Mailport September 2001 Issue

Mailport: 09/01

EPIRB Replacement Batteries
I read with great interest and concurrence the July 15th J.D. Bitzer and Pompas' letters regarding the Litton EPIRB battery and the policy of Guest. I've run into the same situations and refuse to pay half the price and hazardous shipping of a now out-of-date gizmo just to replace the battery. When it no longer passes a test run or I'm going on a serious passage I will buy a new one and will try to avoid Guest products.

I have gone so far as to prepack and test my own liferaft, and felt vindicated when the last certified packer had screwed in the tapered valve after hydro enough to crack the CO2 bottle neck. A sympathetic distributor was kind enough to supply a tested, used one at no cost. Getting the raft to a packer is inconvenient and expensive, and it shrinks my soul to pay $4 for the same D-cell I can buy at Walmart for 89 cents.

There is a vast difference between the liability incurred in the case of a commercial boat and private cruisers who simply want to be safer. The fact is, the restrictive policies that some of these suppliers hold to actually reduce overall safety by inconveniencing and overcharging customers to the point that they use sub-optimal maintenance intervals or skip them altogether.

I have no problem paying for good expert service when I need it, but I have a clear idea when I'm being overcharged and unnecessarily inconvenienced.

The EPIRB batteries should be available with precise instructions at a competitive price. If they want a liability waiver, no problem here. I would suspect they could just as well be sued for failure to provide a needed battery.

-Bruce Stewart, MD
Ithaca, NY


The discussion in the July 15 issue was rather timely for me— I had sent my ACR 406 in through Mike's Marine Supply, 24910 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores, MI (810/778-3200) in June and received it back the day I read the article. Much to my pleasant surprise, including shipping, my battery replacement by ACR came to less than $200 and was done with pleasant interactions by very professional sales/service people at Mike’s Marine. This appears to be a completely different experience than those described in the Guest/Litton situation. I was, however, without the service of that EPIRB for the time it was in for exchange, something I had timed to coincide with a period of no sailing.

-Michael G. Altmann
Marquette, MI


After reading your PS Advisor regarding EPIRB battery replacement and the most current issue of the Commodore's Bulletin of the SSCA with another EPIRB horror story, I think Practical Sailor could do all of us cruising sailors a big service by doing a speedy evaluation of the new ProFind 406 from Seimac Ltd. If this is a good unit I’m sure the other EPIRB manufacturers will suddenly discover that they can produce an inexpensive user serviceable unit with a sub $100 replacement battery. I believe that I will have a ProFind 406 aboard when I depart this fall.

-Ray Seiffert
Niantic, CT

Editor's Note: Thanks for the tip, Ray. Seimac is a well-established company, based in Halifax. They specialize in "data acquisition and telemetry systems for oceanographic, safety of life, meteorological and defence applications." We're not familiar with their ProFind 406 EPIRB yet, but their website ( does indeed offer an owner-replaceable battery for the ProFind 406 at $99 U.S. or $150 Canadian.


Boat Evaluation
Your do-it-yourself article on boat valuation (June 2001) was well done. and I would like to add some comments to what you presented.

Another source for determining a vessels value is a marine surveyor. Many surveyors regularly value vessels for insurance interests with a Condition & Valuation (C&V) survey, and for purchasers/financial institutions with a Fair Market Value (FMV) survey. There are marine surveyors who specialize in marine appraisals. 

The American Society of Appraisers (ASA), a multidisciplinary appraisers group, offers a designation for specialist appraisers as Marine Survey-Commercial and Marine Survey-Yacht. Candidates, most of them marine surveyors already holding a NAMS or SAMS designation, must have five years of appraisal experience, then must pass an ethics test, a test on the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), an ASA comprehensive examination that covers technical and appraisal areas, and, finally, a peer review and approval of their appraisal reports in order to get an Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA) designation.

The biggest difference between a "normal" appraisal and an ASA appraisal is the compliance with USPAP, a set of standards developed after the Savings and Loan debacle that can be compared to the standards set forth for boat design/construction by ABYC. An ASA/USPAP appraisal is not yet required by law but it is rapidly becoming the benchmark for courts and lending institutions.

The real estate mantra is "Location, Location, Location," and for marine equipment we know it is "Condition, Condition, Condition." You cannot value a vessel without knowing what is normal, what is above normal, and what is below normal, and how each of those translate into dollars.  And this changes by vessel type, vessel make, and vessel location, which you pointed out.

Getting information from BUC, NADA, brokerage ads, etc., is only one of the steps in arriving at a value.

