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Old 07-03-2008, 16:11   #16
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Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
Re: EPIRB "programming" being lost when you change batteries, I suspect the info is in EPROM anyway....it will be retained. However, if you're worried, you could most likely take a small 9V flat battery and, using a couple of tiny jumpers, clip on to supply voltage while you change out the EPIRB battery bank.

Bill
Hmm... be wary, not all beacons are simple. Again the units I service (can't vouch for others) record each time they are operated (including testing time) and after 1 hour of cumulative use, they fail their self test. Replacing the battery resetes this time clock. I know the HEX programming etc is retained for some time (hours) and maybe forever. Never tried it, never thought about it and don't have manuals at home to check.

The bottom line it these units are now complex devices in their own right and I personaly think they should be serviced ONLY at an manufacturer's approved agent. They are not simple analogue transmitters using discrete components.

I know that the electronics techs will feel OK replacing their own batteries etc and they will have some background knowledge to "know" when something is amiss but the rest of us should take it the approved shop.

If / when the time comes and you need to turn it on, it will probably be your last option - so you want it to work just like the shinny brochure said it would. BTW, IMO it SHOULD be the LAST option and never used before that.
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Old 07-03-2008, 16:36   #17
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...I am in the business. Also have been a ham for nearly 40 years. My house and shop are full of radios, some 50 years old or more. They all work, and work, and work.

In my house we listen to a local AM radio station all day long. Every day. Use two 30-year old portable RDF radios, which take "D" batteries. They work perfectly, year in and year out.

If you take care of your equipment and don't abuse it, the likelihood is that it will last longer than you wil...
OK this might be off thread but...
Also being in the business (but not a ham) I tend to agree but part of my business is repairing radios. 20 years back I would have 3 shelves of units to repair, now I have one shelf yet my customer base has increased and the number of new units sold have increased so either the units are made better or are being junked when they fail. Most of the units awaiting repair are less than 10 years old. Most faults we see are more mechanical or enviromental (corrosion) rather than component failure but all electronic devices can fail otherwise I would be out sailing instead of repairing them
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Old 07-03-2008, 17:08   #18
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As usual the conversations start going over my head. I guess I will plug the battery back in and take it to the coastguard for a test. I didn't think that it could be wiped out by keeping it unplugged. Did Microsoft deisgn the EPIRBs?
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Old 07-03-2008, 18:10   #19
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Once past the "infant mortality period", most electronics with no moving parts last a very long time.

I am in the business. Also have been a ham for nearly 40 years. My house and shop are full of radios, some 50 years old or more. They all work, and work, and work.
I assume that you are not in the electronics repair or replacement business because from what you say repair or replacement of such equipment is never necessary

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Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
Re: EPIRB "programming" being lost when you change batteries, I suspect the info is in EPROM anyway....it will be retained. However, if you're worried, you could most likely take a small 9V flat battery and, using a couple of tiny jumpers, clip on to supply voltage while you change out the EPIRB battery bank.
And you think that is good advice to someone considering maintaining an important piece of safety equipment (if carried, probably the most important on the boat)? Advice for such equipment along the lines of "I suspect...", "you most likely could..." to someone who wishes to pull an EPIRB apart seems of completely inadequate substance to me, even if not to you .

I agree that the coding is probably not volatile, but shouldn't one be sure before diving in? If it is not volatile, does one know it has not been corrupted. As I said I have come across 2 new ones that had coding difficulties when I disassembled the code.

Have to say that I am intrigued by the great deal of confidence in the life of electronic equipment on a boat shown by some - must be the only reliable equipment on board. But I am absolutely confident that it would be very few who have had a boat with performance instruments on board, radio equipment (including radar, etc), modern inverters and chargers, etc, etc, on board who would share that view.
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Old 07-03-2008, 18:37   #20
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Well, we'll have to agree to agree on some points and to disagree on others :-)

The longevity of much electronic equipment is IMHO a function of how you take care of it. Remember, an EPIRB is a very different class of equipment than, say, an inverter or a charger. It sits in its bracket most of its life, presumably in a protected location. It's circuitry is only tested periodically; many are not tested at all. It contains a battery with, typically, a 10-year shelf life. It is waterproof. While of course it is possible that someone screwed up the coding during manufacture, the typical end user can't do much about that. And after 5-years the $300 cost of replacing $50 worth of batteries seems excessive to many.

I completely agree that most people should not dig into their EPIRBs, but should either bite the bullet and ante up the $300 or buy a new one...they can be had for not much more than that.

In over 40 years of boating I have never had a failure of a marine VHF radio (other than depleted batteries). I carry a minimum of four of them aboard...two fixed and two handhelds. Nor have I ever seen one fail as a ham.

