The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

ICS Navtex, Problems

The Problem

In 1999 our trusty old Furuno combination weather fax/navtex machine died after many years of faithful service. We decided to use our PC for weather fax and buy a dedicated navtex. We selected a unit from ICS.

We installed it with an active antenna and grounded it well through capacitors to our aluminum hull, but found that it could barely pull in a navtex station at 50 miles in daylight and 100 miles at night. We knew something was wrong since our old Furuno had received reliably to 300 miles in daylight and as much as 1000 miles at night.

We really needed to get reliable navtex reception because we were bound for the Arctic and navtex was and is an integral part of our weather and ice information acquisition strategy, although, with the advent of satellite e-mail, less important now than it was then.

Manufacturer’s Response

When contacted, ICS immediately blamed our installation: Wrong antenna position, electrical noise on the boat, poor ground…the list went on and on. After two weeks of following their e-mailed instructions with no improvement, the technician started back at the top of what was obviously a check list they went through every time they got a receiver sensitivity complaint.

Distributor’s Response

We were in the Bahamas at the time, so we sailed to Florida where the US distributor had his office. He turned out to be a real believer in customer service and, over the span of a week, brought two spare units and three different antennas to the boat. We tried every permutation imaginable until both he and I arrived at the inescapable conclusion that the basic design sensitivity of the unit was way under that of our old Furuno and way under that required by international treaty.

Manufacturer’s Response, Take Two

Despite our testing and the distributor’s conviction that we were right, ICS still refused to admit that they had a design problem and still claimed that the problem was our installation or unrealistic expectations for the unit.

Distributor’s Response, Take Two

He returned our money and took the unit back.

The Outcome

We bought a Furuno NX-500 commercial certified unit for four times the price of the ICS. At that time Furuno did not have a recreational unit, but we suspect that the less expensive unit that they have out now will deliver appropriate receiver sensitivity when used with an active antenna and good ground.

In the ensuing year we were alongside several ICS units that were getting no reception at all while our new Furuno clearly brought in every message.

Lessons Learned

  1. A lot of recreational equipment is not functional as designed.
    There is a surprising amount of recreational equipment out there that, as designed, is simply not functional. It never ceases to amaze us how many sub-standard units get sold before it gets found out. The ICS navtex receiver is just one example of this phenomenon.
  2. When in doubt, buy commercial level gear.
    Fishermen and professional mariners don’t put up with stuff that does not work as expected. Commercial gear may even be cheaper in the long run when you take into account the time and frustration factors.
  3. Look to the real professionals when choosing gear.
    When selecting gear, particularly electronics, go to the nearest fishing wharf and look at what’s on the boats. You’ll notice that the majority of the gear is Furuno.
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Dave Benjamin

Good point about so much “yacht” gear being junk. I spent a few months on the hard in Astoria, Oregon and the local supplier was Englund Marine Supply and Industrial Hardware. They catered heavily to commercial fishermen and I found them to be a great vendor.

Thanks for warning us away from ICS.