The best appraisal information is market information, or, comparable sales.That is what BUC and NADA sell.  But how do you know what is comparable? Commercial "sister ships" are very rarely the same and production yacht "sisters" are only similar in their early years.  The older a type ofproduction boat gets and the more owners it has had, the more "custom" it gets, via real or questionable improvements.  When you look at asking prices you really don’t know what lies behind the ad. Two sister boats in adjoining slips can have significant differences in asking prices because one owner wants to sell and the other will sell only if someone is willing to meet the asking price.  The best way to know comparables is to have good widespread contacts where a phone call will provide you with details.

Your inclusion of graphing is great. The larger the number of comparablesthe better, statistically, your trend lines, and the more  anomalies standout. As one who has done a number of graphs, I think your graph on theCatalina 30 shows a typical "tight" trend and not flawed data. I don't think that the Marshall 18 or J/24 are typical boats bought by typical sailors, so I am not surprised that their graphs show the effects of "personality" rather than economics in buying decisions. That said, the tracking guides, BUC and NADA, should be more accurate. The only excuse is that they may not have had enough sales information to provide a statistically accurate picture and would rather not present too many blank years. 

Your point on indexing historic cost was also good. Annual inflationmultipliers are satisfactory for the do-it-yourselfer, but the professionalalso has industry specific trend tables available for indexing.

I appreciate you covering this esoteric subject.  I am not a yacht appraiser but I am an appraiser of commercial marine equipment, so forgive myenthusiasm .  I am also the owner of a "cult" sailboat and know about theartificial market that boat owners canbuild against their own interests.

-Norm Laskay NAMS-CMS; ASA
Mandeville, LA


Pilot 35 Review
Your excellent review of the Hinckley Pilot 35 was most timely.  Shortly after the article appeared in PS, Jupiter, my 1966 Pilot 35, won the 66.7 nm Lake Michigan Queens Cup Race on corrected time over 198 boats.  Included in the fleet were several Santa Cruz 70s, a new Open 50, and a number of other hot race designs.  The race conditions were perfect with 10-15 knots of breeze from just forward to just aft of the beam, allowing us to carry a spinnaker almost the entire race.  On the ride home to Milwaukee from Muskegon, MI we had winds 30-40 knots from the north and 6-8 foot seas. My crew, all of whom were experienced fin keel racers, were amazed at her comfortable motion in the seaway.  She’s much more than a pretty face. 

-Bob Fritz


Personal Strobes
Just a couple of weeks ago I showed up as crew for an ocean delivery,pointing out my new acquisition, an ACR RapidFire light (PS July 1). Our very experienced captain quickly pointed out its one major drawback: yes, it lasts for eight hours, but you can't pick which eight hours. If you fall into the ocean in the morning and it activates from the PFD's inflation, it will be useless by the time night comes! A strobe that can be turned on and off at will seems like a much better choice.

Thanks for your excellent publication.

-Dan Costin
Via e-mail

Editor's note: That's a good point, Dan. However, readers should be reminded that the ACR RapidFire can be operated manually (independently of the auto-inflatable PFD) as well.


Small Batteries and Chargers
A very helpful and generally accurate article (PS June), but I have a question, an observation, and a recommendation.  Although you state that NiCads should be discharged to absolute zero (e.g. "wrap in tin foil"), I've read that NiCads are hurt by absolute discharge and can even change valence if you do it; I read that you should discharge to the drop-off point where a light dims or a tool loses power, and then STOP, not drain to "absolute zero."  What is correct? 

Although you state that you "don’t believe manufacturers' claims that their batteries perform best when charged in their own chargers," I’m not sure if your belief is correct.  After reading your article, I put 8 AAA Accucell batteries in my older Ray-O-Vac Renewal Power Station (not the 3 in 1) and not one light came on. Same for 4 AAs.  I then made sure I had discharged the AAAs and still no charging light.  Then I put the identical batteries in the Accucell charger, and the charging light came on until they were charged.  I don't think you can mix types among chargers.  I can, however, put Renewal batteries in the Accucell charger, but not vice versa.

Finally, a suggestion.  It would be great if you tested the life cycle or "life energy" of renewable batteries, i.e., how many times they can be charged and the total power produced after say 15 cycles.  That would help us decide among the trade-offs.  For example, it may show that the rechargeable alkalines have low self-discharge and high initial voltage, but little life after a few charge/discharge cycles. 

Keep up the good work.

-Bill Beery
Via e-mail

Author's response: I can only speak from experience: I've gotten many years of life out of NiCads by making sure they were discharged to zero before recharging.  What upsets Ni-Cads with this procedure is they don't like to be short-circuit discharged when they are fully charged or near full charge.  The discharge currents are high and ugly stuff happens to the crystal structure internally.  The cells need to be well discharged before being further discharged. 