Equally, I have never had a SSB failure aboard...marine or ham. But, I regularly carry two aboard (one ham, one marine) plus on long offshore passages I carry another spare in a waterproof case....just in case. I have had a couple of SSB radio failures in my ham shack over the years, one due to my own error and one due to electronic component failure.

As was stated earlier by Wotname, most of the failures seen these days have to do with corrosion and moving parts, rather than a failure of the electronic components per se. My experience parallels his...when I troubleshoot a client's electronic problems, it generally turns out that there is a loose or corroded connector or other poor connection due to improper installation in the first place. It does happen, of course, that one finds an electronic component failure, but this is very rare. Mostly, it's power, connections and -- if there are any -- moving parts which are at fault.

Yeah, after all these years and sea miles I do have a great deal of confidence in the electronics aboard my boat. Equally, I realize that not everyone has had the same experience.

Bill


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I assume that you are not in the electronics repair or replacement business because from what you say repair or replacement of such equipment is never necessary

And you think that is good advice to someone considering maintaining an important piece of safety equipment (if carried, probably the most important on the boat)? Advice for such equipment along the lines of "I suspect...", "you most likely could..." to someone who wishes to pull an EPIRB apart seems of completely inadequate substance to me, even if not to you .

I agree that the coding is probably not volatile, but shouldn't one be sure before diving in? If it is not volatile, does one know it has not been corrupted. As I said I have come across 2 new ones that had coding difficulties when I disassembled the code.

Have to say that I am intrigued by the great deal of confidence in the life of electronic equipment on a boat shown by some - must be the only reliable equipment on board. But I am absolutely confident that it would be very few who have had a boat with performance instruments on board, radio equipment (including radar, etc), modern inverters and chargers, etc, etc, on board who would share that view.
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Old 07-03-2008, 18:38   #21
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....I agree that the coding is probably not volatile, but shouldn't one be sure before diving in? If it is not volatile, does one know it has not been corrupted. As I said I have come across 2 new ones that had coding difficulties when I disassembled the code.

Have to say that I am intrigued by the great deal of confidence in the life of electronic equipment on a boat shown by some - must be the only reliable equipment on board. But I am absolutely confident that it would be very few who have had a boat with performance instruments on board, radio equipment (including radar, etc), modern inverters and chargers, etc, etc, on board who would share that view.
Totally agreed
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Old 07-03-2008, 20:23   #22
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I had a copy (they were publicly available) of some reliability studies from the USAF Rome AFB testing facilities concerning electronics. Rome AFB was (is) a quiet little place...well, actually a HUGE place, smack in the middle of nowhere in upstate NY's Adirondack Mountains. That happened to host one of the actual live nuclear-armed B52 groups and other unexpected stuff. You'd be driving down an idyllic wooded road in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden, double barb-wire fences with rather large signs posted "WARNING: TRESPASSERS MAY BE SHOT ON SIGHT." and a batch of legalese underneath them. Talk about the unexpected!

Their figures, from environmental testing, indicated that "tube" based discrete electronics had a working life of less than ten years. Tubes burn out in normal use. Transistors upped that to 100 years in normal use. And the "new" integrated circuits pushed that up again, to one THOUSAND years, at which point the circuit tracings will literally electroplate themselves into non-functioning locations.

They did similar work testing the "new" wire-wrap against soldering and other means of connecting things, as the USAF gets real upset about sending combat aircraft halfway around the world and then finding out the Really Good Toys just don't work because of some ten cent wiring problem. (Wire wrap was their best choice, more reliable than solder, but that's also in the hands of trained techs with the proper gear.)

So...let's consider what an EPIRB is. About fifty bucks worth of discrete electronics, transistor based, now IC-based. The "shelf life" of those parts is nearly infinite when there is no power going through them. If there are electrolytic capacitors, those can and will either dry out or leak, degrading over time, IF they are built poorly. On the other hand I've still got those incredibly expensive "six transistor" AM radios from the 60's built to run on a 9-volt battery, with the same technology and construction, and they still work after years of non-use. The technology is proven--the only question is, did someone properly design the circuit, properly test the component quality, properly assemble the circuit? I've also had a "good" SONY FM radio fail three times in under ten years, from cold solder joints that showed up as it aged. Part of the downfall of SONY as they shifted production out of Japan to places where quality and training (and costs) weren't as high.

A ten year old low-power radio transmitter, in an environmentally sealed hermetic container (another job that has to be done properly and can fail), is effectively brand new, unstressed, unworn, and should be able to work literally anytime over the next hundred years--IF it was properly built, and IF it was kept sealed properly.

If an EPIRB maker told me "Something we made ten or twenty years ago is unreliable today" I'd have to ask them "Well, how poorly did you design and assemble it? And are your products today equally shoddy?"

