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July 2004 Vol. 19, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Endemic Computer Problems: Part I

readers’ reports illustrate why a backup is essential

from the July, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Today's dive computers are loaded with bells and whistles, but how reliable are they? If your computer goes out while you're on a dive trip, you could lose valuable diving days. Or even your life.

We recently polled Undercurrent subscribers whose computer complaints fell into four categories: battery problems, inaccurate or unreadable displays, loss of data transmission in hoseless airintegrated (AI) models, and manufacturers failing to support older units. Hoseless AIs created so many problems, we'll report them separately in the next issue.

These are some of the problems that can occur, what some divers have done to cope with them, and how dive shops and manufacturers handle the problems. (That's why we've included reports on some models that are no longer on the market.)

And there is a lesson here: Too many models of dive computers are quirky and unpredictable. For the prices we divers pay, we should get better reliability. Until we do, to be a safe diver requires diving with a backup.

Computer Batteries Lead to Aggravating Incidents

As you'll see from the following cases, many computer models have battery problems and have not always been dependable on dive trips - more evidence why a backup is essential.

Ronald Deutch bought two Oceanic Datamax Pro Plus computers in 1999. One has always worked perfectly. The other "eats batteries quickly and failed with a new battery during a dive," he says. He returned the original and was sent a factory-refurbished replacement, but the problem persisted. "Despite checking the battery and finding it was at full strength," he points out, "the batteries do not always power the unit. Two batteries can both test good, but one will power the unit and the other will not." He hasn't had this problem with the other unit purchased at the same time.

Jerry Horn (Seattle) found that his Suunto Mosquito suddenly quit working after a year's worth of dives. The battery indicator was showing low power before that failure. The battery was replaced, but the replacement went dead in a day. Two more were chewed up before it was obvious the Mosquito was sucking the batteries dry in a day. Horn took the Mosquito to his local Aqua Lung outlet, and they forwarded it to a repair station. "I got a new Mosquito in two weeks," he says. "No charges. A happy ending."

When one subscriber's Aeris Atmo Sport was recalled, he hoped that would be an opportunity for the manufacturer to do something about the short battery life (20 dives at best, he reports). The recall problem got fixed, but the battery life remained short. He tried several batteries, without success. "It finally flooded in June of 2003, and good riddance," he reports. "It forced me to get another dive computer, which I am completely happy with."

Similarly, Bruce Robertson (Keizer, OR) had to replace batteries in his Aeris 300g twice before he got 60 dives on it. His dive shop returned it to Aeris, and he promptly received a replacement. "This replacement computer lasted 1 or 2 dives before the display segments started to disappear. By the end of the second dive, most of the display had disappeared." That unit was also replaced, but the new unit lasted just 40 dives, more than nine months before its display abruptly failed. This time his dive shop owner dealt with Aeris to get him a reasonable deal on a different computer, the Atmos AI (air integrated). "I am quite satisfied with the new unit and with the customer service I receive from the local dive shop and from Aeris," he says, "even if I wasn't pleased with the 300g."

"I have an Oceanic Datamax Pro Plus that, when it's working, I like very well," says Mike Boom (Oakland, CA). "But last fall, when it was a little over a year old, it showed a low battery symbol," during a trip to Catalina. Boom put in a new battery, but after a couple of dives the computer showed that one was low as well. "This went on until I was almost out of batteries," he recalls. Then "it stopped working completely when I tried turning it on with a low battery. It showed an erratic display with LCD segments that shouldn't be on." Oceanic replaced it, but the new computer "was finicky about batteries as well, occasionally showing a fresh battery as low, then showing it as fine a little later." After getting a low battery sign while diving in Monterey, Boom tried to put it into log mode. First the display went blank. Ten minutes later it was working again but had erased all his nitrogen load data. When he wrote to us, Boom was headed to Wakatobi and was taking a backup computer and pressure gauge just in case. "In Oceanic's defense," he says, "they've been excellent about replacing my computers with no hassle."

"Some unused batteries develop a coating on the
inside that drains power. Often whacking the
battery on a hard surface can rejuvenate it."

Harry A. Kreigh (Sacramento) was 100 feet down off Cocos Island last year when his Aeris Atmos 2 wrist computer's battery compartment flooded. "Not a good feeling!" is how he recalls the moment. His attempts to reseal the compartment were unsuccessful. "Fortunately," Kreigh recalls, "I had my reliable Skinny Dipper [manufactured by Orca and no longer available] as a backup for the rest of the trip (no problems in 15 years of use!)." He returned the Aeris to Leisure Pro but reports that "it took considerable effort, complaints, and nearly two months before they replaced it. The new one works fine!"

