Feynman diagram dreamstime m 89989487In the wake of the recent celebrations of science and scientists, I could not let the occasion go without a mention of the late Richard Feynman. For those of you not familiar with the name, Feynman, as well as being a brilliant scientist, was also a fascinating human being and a bit of a maverick who delighted in upending normal thinking and throwing the occasional curve-ball.

In his second book “What Do You Care What Other People Think: Further Adventures of a Curious Character?”, Feynman describes how he was once intrigued at how the brain tracks time, and was curious to see how accurately he could gauge one minute by counting.

Do it once do it right woman shotgunI once read in a sailing magazine something like the following: “It’s boat show time, so let’s take a look at some of the products they are trying to foist on us poor unsuspecting boaters”. As a marine vendor I was incensed to read that, and vowed never to advertise in that publication. I never did, and eventually it folded. Go figure ....

There has long been a feeling that stuff sold for boats was generally overpriced simply because it has a “marine” tag. This seemed to be more prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s, so maybe back then there were indeed a plethora of cheap and tacky items labeled as marine that would have been better suited for the kiddies backyard camping or a day at the beach.

Or maybe it’s because nowadays the internet is playing devil’s advocate and unscrupulous manufacturers just can’t get away with things like they once could. Today’s efficient means of communication ensure that when even minor issues are reported, they require a good customer service oriented response.

Now that replacement parts can be easily sent to remote locations seemingly beyond the edge of beyond, a worthwhile warranty is also increasingly important. Imagine a business getting a call from a customer on a satellite phone in mid-ocean, fretting that his fridge is running longer than it used to. “We’ve got ourselves another fridge-fretting sat-phoner” is the common cry. Oh yeah, it happens.

At Coastal we see and hear many tales of woe

rain barrel dreamstime m 39561177 427x640There seems to be many misconceptions regarding solar panels, particularly concerning marine installations on vessels. I’m thinking that maybe it’s because we all see solar panels on houses and assume that what applies to roof-top installations also applies to boats. Wrong!

Here’s some solar facts. Typical solar panels with silicon cells will:

• Produce electrical power whenever they are exposed to light, and this is proportional. Small amount of light - small power output.
• Produce full voltage even in very low light, often even indoors, but only if they are disconnected and not being asked to produce any power. Potential voltage output depends mainly on the number of cells. Each cell typically produces around 0.6 to 0.7 volts.
• Produce full current output only if there is a big enough load, the sunlight is good enough, and shading is non-existent. Potential current output depends on the size and type of cells.

In general; the quantity of cells determines voltage; the quality of cells determines amperage.

Now, what we are after in a boat solar application is to grab whatever power we can whenever there is available sunlight, and that means from dawn right through to dusk, not just at noontime. I often hear customers say that there is absolutely no shading at the back of their sailboat, but then when it is suggested that maybe in early to mid morning or mid to late afternoon, the presence of a humongous mast and associated rigging might shade a stern-mounted panel, they will humbly agree. From that sort of response one could deduce that many boaters are under the assumption that solar panels will really only work for a couple of hours each side of noon. Not so Horatio.

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