Features August 1, 1998 Issue

Offshore Log: Shurflo Pump Lacks Oomph

Real-life use of various products finds this popular pump short on power, as is an Icom IC- M10A handheld VHF radio. But the Bose 151 Environmental stereo speaker gets a superb rating of 9 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Our Shurflo pump has been a disappointment. At the time we installed it, it was the highest-capacity pump of its style available, and smaller versions of the pump had rated well in previous PS tests. The problem is fairly simple. Although the pump is rated to self-prime to a lift of 9', in our real-life experience it has difficulty priming consistently with a lift of just 3.5'. Once the water level in our freshwater tanks drops below about 40%, requiring a lift above ambient water level of slightly less than 3', the pump will not consistently self-prime without cracking open a faucet, wasting precious water.

We have tested the system for leaks, checked the accumulator tank pressure, and tested the performance of check valves in the system, but have been unable to trace the problem to anything other than the pump itself. In the short run, we will replace this pump with a similar though slightly smaller Shurflo pump we carry as a spare.

On the plus side, the pump is reasonably quiet, which is the main reason for choosing a swash-plate diaphragm pump, and the current draw and pumping capacity are exactly as advertised.

Performance rating: 3

Icom IC-M10A Handheld VHF
The astonishing variety of handheld VHF radio models on the market can make choosing one haphazard. Models change so frequently that our test results are sometimes partially out of date before they appear in print. We decided to buy an entry-level VHF to live in the cockpit, primarily to communicate with bridges, other boats, and commercial shipping when traveling in confined waters.

Performance of the Icom IC-M10A has been a mixed bag. About a week after buying the radio, it got knocked off the chart table, breaking the latch to the case’s battery compartment. The rather flimsy latch cannot practically be repaired or replaced, so the battery compartment must be taped shut if you want to be sure the radio does not shut off at inopportune times, such as when you want to yell at the 50' motorboat that just went by at 10 knots, rolling your boat through 40°.

The control buttons are ultra-sensitive, which is a major inconvenience, because we always seem to be setting the radio down so that the wrong buttons get pushed. Yes, you can lock onto a single function to avoid this, but then you have to unlock to switch functions or channels.

On the plus side, the radio has proven to be far more water-resistant than we expected, surviving some fairly major drenchings from both fresh and saltwater. In addition, battery life, using conventional alkaline AA batteries, is quite remarkable. We used a single set of batteries—admittedly very efficiently—for our entire trip south last fall, and they were still working when we changed them for the trip north. The lack of a battery status indicator is an inconvenience, but fairly common at this price level.

For the price, this radio has a lot of features, but the reality is that most of us use a handheld in a very basic way—boat-to-boat or boat-to-shore communication. You don’t really need a lot of features to do this.

The IC-M10A’s average discount price of about $180 is typical of entry-level handhelds. At the end of the day, we think it’s worth it to buy a radio higher up the price chain. We will retire the M10A to backup status this summer, replacing it with a model with more output.

Performance rating: 5

Bose 151 Environmental Speakers
You might expect that two people with a life-long love of music would be a little picky about the sound they have aboard. Maryann was a singer, and I am an aging ex-hippie ex-musician who left most of my hearing inside many sets of headphones as a rock concert engineer back in 1970.

We looked at a lot of compact speakers for our stereo system, and the hands-down choice among music-loving sailors was the Bose 151. It is very hard to get good sound out of a waterproof speaker, but this is by far the best we have found. For a single full-range driver, the sound is surprisingly good—perfectly acceptable for finicky music lovers who listen to everything from Placido Domingo to Buffalo Springfield.

Despite their waterproofness, we have seen few people use these as on-deck speakers. This is not because they can’t do the job, but because most sailors intuitively realize that blasting music in the cockpit is as thoughtless in a quiet anchorage as anchoring too close to your neighbor.

Another plus with these speakers is versatile mounting options, including adjustable bulkhead/wall brackets (which lock rigidly in position) and flush-mounting kits.

We have found the Bose 151 speakers in electronics stores such as Circuit City, or through marine catalogs. The price seems to be the same either way. List price is $279 per pair, with the mounting kits costing $35 for the surface mount brackets or $99 for the flush-mount kits. The going price for the speakers is about $239, with slight discounts available on the mounts. These speakers are worth every penny.

Performance rating: 9


Contacts- Bose, The Mountain, Framingham, MA 01701; 800-444-BOSE. Icom America, 2380 116th Ave NE, Bellevue, WA 98004; 425/454-8155. Shurflo, 12650 Westminster Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92706; 800/854-3218.

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