Learn CW

Also see: Tips for Learning and Improving CW and Skeds and Nets

QRS = Please send slower

No one was born able to speak (unless Jesus?) and no one was born able to send and receive "Morse or CW". Every high speed operator today, myself included, started out not knowing even a single letter, and we had to learn to crawl before we could even walk. When you keep walking, even though you may fall down several times along the way, you eventually find yourself running.

Not all CW operators are welcoming to newcomers, sadly, and this minority of rude, selfish, forgetful, arrogant and plain stupid people who don't do anything to help newcomers, even if they taught themselves the hard way long ago, do not represent us. If you are new to CW please do not be in the least discouraged, but instead read on, how you can find pleasure and go on air in CW.

10 Reasons to Learn CW

Not convinced? Read this: 10 Reasons to Learn Dahdidahdit Didahdah

First Steps

If you are just starting out to learn the very first letter or two of Morse, there are now many options open for you. See the CW Tips page for links to some helpful software and web site, especially the G4FON software and the LCWO.net website with its "Morse Machine". If you use the Morse Machine be sure to set the character speed to 15-18 WPM, no less. You have all the time in the world to reply, the effective speed is what you're comfortable with, but characters speed should be so that you focus on the sound of the character, not on the individual dits and dahs! Once you have made that first step to set aside 10-30 minutes a day to start learning, just relax, and start the program, you'll be amazed how easy it turns out to be, and you go at your own pace, stress free. Note that a little often, is better than a lot once in a while. 5 tips for learning Morse Code - video.

Your next step is to find an "Elmer". You can do so via the SKCC Club (see Clubs page), or by posting in our Assistance required forum, if you have joined this site (joining is easy). Just click on Join this site top right, and see the main front home page first on how to choose your username. It is recommended Elmers meet with their students around 7115LSB (=7114CW). For the VK CW Slow Speed and High Speed practice nets, see the CW Nets page.

Once you have mastered all the letters and numbers and the most common pro-signs and punctuation, you are ready to go on air! Well, almost! Before you do, be sure to watch these two videos, and please start for your first year on a straight key before proceeding to an electronic key, if you want to do it right :-) once you have reached 18WPM on a straight key, you can upgrade!

1: How to operate a straight key. This is in Japanese with English subtitles.

2: How to send morse correctly. This one from the US Army.

3: Demonstration by a 10 year old! - Start with a straight key like she did!

NOW you may be ready to go on the air after watching the above, and practicing off-air with side tone first :-)

AND: Print out a list of Q-Codes and other CW abbreviations (search web for a short list) and keep them handy!

Learning CW Resource

CW Learning Software Aids

Going On Air

Update: make sure to check out this excellent resource: The Beginner's Guide to Making CW Contacts

The biggest obstacle going on air, is nerves, and lack of "Rubber Stamp" QSOs in VK (see below). You've never had a CW QSO before, or, not with anyone other than your Elmer. Here are some tips to make it easy for you. First, please do not use a keyboard: sending CW on a keyboard by an inexperienced operator is a thousand times worse than sending bad CW on a straight key, you will most certainly upset people, including me! CW is not a data mode, it is a human mode, designed for the human ear and brain. Secondly, do not start out on a keyer (paddle).

The very best way is to start out on a straight key, and you can usually find one for free from your local radio club or very cheap online. Watch some YouTube videos or have an Elmer show you how to correctly hold it, arm resting on the table, and don't grip it too tight. Relax, and let your wrist up/down movement be sending the CW, don't tap on the key. Hold the key like a tea cup and let your relaxed wrist motion do the work.

Before you go on air, keep some notes handy for a "rubber stamp" QSO, and above all else, keep a printed list of Q-Codes handy or on the wall in front of you, as well as a list of commonly used CW abbreviations (search the web for a list). If someone sends you any 3 letters beginning with Q, do not ignore it, look it up! Some of them are very important and should be learned by heart: especially QRL, QSY, QRT.

Now you're ready to try out an on air CQ call. Simply go to 7050 in CW mode, no need to ask "QRL?" this is the CW Calling Frequency. Send a short call, no longer than 3 CQ, DE, and 3 times your callsign. Send it as slow as you like! If you don't get an answer, wait a few minutes and try again. The calling frequency is not for non-stop calling, QSO, or long calls, so just take a break or call on another frequency, then come back and try again.

Remember, when someone doesn't answer you it doesn't mean that they don't want to or your sending is too poor, sometimes people are just busy. Find a clear frequency around 7028, check if it is free by sending QRL? wait, and if no reply, send QRL? again. If still no reply, call CQ. If no answer, come to 7050 and do a CQ as mentioned earlier above, and add to it QSY 7028, then go down to 7028 and call CQ again.

There are many CW operators monitoring 7050 and happy to come back to you, provided they can hear your CW is hand sent, not slow CW on a keyer, and not keyboard. Believe you me, we can tell. Later, after getting your speed on straight key to at least 12-15 WPM in comfortable form, only then should you move to electronic keyer, and then no less than 15-18WPM. But you still should not use a keyboard, until you have mastered at least 25WPM and are very very familiar with CW operating style.

For your first practice calls and QSO, if only exchange RST, you can stay on the Calling Frequency 7050. But if you want to exchange name, QTH or have a QSO, you must first QSY to another frequency, even if it is up or down 1kHz. Generally, 7028 plus or minus 2 kHz or so is the place where you will find slower speed QSOs, and QRP is on 7030. So just go ahead and get on air, with the above points in mind.

