Electronic visual distress signals: Sirius Signal (Weems & Plath) versus Orion, plus a new option

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

13 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I don’t know if this is just a nice coincidence or a sign of National Boating Safety Week, but last night West Marine put the Weems & Plath (Sirius Signal) SOS Distress Light on sale for $70 (until May 27):

    https://www.westmarine.com/buy/weems-plath–sos-distress-light-electronic-flare-with-distress-flag–17466988?recordNum=2

  2. Great comparison, and I especially like the on-the-water testing. I needed a new flare solution for my new-to-me boat a few months ago and stumbled across the Orion product at a pretty decent discount, and ended up getting that instead of the Sirius Signal, which I had on my previous boat.

    I can say in general that I prefer the build quality of the Sirius over the Orion just from the outside, including the packaging. However, the Orion one had a prominent place in the store along side all of the other flares, and obviously was trying to recover some of the lost market that Sirius stole from traditional flares.

    I’m just glad I don’t have to keep buying the old style dangerous flares anymore!

  3. Dan Leach says:

    Thanks for the great breakdown Ben. Orion’s FUD about the Sirius product is just so sad. Clearly they lost the bidding war to get the right to this product, or they didn’t bid at all thinking they could quickly come to market with their own versioin before Weems could get established. They were slow. Weems has a lead and a better product. Orion, however, still has distribution and could win in the end. We’ll see. As for me, I have the SiriusSignal…but I do store it in one of those old orange Orion Tube flare holders….on a mounting clip. It fits in there, with the flag and spart batteries, perfectly. 😉

    What I’m more interested in seeing is what Ocean Signal does. Their RescueME EDF1 Electronic Distress Flare doesn’t meet the original spec (it was Red-Orange/Cyan) and still doesn’t have a floating collar. But now that this color is approved, the RescueMe flare is just a floating collar away from passing. It is amazingly bright, and has 4 light settings; Low, High, Ultra High, and Directional. That last one means you can aim the strobing, and not have to blind yourself by looking at the light when it’s on. All that pushes the price up to about $140….but it’s a sweet light.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks for the reminder, Dan. I’ve seen the RescueME EDF1 demoed and thought it well designed and built (like everything I’ve seen from Ocean Signal). But it is still mysterious to me what else besides the colors the RTCM put into their new 13200.0 recommendations for eVDSDs (and that the USCG has agreed to accept as a night signal). It may be that all the manufacturers need new designs (though many were involved in the process).

      Of course it is possible to carry pyrotechnics to fulfill the USCG regs and any electronic flare you want to improve your chances of success, as noted here:

      https://www.sailmagazine.com/diy/electronic-flares-for-cruisers

  4. Darren says:

    Excellent review/comparison. Interestingly, when we created the Weems & Plath SOS Light video a few years ago we actually shot four pyrotechnic flares into the air at night in populated Port Ludlow, WA. Like you, we worked with the USCG and our local fire and police departments. Besides the fact only three out the four flares ignited (one was a dud), no one called the coast guard or the local emergency agencies.

  5. Richard Cassano says:

    The real weakness in these products are the batteries you choose to put in them. As a recreational diver I always used Duracell in my dive lights. But, at some point several years ago I started to get leaking Duracell batteries on a regular bases. (every flashlight onboard is a certified dive light) Keep in mind a dive light for deep diving cost over a hundred dollars. Usually, a leaking battery is not caught in time to avoid destroying the flashlight. In my opinion, it’s not possible to really clean up a flashlight after batteries leak, certainly not well enough to consider the flashlight reliable as it was when new or reliable enough for diving or as an emergency signal. When I bought the Sirius Signal SOS light it came with Rayovac batteries and the literature with it said they carefully evaluated the batteries and found Rayovac least likely to leak. I switched to using them and so far have not had a single leak failure in any device or flashlight. In addition, they seem to last longer than any other battery I have tried. I do not have any scientific data to prove this – just my overall experience. I also, started a system of putting a label on each device indicating the month and year the batteries were new. The Sirius Signal is an exception it gets new Rayovac batteries at the start of each season. Not taking any chances!