Robert O'Meara (Ipswich, MA) had made about 30 dives with his Aeris 500AI, which he'd owned for a year. After it sat for a few months, he says, it wasn't working properly. Thinking the battery had died, he opened the compartment and discovered that the batteries had corroded, although he saw no salt water residue. So he contacted Aeries, and they told him to send them the computer. "Less than two weeks later," he notes, "I was sent a replacement computer: all covered under warranty."

Many computers sit dormant for months between dive trips. During that time batteries can run down. Jim Wittstruck of Zeagle (see sidebar) tells us that some unused batteries may develop an insulating coating on the inside. When the computer is eventually started, it drains extra power from the battery to burn off this layer. Often the battery can be rejuvenated by whacking it on a hard surface.

To avoid problems like these, you can play with your computer every few weeks, even when you have no diving planned. Some divers change batteries before every trip to ensure they're fresh. For sure, check out your computer's operation several weeks before you depart to give you time to get a replacement if it's not working.

For example, Peter Dickinson (Glendale, AZ) discovered that his 3-year-old Seaquest (Suunto) Eon had failed three weeks before a dive trip. He returned it to Seaquest, and they replaced it with a new unit, offering the option of upgrading to the LUX Eon for about $50. Dickinson stayed with the standard model. "I was computer- less for maybe two weeks and was very happy with Seaquest's response to my needs. I have since relegated the Eon to backup/loaner status as I have moved up to the Seaquest Cobra."

Carrying backup batteries is always a good idea, and they're often cheaper to buy at home rather than a remote dive destination ... if they're available at all.

The Disappearing Computer Display

Joe DiDia (Novi, MI) has had three Oceanic Data Plus II units fail "with very little dive time on them." He reports that Oceanic has replaced each unit in a timely manner. During a trip to Cozumel, one unit failed 20 minutes after the first dive -- the display would only flash On/Off. The next day, the second computer failed the same way. Two years later, in Grand Cayman, his replacement fizzled out exactly as the others had two years before. "Since my warranties had expired," he recalls, "I called Oceanic and explained the situation. I sent them a letter and included the failed unit and copies of the letter from 2001. They replaced the third unit without issue."

Rick and Donna Ramsey (Escondido, CA) bought a pair of Oceanic Versas in 2002. In October of that year, parts of the number display disappeared from Donna's computer interface. It took Rick a week to get a return authorization number, and then the computer was replaced. But the same problem arose again a year later. Ramsey still had the email address of the service person from the first time and says, "I got a return authorization number in less time, and the computer was replaced again." "With both computers replaced at no charge in less than a month," Ramsey says, "I was satisfied with Oceanic's response and service."

"Three years ago, on a dive trip to Tonga," says David Dornbusch (Berkeley, CA), "one of my family's four Oceanic Data Max Pro Plus computers failed. The screen went blank on the first dive and never recovered. The battery was fine. There was no leak. I returned the computer and Oceanic replaced it."

Phil Freed (Phoenix) and a friend each bought Sherwood Wisdoms. Freed's worked fine on Florida and Cozumel dive trips. But during a lake dive in Arizona, his buddy's Wisdom "went into deco mode, erroneous air pressure readings, etc.," says Freed. Sherwood promptly replaced it. Then, in Maui, Freed's LED screen just faded out on his first dive. A new battery didn't help. "Since my Wisdom was air integrated with my new Maxis Regulator, and my octopus was the TUSA Duo Air, I could not use any compatible rental gear with my new Dive Rite BC. Talk about pissed! I had to rent ALL my gear." Sherwood also replaced that Wisdom, but Freed and his dive shop "are waiting for an explanation from Sherwood." He says, "I suppose I have to go buy a backup computer to my $600 Wisdom." If you don't like the idea of toting a backup computer, you can check ahead with your resort or live-aboard to see if rental or loaner units are available in case of a failure.

If your computer goes down you may lose a day of diving, but at least you'll be able to continue again after sitting out for the suggested 24 hours when switching computers. By the way, DAN and the British Sub-Aqua Club recommend taking a day off from diving in the middle of a week of multi-dives.

Next issue: air-integrated problems.

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