Because that's the only excuse for a hermetically sealed unused transmitter not to work, using 1970's technology, as long as the battery is maintained. There's still a LOT of that technology around, in active use, and it continues to work very reliably. Often better than the new stuff--with counterfeit parts made in China by the lowest bidder.
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Old 07-03-2008, 21:18   #23
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Hello Hellosailor,
I know you addressed your post to Midland so please excuse me for sticking my head in here again. For the record I agree with most of what Midland is saying but also with some of what Btrayfors is saying.

However I don't think comparing USAF experiences with a cheap(ish) commercial product is relevant. Their electronic MS stuff is a bit better than what we buy, even the individual components aren't just off the shelf. Mostly it is a hell of a lot better.

Look at it this way, some EPIRB manufacturers make a quality product designed to meet the legal specifications, designed to last, designed to work 10 years later despite how is was treated after it left their care. Another manufacturer makes a product designed to meet the legal specifications, designed for work while under warranty if it is cared for carefully and designed to be the cheapest product in the market place. You buy one and I buy the other - I think we will have different experiences of the "same" product. Remember, both will have the same approval stamp on them.

I see both types of units in real life.

I see "sealed" crappy beacons that don't work with new batteries in them and the corrosion scrapped off the terminals with a knife blade. I advise the customer to destroy it; some do and thank me; some just take their unit to another shop because "I just want to sell a new one".

Lastly a beacon sitting outside in the UV, extremes of temperature, high humidity, splashed with salt water, rocked around and ignored for 10 years shouldn't be compared to AM radio sitting on the mantle shelf.

Opps, I will get off my soap box... but I am passionate about EPIRB's.

Re-reading your post - I think we are on the same side here (sort of anyway).
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Old 07-03-2008, 21:39   #24
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Their figures, from environmental testing, indicated that "tube" based discrete electronics had a working life of less than ten years. Tubes burn out in normal use. Transistors upped that to 100 years in normal use. And the "new" integrated circuits pushed that up again, to one THOUSAND years, at which point the circuit tracings will literally electroplate themselves into non-functioning locations.
I gotta put in my two cents worth as well. That 1000 years may well have been right on older integrated circuits, but it's WAY less on newer circuits. Why? Because new technology can place the metal for the circuits closer (microns) to each other. There is a phenomena (don't remember what it's called) where little hairs of the metal grow out of the metal. They eventually short things out. The more compact the circuitry, the faster this happens. For critical electronics in the medical industry like pacemakers, they typically use older technology for this reason. It'd make sense for them to do this for EPIRBs as well, but do they? I doubt it.

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Old 08-03-2008, 02:11   #25
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Hellosailor - perhaps better tell you that I am one of the last people to tell about military electronics. I have performed reference site visits to manufacturers of military electronics (mostly radar and rf based nav) in both USA and Europe and managed the procurement of equipment from them. I have also done the same for industrial electronics (eg instrumentation, controls, PLC's, platforms for SCADA, etc) and I have to say, as Wotname does, there is absolutely no comparison with respect to manufacture and reliability whatsoever.

People mustn't misinterpret me, I am well aware of the reliability of modern electronic equipment, including that of even consumer equipment. But we are not dealing with TV's, electronic clocks or even marine radios here because in the GMDSS the EPIRB is the basic and ultimate long range alerting device (for example, for SOLAS vessels, unlike ssb and Inmarsat C, EPIRBs have to be carried in all Sea Areas A1 to A4 {except A1 if not venturing beyond A1}), and is the the alerting device that is intended to be relied on when all else fails or nothing else is available.

Cat 1 EPIRB's spend their life outside in their float free housings subjected to whatever extremes of temperature and radiance, humidity, icing, etc the vessel operates in, they and especially Cat 2 EPIRB's get dropped and otherwise abused and as far as I see it, it is appropriate to assign a service life to them for both that and general aging effects.

If it is not appropriate to do so the only alternative is to leave them in service until they do fail sometime in the future as they possibly ultimately will, eventually. Doing that means it becomes a dice game as to whether the failure is found during the 5 or 6 year (as they commonly are) services or when they are needed in an emergency.

Maybe those who think a service life is not appropriate could confirm that they believe they can be relied on forever to operate . If they back off from the "forever" claim , then maybe they can suggest the service life that they think is more appropriate than "forever"?
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Old 08-03-2008, 03:14   #26
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.. There is a phenomena (don't remember what it's called) where little hairs of the metal grow out of the metal. They eventually short things out. The more compact the circuitry, the faster this happens...
Electromigration ?
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Old 08-03-2008, 05:21   #27
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There is a phenomena (don't remember what it's called) where little hairs of the metal grow out of the metal.
It's oxidation. Rust by another name. Metal does not "grow". As it oxidizes salt crystals can form.
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Old 08-03-2008, 07:55   #28
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Wotname, I don't mind in the least. Sometimes people forget, these are public forums (tch tch, the plural is fora, isn't it? [g]) and that means whoever is dropping by or passing through is expected to be a part of it all.