Tin foil is a kind of last resort. Incredibly, it's actually difficult to maintain good terminal contact with tin foil; the wrap has to be tight, and it's apain. I much prefer using a utility flashlight left on to discharge NiCads. 

As for recharging in the competition's chargers, your reports aren't consistent with what I found. I worked primarily with D and AA cells and both chargers handled both the Ray-O-Vac and Accucell batteries.  The older model Ray-O-Vac Renewal Station took considerably longer than did the Accucell charger where the Ray-O-Vac 3 in 1 unit was more competitive.

One thing I did notice was that the Accucell unit would  charge fully charged batteries where the Ray-O-Vac units would not.  The time the Accucell unit would show charging varied from just a few minutes up to 30 minutes, which was curious because the batteries didn't need it.  When I saw this, I was prompted to see if the Ray-O-Vac units would respond in the same way, and they didn't (no lights). I didn’t think it was a serious issue, so I didn’t report it.

I liked the Ray-O-Vac 3 in 1 because it showed me a bad cell where the Accucell charger could not.

Rechargeable alkalines need to be pulsed to be charged and the voltage has to be measured to shut off the charger when the charge is complete.There's a wide latitude in assigning the frequency for this pulsing, which is demonstrated by these manufacturers.  Either way works just fine for both manufacturers' batteries.

The main gripe I had was with so-called "camera battery" chargers.  They pretend that the camera battery is different from the off-the-shelf NiMH or NiCad battery and they simply are not.  So, why pay more for a camera battery charger when a cheaper charger will serve the same purpose and maybe even do it better? 

Regarding your suggestion: I did some of this, but quit when I realized I could be at it for years.  I recycled a Ray-O-Vac cell every day for a couple of weeks and was amazed when the clock would stop on exactly the same minute day after day.  For now, suffice it to say these things have a lot of life in them. The more popular they become, the greater the need will be for some serious testing.


Better Boat Bags
I'd like to add another manufacturer to your list of superior boat bags. Boat bags (dry bags) made by Jack's Plastic Welding stand head and shoulders above the rest. In addition to offering a number of differently sized bags made of raft fabric, they will make a custom bag exactly to your specifications.

I have been using their products for years in canoes, rafts, and sailboats. The bags are moderately priced, tops in quality of construction and materials, and all but bombproof. You even get a color choice.

The source is Jack's Plastic Welding, 115 S. Main, Aztec, NM 87410, phone: 505/334-8748, fax 505/334-1401.

-Walt Hodge
Stone Mountain, GA


Customer Service Credit
I recently returned from four months cruising in the Out Islands of the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos. Now searching for weather fax for laptops, I asked Practical Sailor's customer service for input on these systems.  Customer service responded with a great reference (May 1, 2001 issue).  I had the issue in my 'to be read pile.'  It was precisely what I needed, even citing the specific systems I was considering and including significant cost savings re. some systems I had not considered.  Practical Sailor's research will give me the confidence to go forward with these systems and save me untold hardship in "tuning" the systems for use at sea. Thanks.

-Richard L. Coleman
Via e-mail


Where Credit Is Due

To Wells Marine Tech, Brielle, NJ: "I have had a Battmax 70 battery relay switch on my J/120 in the Caribbean.  It failed and the mounting brackets broke on a recent delivery from Tortola to St Vincent.  I e-mailed Wells Marine Tech, the makers, to enquire about the location of my nearest distributor and whether a Battmax HD would be a better model for my use. I fully expected to pay—the unit had had nearly three years of service.  Imagine my surprise when I promptly received a return e-mail from the president of the company, offering to ship the upgraded model (Battmax HD) to the address I specified! 

"Truly knock-your-socks-off service. Apparently Battmax products are now standard on all J-Boats.  I can understand why."

-David Martin, Youngstown, NY

To Wilcox-Crittenden (, Waterford, CT: "I took my Skipper MSD apart over the winter for servicing.  When I took it apart I realized that after 18 years of service, more than the regular replacement parts needed evaluating. I called Wilcox Crittenden and asked them if I could bring in my buckets of parts and get their help in reassembly and evaluation on some of the bronze fittings.  Although they do not have a repair shop or offer repair services, they were still exceedingly gracious and helpful in assisting me.  They charged me for one large bronze item and refused my offer to pay them for assistance with reassembly. 

"Although I expect my Skipper to outlast me, I will make every effort to patronize Wilcox Crittenden whenever I can.  They support their products 100% and I haven’t met a better group of people in the marine industry."

-Joseph M. Ballerini, Stamford, CT

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