Part of a ship owner’s responsibility to provide a Jones Act seaman a seaworthy vessel is to provide employees with emergency lifesaving equipment on board. The equipment must be properly functioning, and there must be enough equipment for all crewmembers on board the vessel. As maritime lawyers, we would like to bring the vessel owners’ attention to a new safety alert by the Coast Guard.

According to the alert, the Coast Guard has received three reports of unapproved replacement of 406 EPIRB batteries. In all instances, these batteries were apparently replaced by servicing companies, who had no relation to the EPIRB manufacturer. An EPIRB manufacturer who opened the unit, found a battery inside not made by them. In fact, the battery was apparently assembled, using fuses and wires from the original battery, and then covered with the original shrink and labels. The connections were not spot welded, as the design required, but were soldered, compromising their quality further. In addition, the battery measured just 8.7 volts, while the original batteries come with 9 plus volts.

EPIRB manufacturers are advising that the original batteries come with a user’s manual which properly explains maintenance and replacement procedures. They are advising that any replacement involve only manufacturer- approved batteries. These batteries must also be installed correctly by the manufacturer, or by a facility approved by a manufacturer. Failure to do so could cause these EPIRB devices to malfunction during an emergency.

EPIRBs, also known as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, help detect and locate mariners during an emergency. They transmit distress signals that can be used by search and rescue teams to trace crewmembers. These devices have helped save hundreds of lives in incidents of falls overboard, ship collisions, fires and explosions, and other maritime emergencies. Malfunctioning EPIRBs are therefore a matter of concern.  Vessel owners must make sure that these life saving devices are serviced properly by manufacturers, and not by some fly-by-night servicing company.

The maritime attorneys at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers  represent injured cargo and cruise ship crew members, tanker and freighter crews, offshore rig workers, jack up rig workers, barge and tugboat operators and other maritime workers who qualify for Jones Act seaman status.