All Amped Up
When it’s all done, what is the result? We clamped my 24-volt Minn Kota Riptide 70-pound-thrust electric outboard to the transom of the 2,800-pound Glacier Bay. This draws 42 amp-hours at full throttle at 24 volts. Using this engine to maneuver while casting to shallow-water structure, my 150 amp-hour battery bank runs for as long as six hours in calm conditions where little maneuvering is required and as little as 90 minutes if it’s windy, the current’s running and I’m maneuvering a lot to hold position.
With eight amps from the panel trickling in, the rig can fish indefinitely. On top of that, I putt from the launch ramp through the mile-long no-wake zone to open water without burning a single drop of fuel. Considering how often I use this ramp, that might save 20 gallons of gas each season.
Then consider the time spent fishing: Without the electric motor, I’d use the outboard for several additional hours through the course of the day of fishing, burning at least two to three more gallons of fuel. Added bonus: The whisper-quiet electric motor is less likely to spook fish than the gasoline-powered outboards.
I also discovered some downsides. I can cruise at 2.5 mph, but that speed makes me feel like I’m watching grass grow. And while a transom-mount motor takes zero time and effort to install and is comfortable to use on smaller boats, on the 22-footer it forces me to lean out over the transom to tiller-steer. A pair of motors mounted onto the outboard’s anti-ventilation plates would make steering easier. And I get no gain from the panel when the sun isn’t shining.
Green feelings aside, battery maintenance also turns out to be a big advantage of adding solar to your boat. Since the trolling motor batteries never sit in a discharged state, their life span can be increased by a matter of years. David Taylor, owner of a Grady-White 282, became so frustrated with replacing expensive batteries that he installed a small 18-watt solar panel purely to extend his battery longevity.
“I used to go through batteries every other year or so,” he said. “I can’t plug in my boat where I store it, so they wore out pretty quickly. But after adding a small solar panel at the helm, I’ve had the last pair of batteries last five seasons.” At a total cost of $200, the system quickly paid for itself.
And there are some other advantages to having a constant solar feed: The batteries are less likely to die sooner due to a stuck bilge pump or a switch left in the “on” position; dockside electric bills can be significantly reduced as well, or eliminated altogether; and accessories can be used or left on while the boat sits at anchor, or at a mooring with no electrical service, for extended periods of time.
Hybrid For You?
Does turning your boat into a solar hybrid make sense? If you tend to cruise at low speed for long distances, use an electric motor as you fish or leave your boat unattended and unplugged for long periods of time, you just may benefit from the addition of an electric motor and solar panels. In any case, as the cost of solar goes down and the cost of petroleum products goes up, solar hybrids are bound to become more and more common — and then we’ll all be pulling back on those throttles to save fuel. Yeah, right. Just as surely as the sun will rise in the east.
Alternative Power Options
Electric outboards range from 12-pound-thrust eggbeaters to 40-pound-thrust green giants. A mix of bow, transom, lower-unit and trim-tab mounting options are available, as are dedicated inboards.
Get More Juice Online
In this article we provided a thumbnail sketch of how a simple solar-hybrid system could be added to virtually any boat. Let’s call it a “hybrid-assist” system. But hybrid boats are a vast subject — too vast, and too dependent upon the needs of individual boaters, to cover in these pages alone. If you want to convert your boat to a full-on, pure hybrid with enough torque to really cruise under electric power along with incorporating a variety of charging sources, you’ll need more information. So we created a special Web exclusive section that includes detailed articles about hybrid repowering, new battery technology and more. Charged up about solar and hybrid power? Visit boatingmag.com/hybrid.