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Richard. I’m not nearly so careful, I’m not proud to say, but maybe I’ve been acting like a more average boater as I long test the Sirius Signal eVDSD I received back in Sept. 2015 (before Weems & Plath took over distribution). It’s been stowed on Gizmo ever since — including getting me through one USCG underway surprise inspection — and Gizmo has been in the water the last 3 of those 4 winters, 2 in Maine, one in NC. I’ve demonstrated it to visitors numerous times, but think I only refreshed the batteries in Sept. 2017 (not sure which brand).

      At any rate, I checked the 2015 Sirius Signal it out while testing the new sample, and it’s working fine with zero sign of battery failure. But that doesn’t make me smart, and I am trying to get more disciplined about marking battery changes on all sorts of gear like smoke detectors, keeping a list of PLB registration and battery expire dates, etc. Just having the equipment on board is not the whole job 😉

      PS Rayovac has a good story: http://www.rayovac.com/story/our-heritage.aspx

    • Richard, we, too, have found the “copper top” Duracell batteries to be a leak problem – I’ve even experienced a couple that were still producing power when they leaked. I have found that the “titanium” versions have been trouble-free, but I think they come only in AA and AAA sizes. For my C- and D-size stuff, I have to resort to regular (as in annual) replacement.
      In other tests I’ve seen, Ray-O-Vac did not do well performance-wise, but these tests were not recent.

  6. Ted Scharf says:

    I still use Duracell in my dive lights and other items such as a handheld GPS. I have had great luck with their warranty. They have replaced 2 lights. Here is the warranty that I just found. It wasn’t easy to find but it is on their site.

    Duracell Battery Guarantee

    If not completely satisfied with your Duracell battery product, call 1-800-551-2355 (9:00AM – 5:00PM EST). Duracell guarantees its batteries against defects in materials and workmanship. Should any device be damaged due to a battery defect, we will repair or replace it at our option. Leaking battery and damaged device must be provided as proof of claim. Duracell may deny claims of damage caused by misuse or modification of the batteries or device.

  7. Armand Seguin says:

    Just two points. First, each D cell contains 13000 mAh, thus 26000 for two. A C cell contains 6000, and 18000 mAh for 3.
    Secondly, I don’t think you can assume the Orion has the exact same LED system as the Sirius, therefore you cannot predict that the Sirius with three C cells would last longer based on higher voltage.

    • Armand, using your figures, the 2 D cells would contain 39 watt-hours of power, while the 3 C cells would contain 27 watt-hours – approximately 30% less. In a quick survey of the web, it appears that amp-hour capacity for C and D cells are very inconsistent, and vary widely depending on the amount of draw, so the figures are probably not trustworthy in an absolute sense.
      What Ben is basing his guesstimate on is that LED lights have a cutoff voltage that they do not work below and that alkaline cells drop voltage with discharge, so the 3 C cells of the Sirius might hold above the cutoff voltage of the LED array longer than the 2 D cells of the Orion.
      Clearly, the way to resolve this would be to load both with the same brand (and chemistry) of cells, turn ’em on and see who lasts longer 🙂 I don’t think we can properly calculate a resolution.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Armand (and Hartley), but the real issue here seems to be my writing ability, not which light lasts longer. I don’t think I predicted battery duration at all but instead was trying to make a point about the different voltages the lights run at:

      “Moreover, the Sirius is arguably easier on the switching path than the Orion because it uses 4.5v instead of 3v to produce the same mandated light intensity levels, and thus less current.”

      Leaking batteries and corrosion are the likely point of failure of these beacons, and then when they are turned on — possibly after years of neglect — the various contact points in the power path have to pulse power to the LED. Lower current at higher voltage seems like a gentler way to do it.

      The minimum power duration of these lights is spelled out in 46 CFR 161.013 (link above) — like the complex light intensity requirement — and I did not test either:

      Ҥ161.013-9 Independent power source.
      (a) Each independent power source must be capable of powering the light so that it meets the requirements of §161.013-3(a)(1) and emits a recognizable flash characteristic of the International Morse Code for S-O-S at a rate of between 3 and 5 times per minute after six hours of continuous display of the signal.”

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