Blowin’ in the Wind: The Best Marine Wind Generators

Whether you’re walking down a road, climbing a mountain or sailing on the sea (with a white dove, maybe), there’s one constant: Wind.

Bob Dylan may have had all sorts of other ideas in mind when he wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but the idea stands. When the wind blows, power is supplied.

The times, they are a-changing,’ and we boaters need power out on the water… for motor batteries, stereos, marine electronics, lights, bilge pumping and what have you. Sure, when you’re in your marina slip, you can just hook up to power. But when you’re out on the water, that’s not exactly feasible. Plus, it’s always good to do everything we can to save the environment, reduce our carbon footprint and what-not.

Today, we’re going to discuss the best marine wind generator to answer your power problems whether you’re a leisure powerboater, a liveaboard sailor or own the wooden schooner Water Pearl (that would be Bob’s, of course). More Dylan references may or may not ensue.

What Is a Marine Wind Generator?

You know those wind turbines you see standing tall on land? Well, a marine wind generator is essentially the same thing. It’s just smaller and attached to a boat (or a magic swirlin’ ship).

Swirlin’ ships aside, marine wind generators work by harnessing the kinetic energy of air, or to be exact, the wind. Once “caught,” the wind is converted to a rotational motion that turns an alternator, which then produces electrical energy. This energy can be used immediately or stored in batteries (12V or 24V) for later use.

Voila, it really is magic!

Parts of a Marine Wind Generator

Fairly simple in construction, marine wind generators are standard in design. More high-tech generators may have more features and options, but the overall design is universal.

  • Blades are those things on the end that turn (similar to the blades on a ceiling fan). They’re connected to a shaft that turns with the blades.
  • Tower or mast, usually about 9’ tall, is the pole that attaches to the boat (like a sailboat mast) and holds the blades up in the air.
  • Stay poles, usually two 8’ poles, are used to hold up the mast. They’re attached at an angle to keep the mast in place.
  • Clamps, crimp rings and TY wraps are used to keep it all together.
  • Control panels and electronics let you make sure everything is operating as it should.

Benefits of a Marine Wind Generator

If you’re still stuck between a wagon wheel and a rolling stone (told ya there’d be more Dylan references), let’s look at the benefits of marine wind generators.

  • Economical (free energy!) — This is probably the biggest reason to consider a marine wind generator. Once you’ve made the initial purchase cost, you’ve got all that free energy coming in. We boaters need all the free we can get.
  • Relatively low maintenance — Marine wind generators are pretty much an install it and forget it kind of thing. Like the song, it’s just there “blowin’ in the wind.”
  • Environmentally friendly — We all want to conserve energy, go green and save the environment (or we should if we really love the boating lifestyle like we say we do). Marine wind generators don’t add to air or water pollution, and they don’t emit greenhouse gases.

Disadvantages of a Marine Wind Generator

The benefits of a marine wind generator will probably make you want to run right out and purchase one. But let’s consider a couple of the disadvantages.

  • Noise and vibration — They can be quite noisy (especially when the wind is really kicking it up). You’ll be on a rockin’ boat whether you want to or not.
  • No wind, no power — This one is self-explanatory.
  • Very high winds — On the flip-side, marine wind generators can be damaged in very high winds. There are, of course, ways to avoid this problem. You can use a regulator or charge controller that senses the battery voltage and reacts in the appropriate manner. Some wind generators can change the pitch of each blade in response to the wind. Others have flexible blades that bend easier in the wind (this method, however, can cause even more noise).

What to Consider When Choosing a Marine Wind Generator

So, you’ve decided you’re ready to join Team Marine Wind Generator. What now? There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind before surfing on over to Amazon and adding it to your shopping cart.

  • Decide how much power you’ll need for things like the stereo, navigational electronics, the refrigerator, lights, laptops and other devices.
  • Where do you spend most your time on your boat? Ocean or inland? You’ll want to gauge the amount of wind generally found in that area.
  • What are your normal cruising speeds? Obviously, any wind is good, but most marine wind generators don’t provide much power below eight knots.
  • What are the water and weather conditions in your normal navigational routes? You’ll want to align your choice of wind generator with how rough or calm the water is, as well as the types of weather typically found. As an example, with higher wind speeds, you’ll want a bigger blade sweep to get even more energy.
  • Where do you want to put it on the boat? I’ve seen marine wind generators attached to the back of a sailboat, on a hardtop and at the very front of the boat. Take into consideration where it will be out of the way as far as foot traffic on the deck.
  • Are there any noise restrictions? Remember when I said marine wind generators can be noisy? I wasn’t kidding. Noise restrictions are a real concern in certain place: narrow inland waterways, residential communities and businesses.