants to enjoy the boat with the least amount of time investment, then a ready-to-go solar electric pontoon boat is exactly what you need.
They come with all the main components already mounted, and as the name implies are fit for boating right off the bat.
For example the Paddle Qwest from Apex Marine may be a good choice. Other than this we could not find any other pontoon models that came solar power ready.
How Much Do They Cost?
Here's the thing, they come at several price points and generally abide by the rule that less effort means you're going to spend more if you want a ready-to-go boat.
The sky's the limit if you want one with all the fancy bells and whistles, but if you want something that offers only what you need yet you still find it too expensive for what it offers, and you're a bit flexible you can always go the DIY route.
What About DIY Solar Powering a Pontoon?
The DIY is the cheaper option compared to a ready-to-go one, and can even be better for the same price.
Rightly so because you will need to commit time and effort in researching and installing the proper parts to make your pontoon boat solar. As always taking the DIY route also has its element of risk especially during panel installation and a possibility of things not working as you intended.
That said, should nothing go wrong, you could end up with the perfect boat tailored to your needs and you'd already have the knowledge and expertise required to make it last.
If you enjoy the occasional recreational boating and don't mind the noise then a conventional boat is for you. But for sheer recreational value, peaceful silence, and free boating fees, solar power is the future and for long term use over the course of the boat's lifetime, you can't beat a solar-powered pontoon boat.