How to relax when it is your turn

As a new CW Operator, you may have copied down what the other station sent you, onto a paper and have blanks in it. When it is your turn to transmit, you have no time to read through what you have written, and fill in the blanks. Well, there is an easy solution, and one that experienced OPs will not mind at all: simply, when it is your turn to reply, send "AS" (di-dah-di-di-dit). Then take all your time to read your notes, and even, if you need, to compose some of your reply. Just sitting there in silence, becoming more nervous and stressed, doesn't help, but by sending "AS AS" once or twice, you buy yourself time. Then when YOU are ready, go back with your next over or reply. Again, don't be shy to ask for repeats, and/or for QRS. This shows the other station that you are new to CW or slower and they will usually be more than happy to assist. Most of us are extremely pleased to find new CW operators not using encoders/decoders.

Rubber Stamp QSO

What is called a "rubber stamp" QSO, is very very helpful to new comers to CW for their QSOs. It is very common in Europe, because "rag chew" (=long) QSO are rare, due to the language barriers. In this area of VK however, since everyone speaks English, QSOs don't have a simple set format. So if you want to get simple "rubber stamp" type QSO the best place is 40m. But we're thinking of finding ways for people in VK to do that so that you don't get unexpected types of QSO and nervous. Here is a standard "rubber stamp" QSO format you can follow, copy it out on a paper and insert your own data, so you can send it with it laid out in front of you:


Keep calling until someone answers you, they should come back at your speed, if not, send: QRZ? DE VK5EEE QRS PSE K
(who is calling me? this is VK5EEE please send more slowly, please go ahead). After someone answers, format as follows for your first over:

(vk2ccw this is vk5eee good morning/afternoon/evening thanks for calling. your RST is 579. my location is Adelaide. my name is Lou. how do you copy me? vk2ccw this is vk5eee please go ahead you alone and no other break-ins)

(vk2ccw this is vk5eee roger copied all that, fine dear old man michael. thanks for the information. here my power is 100w & antenna is a dipole up 4 metres. weather is sunny and temperature is 15 degrees Celcius. Now i have nothing further for you thanks for a great contact and I hope to see you again. I will send my QSL card to you via the bureau, best wishes! End of message [AR] vk2ccw this is vk5eee [SK]

Then all you need to do after that is send a couple of dits after he says good bye, just sent EE or TU 73 EE

A good time and place to find Rubber Stamp QSOs would be during CWbash mini-activity periods. Try calling CQ and using the above format especially during those periods mentioned on the CWbash page. Also take a look at the CW Nets page.


A short list of things NOT to do when you try your CW QSO are mentioned on the CW Tips page - avoiding those common mistakes will go a long way for both your and the other operators satisfaction!

Note on use of decoders

Decoders work very well unless there is no fading (QSB), no interference (QRM) and no static (QRN), and, the operator on the other side is sending so-called "perfect" CW. CW was never meant to be decoded by computer, so the trained human ear is by far the best CW decoder there is, when that ear is attached to the head of an experienced CW operator.

Use of decoder does not help speed learning, it in fact hinders it. The use of a decoder is using CW as a data mode and is thus essentially "Digital CW" and should therefore not be used in the CW-exclusive part of the band, but in the Data mode part of the band. If you are therefore unable to copy at least most of the CW you are listening to by ear, please don't use the non-data part of the band to avoid upsetting the other station. Slow speed and keyboard/decoder QSO always traditionally take place in the higher part of the band anyway, above 30kHz on 80/40/30m an above 50kHz on 20/15/10m.

Not even the very best decoders can ever decode as good as the human ear and brain when there is QSB, QSD, QRM, QRN or variation in speed.

Improving your CW

The more QSO you have, the better, but never stress yourself. If the other side does not slow down to match your sending speed, or if they are sending too fast, there is no shame whatsoever in sending the 3 letters: QRS. Even experienced operators who send high speed CW at 30WPM or more, often use QRS when they have noise or interference, to tell the other operator to slow down. Everyone knows what QRS means and most of us are happy to do so.

Stick to the straight key until you have mastered around 15-18WPM before you attempt to go onto an electronic keyer or paddle. You will not regret it and thank me later, even though you may think it is a short-cut to getting up your speed, you are wrong. Yes, you can listen to a station going a little faster, say 20WPM or so, but use your straight key until you can send well at 15-18WPM and only then go to a paddle and keyer. If you want to aim for high speed in future, then avoid using iambic mode.

You can find plenty of activities listed across the top menu of this site, which you may engage in. Check out the QFN "Quick FuN" on the CW Nets page, and read the Calling Freq page. Also check out CW Bash, when you are ready for more. Good clubs to join up with are FISTS and SKCC, you will find good activities there too, and get involved in SOTA or park activations, either as a chaser (having QSO with /P stations working out in nature) or an activator (going out and having fun in CW /P).

Don't forget if doing an activation, announce on 7050 which frequency you will be calling on, so that anyone listening there can QSY to your frequency and give you a contact, and even pass on the info about you on 7050 to others. When you're not doing anything else, maybe Emailing, home brewing, or tidying up, leave your RX on 7050, you may hear some announcement or a CQ.

Hope to see you on air!

73 ES 77 (Long Live Morse) de Lou, VK5EEE

Also see: Tips for Learning and Improving CW and Skeds and Nets

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