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Sailing gives us freedom: we don’t need a motor or fuel to travel the oceans. That freedom isn’t absolute. Most sailors still rely on electricity for lighting, refrigeration, small appliances, and to run the electronics that we rely on for navigation and safety. That means we need batteries, and if we rely on batteries, we have to charge the batteries. Since we’re already using the wind to move us from place to place, it makes sense to use that same energy source to keep our batteries charged up and ready for action. Wind generators are increasingly becoming a standard feature on cruising sailboats, and a wide range of products have emerged to meet the demand. This review of the best wind generators for sailboats will help you select the product that best meets your needs.

For more of our top sailing gear recommendations, check out the Best Solar Panels for Sailboats.

 

 

Quick Answer - The Best Wind Generators for Sailboats

  1. AutoMaxx DB-400
  2. Nature Power 400W
  3. Missouri General Freedom II
  4. Primus Wind Power Air-X Marine
  5. Nature Power 2000W

 

Comparison Table - Best Wind Generator for Sailboats

PictureNameBladesOptimal Power ATVoltageRated OutputPriceRating
AutoMaxx DB-400328 MPH12V400 Watts4.0$
Nature Power 400W327 MPH12V400 Watts$4.0
Missouri General Freedom II11Not Specified12/24V2000 Watts$$4.0
Primus Wind Power Air-X Marine328 MPHAdjustable Output400 Watts$$$4.0
Nature Power 2000W345 MPH24V2000 Watts$$$$4.0
PictureNameBladesOptimal Power ATVoltageRated OutputPriceRating
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.

Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.

Reviews - The Best Sailboat Wind Generator

AutoMaxx DB-400

Specs
  • Blades: 3
  • Optimal Power AT: 28 MPH
  • Rated Output: 400 Watts
  • Voltage: 12V
  • Minimum Wind Speed: 6.7 MPH
  • Maximum Wind Speed: 112 MPH
  • Blade Diameter: 48”
Features
  • Automatic Braking Controls Your Speed In High Wind
  • Built-In Charge Controller And Overcharge Protection
  • Maximum Power Point Tracking Gets The Most Power From Any Wind

BEST BUDGET WIND GENERATOR

If you want to try out wind power without spending a fortune and you’re looking for a basic, versatile device suitable for use on land or water, the Automaxx DB-400 is what you need. The durable polypropylene and fiberglass construction of this affordable wind generator resists corrosion and all parts are protected from both water and UV radiation. 

Some reviewers complain that these units fail to spin at the advertised cut-in speed and generated less power than expected, but many others reported performance consistent with expectations. It’s difficult to say whether these deficiencies are caused by installation issues, inconsistent products, or excessive expectations. It’s always good to test your unit on arrival and assure that it’s doing what it needs to do! 

As with all units listed here, you’ll need a mounting pole for this generator, but other than that it’s ready to install: the charge controller is built-in and you can wire it to your battery pack and forget about it!

Nature Power 400W

Specs
  • Blades: 3
  • Optimal Power AT: 27 MPH
  • Rated Output: 400 Watts
  • Voltage: 12V
  • Minimum Wind Speed: 7 MPH
  • Maximum Wind Speed: 110 MPH
  • Blade Diameter: 46"
Features
  • Marine Grade Coating And Sealing For Durability
  • Low-Noise Carbon Composite Blades
  • Smart Charge Controller For Maximum Output

BEST LIGHTWEIGHT BUDGET WIND GENERATOR

Nature Power turbines are designed specifically for marine use and offer a durable, corrosion-resistant cast aluminum body and whisper-quiet carbon fiber blades. There’s a specialized electromagnetic braking system designed to keep the unit within its electrical and mechanical limits without the wear and tear associated with mechanical braking and a smart controller that adjusts the voltage-to-current ratio for peak charging efficiency. The low weight of the unit makes it ideal for mast installations or other high mounts.

As with any relatively low-output wind generator, you can’t expect to rely on this unit for all of your charging needs. It’s very well suited to use in conjunction with solar panels: on hot, still days the sun does the work, and when the weather turns sour or you’re out at sea, the wind will kick in with its share. This is an excellent choice for the wind component of a combined solar/wind generation system.

