CW Tips

Tips for Learning and Improving CW

A great place to learn or improve your CW no matter if you are a beginner starting to learn Morse for the first time with no knowledge of it at all, or an experienced high speed operator, is Use the "Morse Machine", set your character speed to NO LESS than 18WPM, even 20WPM, and listen to the SOUND of the first character. When you are ready for the next character you can move on. You have all the time in the world to decide which character you heard, if incorrect it will light up red. To hear it again before you make up your mind, when in the Morse Machine, press the space bar.

When you are more confident you may like to move on the the Morse lessons starting at number 1. However, I recommend total beginners start with the Morse Machine first, as above described.

As you progress, you should always keep character speed high, around 15WPM or so, and slowly decrease the gaps between letters as you get faster and better at receiving. Don't worry about sending, that will come naturally and automatically once you can receive: you need to focus on receiving first. And do not start out sending on an electronic keyer or paddle, you really must start with a straight key (pump) first and develop good sending that way. Decode and send without a computer, unless you have a physical disability, always decode Morse (CW) by ear. A few minutes practice every day works better than once or twice a week. — Lou, VK5EEE


Increasing Speed by Peter VK4QC

To increase your sending speed, there is one other thing you could do and that is to try a short burst at a higher speed to get the feel of it, then back down to a slower speed, then up to your normal speed again. Over time, you will find that your overall speed will increase as you get more and more used to it.

This also works for receiving. Try to copy morse at a higher speed for a short session and don't worry about the errors. Over time the errors will get less and less, but always strive for accuracy over speed. If you miss a letter, just go straight to the next one without dwelling on it because if you do dwell on it, then you miss the next letter!!

There is a nice little free program we use at the Caboolture Radio Club where I am running morse training classes. It runs very well on my old laptop.

It can be configured for 5 letter groups, figures, mixed, plain text and it uses both the Farnsworth and Koch methods. So the character speed can be say 20 wpm but the overall speed can be 7 or 8 wpm. Slowly you increase the overall speed until it matches the character speed.

Ready for QSO?

When you are ready for your first live QSO, if you don't have someone mentoring you, see "CW Calling Frequency" above, and QSY to around 7028kHz, or call CQ down there. Be patient, you will get results. For Elmering with SSB talk-back, 7115LSB/7114CW is recommended. Don't try to send too fast, send slowly and relaxed is much better. You can still exchange RST, name, QTH and 73 in a slow QSO until you are ready to have longer ones where you can mention your PWR, ANT, WX etc.

Every CW Operator should print out and keep handy a list of Q-Codes.

Here below is a short list of things to avoid doing that will both save you embarassment and save the other operator from frustration :-)

DO NOT !!! List:

  • Do not use lots of "." (di-dah-di-dah-di-dah) — use instead "=" (dah-di-di-di-dah) it's much shorter.
  • Do not fail to end your CQ with a K or PSE K — don't just end with your call sign and nothing else, that's silly! End with K
  • If you are in QSO, end each over with KN so that no one else breaks in and confused you. KN means "only that station" answer.
  • Do not use a keyboard to send CW, unless at high speed to an experienced operator. Nothing is more frustrating to a CW operator than hearing slow CW with words spelled out in full, such as AND instead of ES, and "…" instead of a short "="
  • Do NOT EVER say "Hi" as a greeting on CW!!! Hi means you are laughing! If you start your QSO with "Hi" the other OP will wonder why you are laughing! instead use GM, GA, GE or GN depending on the time of day.
  • Do give honest reports, learn the RST system or have it printed out and in front of you. We like to know what the REAL readability and signal strength of our signals is.
  • Do NOT send your callsign more than 3 times in a row during CQ and don't send endless amounts of "CQ" in a row. 3 x 3 is plenty enough in a slow speed CQ, eg: CQ CQ CQ DE CALLSIGN CALLSIGN CALLSIGN PSE K
  • Do end your CQ with PSE K as if someone tunes in while hearing your callsign they then know you are/were calling CQ
  • Do NOT end a CQ with KN, or, nothing, or "+" [AR] — always end a CQ with K or PSE K
  • When the other station puts it back to you do NOT spend time reading through what you've written down before answering him, as he will wonder if you have gone away… if you need to read your notes, FIRST SEND "AS" (standby) twice, THEN read your notes, then come back with his callsign DE your call sign and your transmission. If you want someone to wait, send "AS"!
  • Do NOT panic, if you feel nervous, just send "AS AS" and take a deep breath, shake your hand loose, and don't grip the key too tight. Most of us are VERY happy to hear a new operator on CW and pleased to be one of your first QSOs!
  • Do NOT spell out AND in full, use ES, do NOT spell out YOU or YOUR or YOU ARE use U or YR or UR
  • Do NOT say MY QTH IS instead just QTH [followed by name of place]
  • DO repeat the resport (RST), QTH and NAME up to 3 times each
  • Do NOT spell out HOW DO YOU COPY? instead just use: HW?
  • Do NOT use "BK" in the middle of a transmission to abbreviate "back" — never use BK unless at the END of a transmission as it means "BREAK" instead of givng both callsigns
  • Do NOT spell out BACK TO YOU instead use BTU, though it really isn't necessary, callsign DE yourcallsign KN is enough or BK
  • Do not be shy to send QRS or [AS] when needing time before replying, or needing the other station to slow down.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for repeats of information you did not receive correctly from the other station. E.g. Name? RST?

If you avoid the above common mistakes made by newbies these days, you will be well on your way and avoid confusion and/or frustration.
Please see the QRS page for more information about starting out and going on air.

Excellent resource: The Beginner's Guide to Making CW Contacts

Learn CW Easily

The following are highly recommended for learning CW:

By setting character speed to 18WPM you are sent only 2 letters to begin with, at your target speed of 18WPM but given all the time in the world to recognize them and input them. Pressing the space bar will repeat the last one for you. The next one is not send until you have entered what you think it is. Give Morse Machine a try if you are totally new to Morse and want to get through learning the alphabet as fast and painlessly as possible. LCWO also has plenty of things for everyone wishing to improve CW even those of us above 50WPM receive. My strong recommendation to anyone starting out, or still learning CW, is to either first use for a few days, with above settings on Morse Machine, and/or use the G4FON CW Trainer software. — Lou, VK5EEE

Links to learning resources

CW Practice Sessions

Please see the Skeds page for latest information on CW Practice sessions and nets. Also don't forget the VK2WI CW Beacon that sends practice text on 3699kHz almost non-stop.

CW Learning Software Aids

Read more about Learning CW here.

More links on CW here

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