Saturday, August 25, 2018

Project Process

When planning to do a project, I go through a process. There are three different ways I approach the problem. The first way is the normal way everyone else does it. While this is often a good way, it may not be the best for me. Invariably it's the most expensive. The second way is to develop a custom substitute that usually involves different materials used in a creative way. The third way can be summed up as: dang, I'm out and time and money and have to do something good enough now.

A most recent example is my quest to put more solar power on my sailboat. The normal method is use a stainless steel arch that fits on the stern of the boat. The materials are quality and allow the panel to be mounted in a position where it receives less shading. Commercial solutions that I've looked at start at around $800, and that's just the framework. Well, that's not going to happen.

That moves me to the second method. I've been wandering through hardware and building supply stores searching for inspiration from the materials they stock. One day a friend let me poke through his scrap pile. I've kicked around designs using everything from aluminum, wood and fiberglass to incorporating lengths of steel bed rail. My budget for that sort of contraption would be less than $100. Then I'd have to spend another $150 or so on a 100 watt solar panel and a cheap charge controller.

The quick and dirty solution? I steal the 50 watt solar panel from my shed, along with the charge controller and battery. The panel is small enough that I could mount it either on the cabin roof or on a lazertte box I once built to hold a 6 gallon gas tank. The whole thing would cost just about nothing -maybe I'd have to buy a few stainless steel fasteners.

Pros and cons of all methods: The professional mount would most likely do a pretty nice job. The con, of course, is the price tag. The obvious upside of the second method, my custom job, is the price. Another plus is that I'd build it for my specific boat. The downside is that it will be an untried design that may or may not hold up to the rigors of travel.

On the surface the third method kinda looks like a cheap hack job. First of all, I'd be using a 50 watt panel instead of the 100 watt I'd prefer. A cabin or lazerette mount is subject to more shading so power may be reduced even a bit more. There are some positives. The big ones are cost and ease of installation. Another big one is that I would not have a huge arch on the stern of the boat catching the wind. That can be an issue. At anchor I'd have the ability to move the panel around to where it'd catch the sun better.

The boat currently has a 30 watt panel and charging system that's been working great for a few years. No matter what I do, that will remain. My worry is that adding just 50 watts might not be quite enough. Then again, I do plan to occasionally stop at marinas and could charge the batteries from shore power. Decisions, decisions.

Anyway, that's the sort of thinking that goes into a lot of my projects. I'd do a lot less thinking if I had a lot more money.



  1. It's that Yankee ingenuity kicking in again. I'm sure that whichever you choose it'll work just fine.

    1. I've been doing so much with so little for so long that I can do almost anything with nothing.

  2. You know what they say about necessity (poverty) being the mother of invention.

  3. if we all had money [hah!!!] we would do a lot less paying attention.

    1. I does kinda explain how the very wealthy can be so stupid about some pretty common stuff. They never have to deal with it.

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