Missouri General Freedom II

Specs
  • Weight: 59 lb.
  • Blades: 11
  • Optimal Power AT: Not Specified
  • Rated Output: 2000 Watts
  • Voltage: 12/24V
  • Minimum Wind Speed: 6 MPH
  • Maximum Wind Speed: 125 MPH
  • Blade Diameter: 62.5"
Features
  • Rust-Proof Galvanized Components With Zinc-Plated Hub Make This Wind Generator Almost Indestructible
  • 28-Magnet Generator For Maximum Power
  • Aerodynamically Tapered Carbon Fiber Blades

BEST POWER-TO-PRICE RATIO 

If you’re looking to step up to a higher-output wind system without spending a fortune, Missouri General delivers with the Freedom II. This unit adopts a radically different design philosophy, featuring 11 carbon fiber blades to get maximum power out of wind in the lower end of the charging range. The Freedom II uses a permanent-magnet generator and several other unique design features to achieve high efficiency and durability.

This unit is quite inexpensive on a price-for-power scale, but it does not arrive installation-ready and you’ll have to add a charge controller, a dump load to protect your battery from overcharging, and cables. You’ll probably also need to have an electrician install the unit to assure that those components are correctly connected and working as they should!

Primus Wind Power Air-X Marine

Specs
  • Weight: 13 lb.
  • Blades: 3
  • Optimal Power AT: 28 MPH
  • Rated Output: 400 Watts
  • Voltage: Adjustable Output
  • Minimum Wind Speed: 8 MPH
  • Maximum Wind Speed: 110 MPH
  • Blade Diameter: 46"
Features
  • Easy Installation: Wire Directly To Battery Bank
  • Auto-Brake Regulator Slows Blades When Battery Is Charged
  • Built-In Charge Controller
  • Marine-Specific Design And Materials

BEST OVERALL SMALL WIND GENERATOR

The Air-X Marine is the Rolls-Royce of small wind turbines. It’s made entirely in Colorado, and the relatively high price is reflected in the features and overall quality of the unit. It costs three times as much as an entry-level unit with the same output rating, but you get what you pay for.

The unit squeezes its mechanical and electrical components into a tiny ultralight package that is ideal for higher mounts and requires much less effort to secure than heavier bulkier units. You get a sophisticated built-in charge controller with external indicators to tell you when you are charging and when your batteries are full, and the unit is fully use-ready. Just wire it to your battery bank and you’re ready to charge.

This unit is one of the most popular sailing wind generators on the market for good reasons. It’s quiet, efficient, and gets the job done with no extra effort and very little maintenance.

Nature Power 2000W

Specs
  • Weight: 38 lb.
  • Blades: 3
  • Optimal Power AT: 45 MPH
  • Rated Output: 2000 Watts
  • Voltage: 24V
  • Minimum Wind Speed: 6.7 MPH
  • Maximum Wind Speed: 110 MPH
  • Blade Diameter: 70”
Features
  • External Controller With LCD Output Display
  • Industrial-Strength Aluminum Body With Marine-Grade Coating Means This Generator Will Last Your For Years To Come
  • Electromagnetic Brake System For Overcharge Control
  • Low-Noise Carbon Fiber Blades

BEST OVERALL LARGE WIND GENERATOR

This is the big boy: a full-on 2000 watt marine wind turbine, ready to install and power up some serious juice to feed those hungry batteries. The unit is designed to be effectively maintenance-free, with a coated cast aluminum body and carbon fiber blades engineered for quiet operation. There’s an external charge controller with an LCD output display to let you know what you’re generating and what your charge status is. Electromagnetic braking prevents potential damage from high winds and overcharging.

You’ll need 45 knots of wind to generate the full 2000 watts, but even at lower speeds, you’ll be putting out enough power to keep your batteries topped up. Paired with a solar array, this wind generator will give you all you need for complete energy independence!

 

 

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A WIND GENERATOR

It’s important to recognize that while wind power is useful, it isn’t magic. Most modern wind generators will begin generating power in quite light winds, but the output may be minimal and you’ll need sustained higher winds to deliver the charge you want.

If you’re moving downwind, you may get less charge than you expect: if the wind is at 20 knots and your downwind speed is 8 knots, your wind generator will be effectively receiving 12 knots, not 20! Many sailors find that a wind generator combined with a solar array is the most effective power solution, and some add a towed generator that generates power when dragged through the water as an additional option. The power mix that best suits you is something you’ll have to decide, but there’s a good chance that wind will be part of it!

Read through these things to consider to get a better sense of how to choose which wind generator is right for you so that you can get back on the water and enjoy the wind in your hair without worrying about losing electricity unexpectedly!

