Could sails also be solar panels?

I was visualizing black sails- which I've never liked from an aesthetics point of view. But then I was thinking: those sure must absorb a ton of solar energy....hey! What if they could double as giant solar electrical panels?

Somebody tell me this has been thought of already, by people a lot smarter than me.

I'll check back in a few days......
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Super Anarchist
Probably result in better solar panels than sails. Sail performance demands lighter, stronger, more flexible. I don’t think thats going to be helped by adding photovoltaic coatings or scrim.


Super Anarchist
Myrtle Beach,
IF you can make a material that is
  • Durable enough to be
    • hoisted up a mast
    • Subjected to deformation
    • Tacked/Gybed/Flogged
  • Efficient
    • able to convert a reasonable fraction of Solar --> Electrical
    • Not unreasonably affected by heel/pitch/roll
    • Able to work in a variety of temperatures
  • Cost effective
you still have to solve the conversion, maximum power point tracking problems.

Far easier to tile the deck/cabin or put "solar arches" and capture when the sails are down as well.


New member
Seems like it'd be easier to make a solar panel waterproof enough for the topsides that don't flex as much and last for decades than it would to make a panel durable enough to withstand the flogging of sails while being flexible enough to reef for the few years a non-solar sail might last.

Or make the panels durable enough to walk on on deck.

How much power do you need anyway? Wind provides your motion. Lights and gizmos don't take much. There's generally enough area on deck for the lights and gizmos to get solar powered.

Option 3 is a hydrogenerator, like a generator spun by a prop while sailing.

With so many other options, solar sails are pretty far down the list for the challenges they have.


tropical animal here
so do not care about cold temp operation
with large areas no need to be super efficient or even a bit
huge area that outputs some energy is fine

love a walk/step on surface no need to stand up on hi-heels [hi-point loads]
just a occasional bare foot or boat shoe for a deck mounted cell/array

I think small deck panels to work around light blocking from mast sail lines ect and better to not crack also unlike home roof units


Sails are solar panels. Sun makes wind[solar energy transfer] wind fills sails[more energy transfer] which drive the boat through the water[final result]. It just need to be viewed as energy transfer.


Super Anarchist
Bay Area, CA
I was briefly advising NanoSolar nearly 20 years ago who were trying to do exactly this. After absorbing over $400m of investor cash they went tits up in 2012. Just too early.

But if the MIT stuff can be scaled, I see no reason why we shouldn't see functional and resilient lightweight solar sails in 5 to 7 years. I do know that Doyle Sails has a small group keeping abreast of these new technologies.

El Borracho

Barkeeper’s Friend
Pacific Rim
If lightweight fabric solar becomes a thing then mounting in a collapsable frame might be better than as a sail. Or perhaps towed behind like a dinghy.


Lake Ontario
JBoats tried this with the 112 I believe
My boat is an Oceanvolt equipped J/88 and I have seen photos of this model with solar panels sewn into the main. I understand the rigors of flaking and movement took their toll on the panels and the connections.
For what it is worth, it was suggested that these sails probably would not be very effective at locations close to the equator due to the angle of the sun and therefore would work much better in areas like mine much farther north (or south).



Saw this guy in 2021 in Octopus Islands. Also had electric propulsion.