The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Wind Generators Can Be Dangerous

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on renewables in which I opined that the days of wind generators are, for most cruising usage profiles, over. Too much windage, too much noise, in return for less generated electricity, particularly when it matters, than many people believe.

The interesting thing is I got surprising little pushback.

Anyway, here’s another reason to think seriously before installing a wind generator: the things can be seriously dangerous, as this cruiser found out the hard way.

So if you do decide to install a wind generator:

  • Make sure it’s high enough that no crew member, even standing on the side deck or lazarette, can extend their arm into the spinning blade.
  • And, further, if the thing runs amok in high winds, it’s better to let it destroy itself, rather than risk limbs trying to physically stop it.
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Stein Varjord

I think the reason you got little pushback is that most people here agree that wind generators are not really good competitors to solar and other sources on boats. Our experiences are probably influenced by outdated and poor quality products, but there are still some fundamental issues even with the best ones.

As I’ve mentioned somewhere else, I’m definitely not a fan of wind generators, but they do a useful job in some scenarios, like winter in high latitudes, with little or no light and often plenty of wind. If we go north some winter, which we might, I will consider a wind generator, but only if it can be hoisted to the mast head. That’s the only place it can get wind enough to contribute in a meaningful way while in an anchorage, which we pick for its lack of wind, of course.

Hoisting a wind generator to the mast head will present several proper challenges. I have no ready solution for them, but I’m convinced they can be solved to an acceptable level. At that location, the noise is also far easier to live with, and we could perhaps use longer blades, for a dramatic increase in average power output.

For special use cases, this could be worth it, but for most cruising, I think wind power is just dysfunctional. If we by mistake got a wind generator, it’s probably a “get rid of it” item.

Robert Cart

I have a wind generator high up on a dedicated stern mast. It has the blue silent wind carbon fiber blades. It is never loud or dangerous. In high wind, I short the cables to brake it. It seems is nice to have the steady power coming in as an alternative or redundancy to solar. The power is only a couple of hundred kW but that’s it is usually spinning. Compared to the Watt and Sea, it costs far less and produces far more energy. On a decent sized cruiser windage is negligible. I’ll be keeping mine.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Years ago, decades even, a friend installed a wind generator and we sat around his cockpit idly discussing what to do if it needed stopping: if it became a runaway. We came up with tossing a dockline into the rotating blades watching that the line does not then become a danger. You might need to replace blades (often skippers carry spares) but it would stop and they rest of the generator might survive.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Neil McCubbin

Agreed on the danger.
We have a Kiss generator, same as the one on the article. I learned the hard way ( but nothing serious) that catching the tail fin rope is difficult.
Now we have a second rope attached to the original one, with the other end secured low down. It can be used to turn the unit off in high winds, or more often pull it sideways to limit output to around 25 amps.

On the more general question, our experience shows that windgens are much less cost effective than solar at today’s prices. We keep ours and fix it when necessary, but I probably would not install one from scratch

Dan Perrott

Our wind turbine is out of the way of danger to crew. But we do have to be careful with reefing lines. For example while putting in the 2nd reef the 3rd reef line gets slack in it that could potentially get caught in the blades while on a starboard tack, if we don’t keep it under control. This hasn’t been a problem but may not be an obvious problem while mounting a wind turbine.

We are finding while in Ireland at the moment that our wind turbine is keeping us sufficiently in power to not need to run the engine to charge the batteries. There has been a few storms passing through so more wind than we would like. But we would really be missing it if we didn’t have it. It provides power when there is no solar available. If we could only have one it would be solar.
We are too small (slow) to get a useful output from a towed turbine.

Gordon Hinds

I think they have their place. Mine is high enough, quiet enough, and helps with supporting battery drain with fridge and autohelm. A major change to solar/lithium would help but there is huge cost to that. I have solar but it needs to be bigger and I have lead acid so the change over is significant cost wise. The wind has a brake and I can also tie it off. So big wind is not an issue.