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Old 11-06-2020, 07:18   #1
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Need help with solar

I have a cal 29 with raymarine autopilot and I知 looking to set up enough solar to run the autopilot all day . I already have 2 batteries and I found a 265 watt panel on Craigslist for 120 bucks. I知 wondering what charge controller will work best for me . I値l attach photos of the batteries and panel with all the specs. Thanks to anyone who can help!
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Old 11-06-2020, 07:32   #2
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Re: Need help with solar

Welcome to the forum, AKlein. One of the solar system geniuses will be with you shortly.

I was concerned about a solar system charging an autopilot, but it looks like you've got suffiecient battery.
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Old 11-06-2020, 07:42   #3
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Re: Need help with solar

Yes, welcome aboard.

In theory your suggested panel can put a little over 20A into the battery, and it has an open-circuit voltage approaching 40V. These are the two values you need to have when selecting a controller, you want something that can handle at least these values.

A popular choice around here would be the Victron SmartSolar 100/20. It can handle up to 100V from the panel and 20A into the battery. It will also cost you more than the solar panel. If this if for liveaboard use I would strongly consider a controller of that quality, if for occasional use then there are probably other options at lower cost.
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Old 11-06-2020, 07:52   #4
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Re: Need help with solar

Dsanduril, I'm not sure about the "run the autopilot all day." The theoretical output is at noon on a sunny day in the tropics. Autopilots eat a bunch of power. If "all day" means supply the autopilot while underway, or supply it day after day, is AKlein getting into a jam? What about other power needs in the boat?
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Old 11-06-2020, 08:00   #5
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Re: Need help with solar

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Originally Posted by tkeithlu View Post
Dsanduril, I'm not sure about the "run the autopilot all day." The theoretical output is at noon on a sunny day in the tropics. Autopilots eat a bunch of power. If "all day" means supply the autopilot while underway, or supply it day after day, is AKlein getting into a jam? What about other power needs in the boat?

If the autopilot eats too much power to reasonably keep up with solar then i guess im just trying to atleast set it up the best i can so i dont have to run the motor as often to charge with alternator. I must say i have already been impressed by how long that large gel deep cycle battery keeps up. As far as other electronic needs : i do run a stereo and charge phones
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Old 11-06-2020, 08:03   #6
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Re: Need help with solar

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Originally Posted by Dsanduril View Post
Yes, welcome aboard.

In theory your suggested panel can put a little over 20A into the battery, and it has an open-circuit voltage approaching 40V. These are the two values you need to have when selecting a controller, you want something that can handle at least these values.

A popular choice around here would be the Victron SmartSolar 100/20. It can handle up to 100V from the panel and 20A into the battery. It will also cost you more than the solar panel. If this if for liveaboard use I would strongly consider a controller of that quality, if for occasional use then there are probably other options at lower cost.
How long do you think this suggested setup will keep up with autopilot on a sunny day?
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Old 11-06-2020, 08:17   #7
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Re: Need help with solar

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How long do you think this suggested setup will keep up with autopilot on a sunny day?
That's a pretty complicated question, as your point of sail may not allow you to get direct sun on the panels, and the ocean conditions, your ship, and trim of your sails will affect how much power the autopilot uses. I've heard ball-park figures of around 3amps average for an autopilot on a boat your size. And in ideal conditions your panels will produce 6x the rated amperage in amp hours per day. Hopefully someone with more knowledge will help you soon.

You may be able, on long passages, to plan your tacks to achieve maximum sun on the panels, and increase the amount beyond 6x a bit.
Upwind, you shouldn't need to use the autopilot at all, if you practice trimming the sails and helm. It's good to do so anyway so that you can sail more efficiently and reduce the load on the autopilot. Down wind you could experiment with sheet-to-tiller steering.

Edit - My advice would be to hand steer as much as you can during the day to maximise charging, and save as much power as you can for night time.
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Old 11-06-2020, 09:01   #8
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Re: Need help with solar

Assuming the nameplate capacity of the panel is accurate you can expect to average about 80-85Ahr/d at 12v using an MPPT controller. Let痴 be conservative and say 70Ahr/d.

A small autopilot draws about 1amp or so. Let痴 say 2amps to be conservative. That means you can run the autopilot for 24hr and still have a 22Ahr/d left for other things.

This presumes you are not using the battery to power other things. If you are you need to evaluate how much power the other items are using.

I noted you have 2 dissimilar batteries in your bank. For the time being that痴 fine. In the long run one battery will disrupt the other. If the batteries were by the same manufacturer and had exactly the same chemistry, just different sizes it would be fine. They don稚 look like they are from the same maker.

In the long run when it痴 time to replace the batteries give strong consideration to getting golf cart batteries. There are a lot of batteries out there where a reseller has just slapped a sticker on a regular starting battery and voila, DeepCycle.
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Old 11-06-2020, 09:33   #9
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Re: Need help with solar

The comments above regarding power output while sailing are important. When we first installed solar panels (2X80W) on one of our boats about 12 years ago, they were great in the temperate summer at anchor. Our power issues disappeared and we did not use a lot of power - the fridge was the only big draw alongside the chart plotter.

Sailing to Mexico from Vancouver in October with that set up, when the sun is low in the sky and retreating south, we did not have enough solar. We had installed a wind vane so the only big draws were the fridge and the chart plotter so we turned the latter off except for position data every two hours. Fortunately we had also installed a wind generator and we had lots of wind, 24h/d. We were able to keep the house bank (2 x 4D Lifeline AGM) as full as they need to be (my rule of thumb is to not draw them down to less than 60%).

I added another 2 140W panels in Mexico and along with the wind generator and the judicious use of electrical items, all seems to be ok, most of the time. But, if I had room I would add more storage and production capacity because I hate running the engine to charge the batteries.
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Old 11-06-2020, 11:14   #10
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Re: Need help with solar

Yup, honestly, I probably shouldn't even have mentioned that it may be possible to get a normal charge while sailing. Your angle of heel, the shadow of the sails and your course would have to line up perfectly for the whole day. Not impossible, but improbable for sure.
Realistically, on a sunny day, you should expect 1/3 of what you would normally get, 1/9 if it is cloudy. This is why a wind vane pilot is the best solution for most solo sailors.
Your electric auto pilot will allow you to sleep, eat, navigate and keep watch, but you shouldn't expect more than that, if you're powering it from solar alone.
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