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Starting out

Now that the many countries have dropped  the CW  (Morse) test for HF access,  a lot of people will have decided that they will never need to learn CW. OK so some don't like Morse and that's fair enough, but consider this, there is still a massive amount of CW on the bands and you will be missing out on some good DX! Quite often rare DX stations concentrate on the CW side of things, while some don't even bother with voice at all!  Remember also that the 30 meter band (10MHz) is CW only, and can produce some excellent contacts. Also should you decide to build your own station, bear in mind CW transmitters are less complex than those of SSB and other voice modes.

So where do you start? Firstly before you even begin you have to get your mind straight. An awful lot of people can't get through the morse because their attitude is wrong. If you tell yourself  'I'll never master this', your mind will believe it and you'll have BIG problems. What you should be thinking is 'this may take some effort but I WILL MASTER IT'. Of course this doesn't apply to every potential CW candidate. I know of one guy who learnt CW and passed his 12wpm in just two weeks (hello G0SWG!).

So, your mind is straight and it's time to make a start:

1/ Begin by learning the alphabet, numbers, then other characters (question mark etc.) off by heart. To begin with just learn how each character is represented, for example an S is represented by three dots (...). At this stage you won't actually recognise what the characters actually sound like when sent.

2/ Learn what the characters sound like when sent in CW (letters, numbers, then other characters). One of the best ways to do this is with a computer based tutor.You'll probably have to spend a lot more time on this stage than stage 1/. You should also try tapping out characters for yourself with a key and audio oscillator (some people recommend learning to be proficient in receiving before even touching a key, but in my experience learning both sending and receiving concurrently is a better approach).

3/ Try receiving and sending simple words of maybe up to five letters. Then proceed onto whole sentences. Next start to listen and send sentences combining numbers as well, and finally other characters. You should remain at this stage until you are up to about 8 to 10wpm which is probably the lower limit of CW speeds used on the bands. The average QSO will probably take place somewhere between 12 and 18 wpm. Once again morse tutors are very handy, but as you become more proficient you should be looking for 'on air' practice with a friend(s).

4/ So your up to speed and now it's time to get used to QSO format. Once again computer based morse tutors are helpful  when it comes to simulated QSO's but after a while you will need someone to send you simulated QSO's.  Once you are used to the format, it is a good idea to have a CW QSO on  VHF or UHF with a friend. Next,   try listening to CW on HF. This can be a difficult transition as listening to nice clean CW on VHF/UHF is different to the CW plus noise on HF. Avoid trying to listen to people whose sending is poor (believe me there is some truly awful CW floating around the bands).

5/ Time for your first QSO.  Relax, and take your time. Don't worry if you miss out bits on receive, most of the time you will get the idea of what is being sent, particularly with standard QSO format (i.e. name, QTH, signal etc.).


Morsum Magnificent - morse enthusiasts magazine

Les Johnstones morse page - morse software etc.

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