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August 2005 Vol. 20, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
What's this?

Scubapro MK20 Cracking Problem Deepens

did Scubapro stay silent?

from the August, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As we reported in the June Undercurrent, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ordered all their Scubapro MK20 regulators out of the water in March after four first stages cracked.

Scubapro replaced NOAA's discontinued MK20s with MK25 models and issued an opinion from independent experts that the problem was due to over-torqueing the regulator's yoke during routine maintenance. Dave Dinsmore, Director of NOAA's diving program, told Undercurrent that NOAA's outside expert disagreed with that, although NOAA offered no alternate opinion. When we requested more details, Dinsmore "respectfully" declined to comment.

But that's only the start of Scubapro's handling of the problem.

A spokesperson for the parent company of Scubapro and UWATEC told Undercurrent that the NOAA reports were the only cracking incidents the company was aware of, and that no in-water incidents had occurred. ButUndercurrent has learned otherwise.

Problems with Undercurrent Readers' Regulators

In response to our article, Undercurrent heard from three subscribers who'd experienced similar problems, one nearly five years ago. Bill Sustr's MK20 had 20 dives on it when he took it in for a checkup in November 2001. The technician found a crack in the first stage and replaced it under Scubapro's warrantee. "My MK20 was practically brand new and was never subjected to an over-stress of the yoke," recalls Sustr, of Prospect Heights, IL.

Scubapro MK20 Cracking Problem Deepens

Pam Rudy's MK20 cracked in July 2003. She brought it to her dive shop, Stans' in San Jose, CA, and they contacted Scubapro. According to the shop, says Rudy, "Scubapro asked first if anyone was hurt [I wasn't hurt other than being hit in the chest with the plastic cover as I was connecting it to my tank when itblew ]."Scubapro replaced it with an MK25T titanium model, which Rudy says is still working fine. (Scubapro markets a series of MK25 first stages; The MK25T is made of titanium).

In April 2004, the day after servicing, Nancy Fraser's earlier model MK10 blew apart while she was diving in Florida's Ginnie Springs. Nancy was in ten feet of water when she heard a loud noise behind her, and kicked to shallower water where she could stand up. Nancy's husband Don reports, "The noise was loud enough for a swimmer 40 feet away and above the surface to ask if she was OK." Nancy was uninjured. The Frasers' dealer in Orange Park, Florida, returned the regulator to Scubapro, and Nancy received a new MK25 as a replacement. No one had an explanation for the failure.

So, it seems that Scubapro's technical staff should have known of the problem well before NOAA issued its safety bulletin in March. But the company remained silent for months, ignoring inquiries from concerned owners such as Jim Reilly (Wyndmoor PA), who says, "I sent them not one, but two emails asking if my regulator was safe to use. Never got an answer."

Divers Kept in the Dark

Seth Wingate (Pt. Reyes Station, CA) who owns an MK20 called Scubapro on May 27 and says they told him a notice would be posted on the Scubapro website on May 31, providing the details to correct the problem. When that didn't happen, he e-mailed Scubapro and was sent a form letter promising to replace the MK20 yoke free of charge with a universal yoke retainer that "transfers the mechanical load to the yoke retainer and not the body." Scubapro has sent a similar communiqué to dealers, but still has made no general announcement via the media or its website. So far, only those who inquire are getting this information.

We checked with a local Scubapro dealer (Marin Dive Center of San Rafael, CA), and were told that his shop alone had returned "four or five" cracked regulators. They also informed us that Scubapro was only sending the replacement parts as they were needed. So if you want to get a new yoke retainer as part of your regular servicing, prepare to leave your regulator for a while.

Given the disagreement between NOAA and Scubapro over the tourquing issue, Bill Sustr says "I won't dive with an MK20 with a Band-Aid fix. . . .If Scubapro is willing to offer some consideration for my MK20, I will upgrade to an MK25 or better. Otherwise, I will replace my whole rig with another brand."

Seth Wingate has urged Scubapro to recall the MK-20 regulators and replace them with MK-25s as they did for NOAA. "Anything less ... will be treating your loyal, long-term customers in bad faith," he pointed out, adding, "It is not fair to replace NOAA's MK20s and to treat other Scubapro customers differently, potentially putting them at great risk!"

Undercurrent wrote anonymously to Scubapro, asking why they were offering consumers the yoke replacement, while NOAA got all new MK25s. In response, Scubapro representative Eric Schulte said, "The MK20's were replaced with NOAA for two reasons: 1) We needed used test regulators to find the problem. And 2) They are working divers that could not have downtime until we came up with a fix for this issue, which took about six months of independent testing."

Scubapro has not acknowledged they had information about the problem before NOAA's complaints, though our reader reports dispute that. Cynthia Georgeson, vice president for worldwide communication at Johnson Outdoors answered one of the emails to her by saying: "Here is what I can tell you. Since the initial stories appeared on this matter, and our dealers receiving the service update resolving it, we have received a few additional cracked units. Each was independently valuated and the findings are consistent with over-torquing during service. At Johnson Outdoors, diver safety comes first and we are confident that based on these independent findings, our recent MK20 service update is the right and appropriate step to help prevent issues in the future."

Hopefully, she is correct and Scubapro engineers figured it out better than NOAA. Meanwhile, unless Scubapro heeds the warnings of long-term customers like Sustr and Wingate, other owners may have to wait until their MK20 first stages blow apart before they can get them replaced.

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