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SY Kelpie 02-03-2019 06:00

Bimini made from solar panels?
The boat I am hoping to purchase has neither a bimini nor any sort of solar panels. Since I am starting from scratch, I am wondering about thinking slightly outside the box in my approach.
The traditional thing would be a stainless gantry at the stern to carry panels, and a completely separate bimini with a canvas cover. Nothing wrong with it, but it's going to add up to quite a bit of work, and money,by the time it's all done.

I've seen some people mount flexible solar panels on top of their bimini, but it seems like the continual flexing of the panels causes them to delaminate after a couple of years.
You can mount rigid panels on top, but then you need a separate support structure to hold them clear of the canvas, otherwise they will chafe holes in it.

So why not use the panels themselves as the bimini?
What I'm thinking of is to have a smaller canvas section in the middle, where there is always going to be shade from the boom, and then to either side use rigid framed solar panels.

Has anybody seen a design like this? The only real downside I can think of is that it will harder to create a waterproof canopy, but I don't think it is impossible.

Suijin 02-03-2019 06:07

Bimini made from solar panels?
Thereís no reason you canít do this if the panels themselves provide the sun and rain shelter that works for you. Itís a matter of what you want out of a bimini. Iíve seen similar arrangements quite often. Thereís no common design thread.

There are two standard concerns that you still need to design into your solution. First, if you use flexible panels (which have the advantage of dramatically lighter weight and lower windage) they need to be properly supported so they donít flex, and second having a means of easily removing whatever panels you use in advance of high wind events.

bail-me-out 02-03-2019 06:12

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
Lady K sailing on you tube has this kind of setup. Two solar panels are the bimini hard top. From what I saw the problem was water running off the sides during rain storms so he set up a water replenishing system from the panels as well.

longjonsilver 02-03-2019 07:38

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
Maybe something like this:

i thot along the same lines

wrwakefield 02-03-2019 09:58

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?

RE: Waterproofing the joints between connected rigid solar panels: I had success using the butyl tape available from [This forum's contributing expert, Mainsail...]

In my case, I through-bolted the two pivoting panels that sit on top of our dinghy davits.

I wasn't trying to make the joint waterproof; my intent was to use the butyl tape as a soft joint between the panels before bolting together. [I drilled matching holes in the vertical sides for through bolts, and reinforced the assembly using aluminum angle bolted to the underside...]

No leaks was a side benefit since these panels cover most of the dinghy when raised in the davits... [No leaks in 3 years and counting...]

In case this is of interest...

Cheers! Bill

leftbrainstuff 02-03-2019 10:11

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
Solar panels are not designed to be structural elements. They mostly rigid cells bonded to a flimsy alum frame.

Next gen panela will likely be more like a vinyl wrap in 5 ish years.

You have the opportunity to design a bimini / dodger that integrates your panels in an aesthetically pleasing way. Or use those expensive flexible panels.

Pelagic 02-03-2019 11:18

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
4 Attachment(s)
Attachment 186977
I am actually in the process of doing this right now.

The 4 solar paneles will have a lightweight T-top in between them and forward to entry hatch. The aluminium frame that holds the solar panels has a nice flange to secure the 25mm fiberglass insertAttachment 186979
The nice thing about using the panels as part of the Bimini rather than a cover of Umbrella or Vinyl is the added headroom it offersAttachment 186980Attachment 186982

roland stockham 02-03-2019 11:26

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
I have seen this done very sucessfully on cats so the priciple cirtainly works. The main issue is shading. If you go for the miminy option the backstay and posibly the boom end couls partially shade panels. Look at they layout from different sun angles to see how ro minimise it, especially avoid partial shading of more than one panel

bcboomer 02-03-2019 11:37

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
If you look at the "illustrated guide to solar installations on boats" forum you will find all the info you need in over 240 posts.

Based on the ones I see there I'm going to use semi flexible to save weight.

There are at least 2 examples there, 1 very elaborate, #9, and 1 very simple, #208.

I'm leaning towards the simple version. It looks better to both my eyes and my pocket book. :smile: I'll add an acrylic filler between to stop the rain and try to come up with a design that allows adding side panels.

Raggedy Man 02-03-2019 12:34

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
3 Attachment(s)
One thing seems to be missing from all these comments. At the ambient temperature of 70 degrees the average solar panel will produce temperatures around 120 degrees. I am in the middle of a similar project, thought I might add an idea I'm trying. Pictures to follow.

Sea Venture 02-03-2019 13:16

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
We have made our bimini with two huge solar panels. Shout if you want a photob

Gaia 02-03-2019 13:34

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
You could go semi hard ��. We did this 15 years ago on GAIA. Basically we made a top out of Sintra which is a lightweight PVC foam. The foam is quite dense and the material in anything of 1/4" or over is quite rigid although also bendable. It is available from 1/16" up. We put it over a PVC frame and put our flexible solar panels over it. It has stood up for 15 years in the tropical sun. Initially we used rigid aluminum framed panels but now have lightweight panels on top.

A word of caution. These flexible panels, supposedly made in Italy, get hot enough to colour the white PVC. When we noticed the heat we put spacers under the panels which solved the problem and probably improved the output.

We used PVC plumbing pipe for the frame. Painting these pipes with polyurethane paint makes them look like painted Al or SS. Quite glossy and attractive. This has also stood up for all those years without repainting. No leaks and no fuss.

The 'top' in our case is a Pilothouse top and is retractable aft with the panels mounted on it. Wonderful on those moonlit or starlit tropical passages or when navigating in close quarters or amongst coral heads!

The PvC piped frame slides aft on 1" SS tubes.

Have fun designing.


cj88 02-03-2019 13:47

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?

Originally Posted by Gaia (Post 2837972)

A word of caution. These flexible panels, supposedly made in Italy, get hot enough to colour the white PVC. When we noticed the heat we put spacers under the panels which solved the problem and probably improved the output.

A number of vanlifers have cooked their flexible panels when attaching them directly to the van roof. Their solution has been to place a sheet of Coroplast corrugated plastic underneath them.

Cheechako 02-03-2019 14:01

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
Sure, but they will likely leak between panels. maybe just put a thin sheet of... fiberglass sheet, PVC sheet or etc under the panels. Or even lightweight coated 1/4 plywood

UYA 02-03-2019 14:01

Re: Bimini made from solar panels?
2 Attachment(s)
Seen on a friends boat. They seem to e quite happy with the setup.
Btw: on anchorage you could potentially also fix the boom to the side so you can use the full surface area of the Bimini without shade.

Cheers Patrick

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