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Most posts about West Marine seem to be negative; I thought I would relay a positive story about their customer service.

A couple of weeks ago, my automatic inflatable pfd went off while it was in the back of my car. I went to order a rearming kit, and was able to find it in West Marine's on-line catalog. The kit comes in a few days, and I check the packaging; yup, it matches the make and model of my pfd (an older SOSpenders). However, when I go to install the bobbin and cylinder, I find that the bobbin doesn't fit. Not even close.

I call West Marine's customer service, and the woman I spoke with immediately sent me a package of bobbins that were also keyed to my pfd. No charge. Well, those bobbins came in a few days, and they too did not fit. Another call to West Marine, and this time, they say they don't know what to do; they suggest I call the manufacturer, and they give me the number. I do call the manufacturer and learn why the bobbins don't fit. It seems that my pfd must have been bought prior to the Coast Guard certification of inflatable pfd's as "approved" devices. During that time, SOSpenders (and other brands too I am guessing) used a different design for the bobbins. However, it was a different bobbin design that gained approval, and only that newer design is now sold. The confusion was compounded by the fact that SOSpenders did not change the model number of the pfd after the switchover. The upshot: my pfd can no longer be used as an automatic inflatable. It will work fine as a manual model, but I can't buy a bobbin to fit the triggering device.

Once I learned this, I called back West Marine to return the now useless rearming kit. I wound up with the same customer service rep I started with. She remembered my problem, and once I explained the story, she immediately credited my account for the full amount. She also told me it wasn't worth shipping it back to West Marine, and for me to keep it and use it to rearm the pfd as a manual unit. She also made some notes to share with her colleagues as she said this had come up before and they didn't know why the bobbins weren't fitting. While I wasn't happy that I need to buy a new auto pfd, I was pleased with West Marine's response and the service.

One more important piece of info to share: Coleman (the owner of the SOSpenders brand) is offering a discount to those in the same situation as me. They will give you 25% off the price of a new pfd if your old pfd is a pre-Coast Guard approved model that cannot be rearmed. Pick out a new vest from their website, call them and they will give you directions on how to ship your old vest to them, and how to get the discount.

btw, careful readers will realize that I waited quite a bit of time to replace the bobbin in my pfd. After all, the Coast Guard certified inflatable pfds years ago; just how long did this dope wait before servicing the unit? I know, I know; I was supposed to replace the bobbin after a year or two. Live and learn. At least now I have four replacement bobbins on hand.
 

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We recently had another good customer service experience at the local store. They had a certain one of their boat hooks on sale, but were out of stock. So they took our number and said they'd call. Well, it was maiden voyage day for our new-to-us little stink-boat, we were going to need a boat hook to fetch the starboard dock lines on return, and I didn't really want to borrow one from Abracadabra if I could avoid it. So we called the store to see if more of the boat hooks that were on sale had come in yet. Woman said truck was just being unloaded, and she'd check. She came back and said two of them had been on the truck, and said she'd hold one for us. We ran down there. Turned out what they'd received was a more expensive, longer-reaching boat hook. But she went ahead and gave it to us for the sale price of the less-expensive boat hook, anyway. (Btw: Turned out we needed that extra length, so we really lucked-out on this one!)

That's the second time the exact same thing has happened to us at WM, and it's one reason we keep going back. We've found WM's customer service to be excellent, so far.

Jim
 

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Buy the re-arm kit and see if it fits. If it doesn't-you have the older style. :) You then can qualify for the discount and save the bobbin for the new PFD, when you get it.
Just curious. Do you know how one identifies whether or not their SOSpenders PFD can be re-armed?
 
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