AFAIK we're not talking about commercial EPRIBs in brackets out in the UV and spray all the time on working boats, but the more sheltered ones on recreational sailboats. I recall very clearly seeing an ACR commercial on a dive boat, hanging on the release bracket upside down with an inch of WATER in the strobe dome, and saying to myself "Gee, I hope I never need to rely on ACR or the guy who's running this boat" despite ACR's once-sterling rep. (And the dive boat had a good one too.)

FWIW the Rome AFB studies were not on military equipment--they were done to evaluate the commercial technologies. And they back my personal experience. I've seen some "consumer goods" fail right out of the box (haven't we all) and others as they age, while still others just keep on humming. Like my '68 Accutron, which has a one-transistor oscillator in it's heart and has had a few coronaries [g] over the years but still keeps on ticking. Compare and contrast to the typical quartz watch based on a single IC (often encased in a gob of goop) that seems to run forever without quitting. Or, my high-end turntable that went belly-up on the shelf--and I'm sure that's because there are two dozen electrolytic caps in it, infamous for failing.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had a color tv go 20 years without failing. Or, fail inside of a month.

But those failures are not from the technology--they are from the engineering and failure to use prime components. I would expect, actually demand, that an EPIRB be made to far more stringent military specs not consumer specs--because it is critical lifesaving equipment. I also wouldn't be surprised if it didn't work, even new out of the box. Those have been documented, too.

But typical electronics? Throw 'em out simply because they are 10-20 years old? Nu-uh. Before the Gummint slaughtered Ma Bell and made her into sausage, Western Electric made telephones, and if any of you are still using htem, you'll understand why I think simple electronics can and should be able to perform for decades without failure--if they are well made in the first place.

Old EPIRB or new one, which do you think is more reliable? Dunno...but if I see one that says "MADE IN CHINA" I'm jumping ship. [vbg]
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Old 08-03-2008, 08:46   #29
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Very interesting thread, even if we've moved afield from the original question into a more general discussion of the reliability and longevity of some electronics used aboard.

I'd particularly like to thank Wotname, MidLandOne, HelloSailor, and others for their insights and sharing their experience.

That we all have seemed to disagree at times is probably because we're looking at different parts of the same elephant, and our failure in the beginning to define exactly what we're talking about. We'll all likely take different things from the discussion.

But, what's the bottom line? Let me try to summarize.

1. There is a difference in components used in, e.g., military vs. commercial and consumer products. This difference isn't always apparent to the user.

2. There's a difference in longevity or "service life" which is partly a function of the type of gear (contrast, e.g., a simple radio receiver with a high-power inverter/charger) and, partly a function of its vintage. For example, if you have:

a. anything with tubes in it, you can expect at least some failure over time;

b. anything with big filter capacitors or electrolytics, electro-mechanical relays, or moving parts will likely have service problems after some time, though often decades;

c. the technologies from the 70s and 80s seem to be particularly robust; they may, indeed, last many decades;

d. though we didn't mention it, heat can be a problem for many electronics; overheating of individual components can and does cause failure over time;

e. how you install, use, and care for your electronics can have a significant effect on its service life;

f. EPIRBs are arguably the most important life-saving gear aboard; they should be (but, unfortunately, are not always) built to rigid commercial/military standards.

g. the recent introduction of microprocessors into virtually everything electronic may, in some instances, undermine reliability and service life; and

h. manufacturers and dealers make mistakes -- you don't always get what you expect.

Perhaps others will chime in with their "bottom line" observations.

That said, I believe that much consumer off-the-shelf gear is both reliable and long-lived. I recently bought four new Yaesu VX-170 handheld vhf radios, and the programming software for them. They are built like a tank, waterproof to 3', have 200 memories, are versatile (intended for emergency operations and many things other than just ham radio), and very inexpensive. And, yes, they're built in China. But, I'd be willing to bet that if I were to use one for a week or so to get past the "infant mortality" stage, then remove the battery and place the radio in a heavy vacuum freezer bag, it would play just fine 100 years from now! Any takers?

Bill
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Old 08-03-2008, 15:14   #30
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I'll take that bet. You gaurantee that we are both around for 100 years to see who wins the bet and I'll bet $1k. Oh yeah wasn't there some character in Greek mythology who was granted eternal life but forgot to ask for eternal youth.
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