Study highlights failure of emergency beacons

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The reliability of two emergency beacons has been called into question, as have the international standards under which those beacons are certified, after recent tests revealed the products may not work as well as advertised, according to a press release yesterday from BoatU.S.

The beacons were specifically tested for their GPS functionality, or their ability to “self-report” their location to Geostationary (GEO) satellites. But of the six beacons examined, “the GPS location function of one manufacturer’s products routinely failed when tested under other than ideal conditions,” BoatU.S. stated.

While all of the beacons successfully allowed a Doppler location to be derived, the minimal acceptable level of distress alerting, the findings suggested that the international standards to certify the GPS-enabled 406 MHz beacons fail to take into account the real-world conditions that often exist when beacons are activated, according to BoatU.S.

The tests were funded by the BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water and West Marine, and conducted by Equipped to Survive Foundation (ESF) – an independent reviewer of survival equipment. ESF founder Doug Ritter said that of the three manufacturers’ products that were tested, two from McMurdo Ltd. did not perform well.

“Unfortunately, in the testing, the off-the-shelf McMurdo Ltd. ‘Precision 406 MHz GPS EPIRB’ (also known as G4 406 MHz GSP EPIRB) and the McMurdo Ltd. ‘Fastfind Plus 406 MHz Personal Location Beacon’ (also known as the Fastfind Plus 406 MHz PLB) both failed to reliably acquire a GPS location ‘fix’ under operational ‘real-world conditions,’” Ritter said. “The tests revealed that purchasers of these GPS-equipped 406 MHz beacons – who paid a premium for the added GPS technology in the hopes of potentially shortening rescue response with faster location information and increased location precision – are apparently not getting what they paid for and are operating under false expectations.”

Ritter went on to say that the lack of GPS data could result in tragedy that might have otherwise been prevented, according to BoatU.S.

West Marine to provide refund

In response to the findings, West Marine will provide a full refund or exchange “for affected McMurdo products while it works with McMurdo to resolve the issues noted in the Foundation report,” BoatU.S. reported.

A detailed summary of the 200+ page report is available on the Equipped To Survive Web site at: www.equipped.org.

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