When Steve Michalski tuned in his ham radio in the back room of his North Toledo home Wednesday, he was hoping to catch up with fellow amateur radio enthusiasts, maybe from as far away as Japan or South Africa.
What he heard instead was a call from the skipper of a small boat bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean who had engine trouble and was worried about an approaching storm.
Mr. Michalski, 48, called the U.S. Coast Guard in Toledo with coordinates for the 48-foot boat. The call made its way to the Coast Guard in Maryland.
The skipper never needed rescue assistance. But his position, about 300 miles off the coast of New York, was known to crews just in case.
"It is a hobby, but we are professional communicators. We do this every day. So when it comes time for us to talk, to pass information, we can do it reliably," said Mr. Michalski, who became a licensed amateur radio operator after becoming disabled several years ago.
"I give [the Coast Guard] that heads-up so that if something actually goes bad, they're kind of ready for it," he said. "They know which way they need to go and can actually act faster."
There are thousands of amateur radio operators around the world who monitor radio frequencies, both looking for those in need of help and a place to make friends. In the United States, they are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and are an invaluable part of local emergency management plans.
Locally, about 300 operators form a network in northwest Ohio that was written into the local emergency management plan about 20 years ago, said Tom Barnhizer, deputy director of Lucas County Emergency Management Services.