EPIRB / GPIRB issue update

May 28, 2008 in SEA

To all concerned by potentially faulty / duplicated EPIRBs, GPRIBs and their registration in countries participating in the COSPAS-SARSAT program.
Although I have sought to inform the mariner community worldwide to check their EPIRB and GPIRB proper registration by posting in various forums my near death experience due to an EPIRB that did not, and that could not fulfill its vital life saving function, this alert seems to have gone somewhat unnoticed until gCaptain.com focused their attention on the issue (photo: my GPIRB and the clone manufactured two years later).

All of a sudden there has been uproar of naysayers, and I have had to post a response on the blog of one such. As the fever seems to be spreading I shall repost part of that response with some amplification.

” I hope you are enjoying your pissing match; it is quite shocking to watch the real issue of dependability of EPIRBs smothered in such a shouting match. The fact is there are such cases. I have to remind those that perhaps have not thought the process through that the most likely outcome of a faulty EPIRB or its registration in NOAA’s database in such critical conditions is a new “lost at sea” entry to a log already too long. Those cases will never be investigated – without a backup EPIRB Sean Seamour’ crew would be among those lost.

Compounding the issue of the EPIRB malfunction is the fact that it came back from recertification a week prior to the events.

Further compounding the issue: the hexadecimal code belonged to another boat.

Upon launch of my EPIRB the Coast Guard checked the database info and contacted the registered owner asleep in Alabama no less!
He had purchased his unit two years after mine, a “DUP” for duplicate in the manufacturers words, with the same hexadecimal code his registration crushed mine, hence my data and Iridium phone number no longer existed.
The USCG requested he disconnect the battery of his unit, in the time it took time for him to reach his boat at about 02:00 hours my unit ceased to emit. Had it not been for an eleven year old EPIRB from an earlier vessel I kept as backup, but that I thought lost when the rogue wave sheared and sank the hard dodger to which it’s cradle was attached we would not be here to relate what happened.

A few days after the rescue, my crew safely home, I contacted ACR – they were more than expecting my call, informing me “this has happened before”, fingering responsibility elsewhere, anxious to get their hands on my GPIRB. With ten broken ribs and two back compressions I was not about to run from Cape Cod to Fort Lauderdale for a postmortem on my unit, especially with alarm bells ringing in my head. I told them I would get back to them and may still.
Surprisingly, never once has ACR sought to make contact of any sort, yet they have been very attentive to my investigative activities over the past year, blocking some of my initiatives.”

It is wrong for the manufacturer to ensure the postmortem of a failed unit, their objectivity will always be questioned, all the more as this opportunity is rare, the unit is usually lost, sometimes with the crew who cannot relate what did and did not happen. My efforts to have an independent party do the postmortem were blocked.

Regardless of one’ opinion discussion on and investigation of the issue is of critical importance to the mariner community at large. There is NO doubt these problems exist and need to be addressed through policy and procedural changes.
I will close by saying that I will buy another EPIRB, likely a unit manufactured by ACR, under their brand or another they build for.

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