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

A common complaint about wind generators is that they don’t deliver as much power as expected. This is more often a problem of simple physics than an issue with defective units or improper installation. The power delivered by wind increases with the cube of the wind speed, meaning that (keeping things very simple), a 20-knot wind delivers 8 times the power of a 10-knot wind. If you expect a unit that’s rated to deliver 400 watts of power at 28 knots of speed to deliver 200 watts at 14 knots, you will be disappointed, and it won’t be the unit’s fault!

While most units will cut in (start working) at 6 to 7 knots, don’t expect to generate measurable power until you reach 10-12 knots. Remember that if you’re on a downwind heading the apparent wind – the wind speed actually experienced by your generator – will be wind velocity minus hull speed. And remember that most anchorages were chosen because they are protected from the wind.

All in all, you are likely to find yourself generating less power than you expected. That doesn’t mean the installation is useless: it will contribute, it will charge your batteries while you sail, and if used in conjunction with solar panels, it can meet your charging needs. It’s a useful tool, not a magic bullet!

 

INSTALLATION

Your choice of generator will be affected by your installation options. Some sailors opt for masthead or mizzenmast installations, which can receive up to 50% more wind than lower placements but which are less accessible for maintenance and involve longer cable runs with more resistance. If you’re looking at such an installation, you’ll want a lightweight, low-maintenance unit. Most sailors prefer installation above the cockpit or transom, high enough to keep blades away from people and equipment but low enough for easy access and relatively short cable runs.

 

WATCH OUT FOR HIGH WINDS

Manufacturers claim very high maximum wind tolerances, but these are often based on wind-tunnel tests using controlled wind from a single direction. Turbulence can increase the burden on the device, and if you’re expecting wind in excess of 50 knots, taking down the generator is a wise precaution.

 

THE NOISE FACTOR

Noise and vibration were once huge problems with wind generators, with users reporting everything from a repetitive whump to a screaming howl. Modern construction and improved blade design have made turbines much quieter, but noise and vibration can still be issues. It’s great to generate power while you sleep, but not so great to have your generator keeping you awake! You may wish to check out some working installations to get a sense of how much noise is involved.

 

LEARN MORE

If you’re wondering whether to go with wind or solar, All At Sea and eMarine have useful articles weighing in on that eternal debate. For more information on Wind Generators, try these articles from Yacht Unlimited and Sail.

 

 

FEATURES EXPLAINED

ABOUT THOSE NUMBERS

Rated Output is the maximum number of watts a unit can put out under ideal conditions. These numbers are based on wind tunnel tests and are rarely if ever achieved in the field.

Minimum (or “cut-in”) Wind Speed is the wind speed required to turn the blades. Very little power will be produced at this level.

Maximum Power is achieved at a specific target wind speed. Most units are designed to begin braking or “cutting out” power at speeds above this level.

Blade Diameter is the end-to-end distance between blade tips. You’ll need to consider this distance when mounting the unit to keep the blades well clear of any obstructions.

Voltage is the unit’s output voltage, which needs to match the voltage of your battery array.

Maximum Wind Speed is the highest wind the unit can survive. This may be substantially reduced by turbulence!

 

SOME COMMON FEATURES

Charge Controllers are devices that regulate the output of your generator to maximize the charging of your battery. Some units have built-in controllers with different levels of sophistication, and others do not.

Braking may be mechanical or electromagnetic and is used to assure that the unit’s rotation will not exceed its mechanical or electrical limits. Electromagnetic braking is claimed by some to produce less wear and tear.

Tracking Systems keep the blades facing the wind and keep the unit from spinning on its mount axis, which will twist the cable and damage the installation.

Blades may be fiberglass or carbon fiber, with more expensive units usually using carbon fiber. Many blades are designed to flex and shed wind if wind velocity exceeds design limits.

Corrosion Resistance is achieved by using a variety of coatings and materials. Marine environments place an aggressive burden on materials and both exterior materials and sealing are very important to keep units working.

A Dump Load is a device that diverts excess power to resistors that radiate it as heat, protecting batteries from overcharging.

READ MORE

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About The Author

Steve Rogers operates an adventure travel business in the mountains of the northern Philippines, where he organizes and guides mountain biking, canyoneering, trekking, and white water rafting and kayaking trips. He has guided sea kayak trips among the islands of northern Palawan and sailed small catamarans up and down the coast of western Luzon. He owns an outdoor shop, accumulates excessive quantities of gear, and occasionally throws shields around. He is the primary author of Action Asia’s Adventure Travel Guide to the Philippines and has written extensively on a wide variety of topics.

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