Wednesday, January 10, 2007


There are folks out there who wonder if Amateur Radio is just a hobby for a bunch of aging curmudgeons. A dusty old pastime, a relic of the past that has no bearing on today's modern techno-riffic world. I submit the following ARRL official bulletin for your edification:

ARLB002 California ham has role in sea rescue

ARRL Bulletin 2 ARLB002
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT January 9, 2007
To all radio amateurs

ARLB002 California ham has role in sea rescue

A California radio amateur played a part in an international effort to rescue a US sailor attempting to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe. Miguel ''Mike'' Morales, KC6CYK, of Riverside, told ARRL he was able to contact fellow radio amateurs in Chile to obtain and relay reassuring information to the family of Ken Barnes, whose 44-foot ketch Pivateer was foundering off South America. A Chilean trawler, Polar Pesca 1, rescued Barnes from his disabled vessel on January 5. Upon learning of Barnes's predicament on January 2, Morales said he contacted the sailor's fiance, Cathy Chambers.

''She mentioned that the satellite telephone was dying on him over there, so their communication was 30 to 60 seconds at a time,'' Morales recounted. ''I was lucky enough, I got in touch with some of the Charlie Echo [CE-prefix] stations until I got to someone in Punta Arenas, and then Polar Pesca, the vessel that did the rescue.''
Morales speaks fluent Spanish and has visited Chile and knew ''the way things operate down there.'' As a result, he says, he was able to obtain credible reports via his 10-meter contacts as to what was happening.

Morales said he was able to gather information via his Chilean ham radio contacts from the Polar Pesca 1. He relayed information about Barnes's location and when he was going to be rescued. Morales said he felt it was important for the family to know Barnes's situation and how the rescue plans were playing out.

Barnes, who's 47, left Long Beach, California, late last October, hoping to be the first person to sail around the world from the West Coast. A severe storm dismasted, badly damaged the vessel and soaked his supplies.

The Chilean Navy dispatched one of the CP3 Orion aircraft Chile uses to patrol its 200-mile-offshore territorial claim. The plane spotted the foundering vessel, photographed it and even attempted to drop a life raft that missed its mark. The Chilean Navy coordinated the operation and recruited the Polar Pesca 1 to undertake the actual rescue, although Morales says the US Coast Guard agreed to cover the expense. At that point he was able to pass along news to the family that the trawler was en route to Barnes's location.

''The main thing is, Ken Barnes is back, is alive,'' Morales said. ''What I did was on behalf of the US ham radio community, I believe. That's what you're there for.''

Barnes is scheduled to return home to California this week, and Morales will be among those on hand to welcome him.

This is just one instance out of thousands in Amateur Radio's long history, where life and limb have been saved due to the efforts of "Joe Ham". It makes you pround to be an Amateur Radio op.

73 de Larry W2LJ


  1. Hi Larry,
    I enjoyed your thoughts.

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  2. Anonymous2:00 PM

    A lot is being made of this, but the headline is pretty misleading. The guy played no role in the rescue; he just passed some information from people on the ground -- who he didn't know -- on to the sailor's girlfriend, who may have welcomed it, but didn't ask for it. It's nice, but the fact that ARRL and others are peeing themselves with excitement over this is not a sign that ham radio is "relevant". It's a sign that ham radio is desperate.

    If the importance of amateur radio is based on the role it plays in emergency communications, then I'm afraid that importance is already mightily diminished. Satellite phones can go anywhere, don't depend on the vagaries of propagation, and don't require big antennas, specialized training, or licensing. If the relevance of amateur radio is based on our long history of technical innovation, education, and fun, then we won't need to jump up and down trying to justify why a cranky 70 year-old volunteer with his callsign embroidered on his hat is better than a $1,000 Thuraya.

  3. "The guy played no role in the rescue; he just passed some information from people on the ground"

    That's not enough? I think that's exactly the point! A guy passed on some information that was needed!

    "Satellite phones can go anywhere, don't depend on the vagaries of propagation, and don't require big antennas, specialized training, or licensing."

    And in this casem the vaunted satellite phone's batteries were dying, basically rendering it to the same value as an expensive paper weight. Oh, and I guessed you missed the news yesterday where China announced the success of their "killer satellite" program.

    Maybe, just maybe you need to keep in mind the motto, "When all else fails." That's the point. Maybe Amateur communications aren't the frontline mode- but they're there when everything else craps out - as it does from time to time. As they did on 9/11 and they did during Katrina. Heck, Amateur communications are even relied on by NASA, when normal communcations links to the ISS go down.

  4. Anonymous6:51 PM

    The fact is, the guy didn't talk to the sailor, he didn't talk to anyone directly involved in the rescue, and none of the information he passed in either direction changed anything about the rescue. He was able to relate the exact location of the ship to the fiancee, and the information that a trawler was going to get it. It's not even clear that she didn't already know that. That's nice, but for a headline like "Amateur Has Role in Rescue at Sea", no, I don't think it's enough.

    What happened here that could not have been accomplished by a Spanish speaker with a phone and the number for Punta Arenas directory assistance?

  5. Maybe you're correct - maybe you're not. But your willingness to discount the value of Amateur Radio as a form of backup emergency communications; based on this incident alone seems misguided.

    Several years ago Amateur Radio played a HUGE role in saving the life of a 13 year old boy who was shot when his parent's sloop was attacked by pirates off the coast of the Honduras. The boy would not be alive today if it weren't for the due diligence of the Amateurs involved.

    Maybe Amateur Radio's role is diminished with the emergence of newer technologies; but I think it's foolhardy to trump it as irrelevant, obsolete, or no longer needed.

  6. Anonymous6:07 PM

    I'm not questioning the value based on this incident; I'm questioning it based on the hype attached to this incident. If ARRL and others feel they have to make this big a deal about this, they must not have much to offer. That's the message that I take as a ham; I can't imagine that the message that non-hams would take would be more charitable.

    There's no doubt that amateur radio can serve a crucial emergency (and non-emergency) communications role in developing countries. I have yet to be convinced that it lends the "relevance" to the hobby in the US that many claim, or that we really need to defend our existence or prove that we're relevant.