EPIRB Update: 09/04
In the wake of independent tests conducted by the Equipped to Survive Foundation (ETS), wherein the GPS components of two EPIRB models from McMurdo failed to self-locate under certain conditions (see PS June 2004), West Marine pulled the products from its shelves. McMurdo subsequently announced that it would offer free upgrades for these units. The company then initiated its own tests and found that the units, performed "faultlessly." Nonetheless, McMurdo's "collection and return" program remains in place.
West Marine vice president Chuck Hawley, after attending portions of McMurdo's tests, said in July that his company would begin restocking its stores with the upgraded units. Yet Hawley still favors additional tests: "I always think that independent tests are a good idea...We truly want consumers to have the best information possible," he said.
Doug Ritter of ETS hopes to test the upgraded McMurdo units, but isn't sure when that will take place. Though his tests have caused a stir, they've set in motion activities that should ultimately benefit consumers.
"If we had not done this test," explained Boat/US Foundation Director Ruth Wood (also a test sponsor) [the McMurdo units' failure to acquire fixes], "would not have come to light." Wood is concerned that people retain confidence in the 406 EPIRB system. The system works, she added. "It was the GPS portion of the product that had the problem."
ETS's tests may lead to an additional Federal Communications Commission standard requiring EPIRB makers to prove—through similar testing—that the GPS portion of their product works. Bob Markle, president of the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services (a non-profit group that writes standards used by the FCC), said he and his colleagues discussed the ETS test results. "The general feeling is, if someone pays for the extra GPS function, they should get it," said Markle.
To receive information regarding the upgrade program, or McMurdo's tests, call the company at 800/783-0889. For details on the ETS test findings log on to www.equipped.org.