First, my personal opinion, is that I would suggest using a straight key, as opposed to iambic paddles, for someone just learning to use CW on the radio. This is a matter of preference for many operators.
Ok, now your hands are sweaty, your pulse is racing, and your mind is filled with worry. Take it easy!!! Cure those immediate concerns: wipe your hands off, take a deep breath, and clear your mind of any anxiety. If you call and no one comes back, no harm; if someone does come back and even after repeated attempts you cannot copy due to their quick sending, band conditions, or just plain weak signal, just transmit, "SRI OM (your callsign)" No one will feel slighted that you didn't make a contact, sometimes it's just a fact of life.
Before you send, spend a few minutes listening to a quiet frequency. You're listening for other communications. If you hear none, send: "QRL?". (QRL? is asking the question...Is the frequency in use?) Listen...if the frequency is in use someone will reply back with "QRL", "Y", "YES", or possibly "C". If that happens, move to another freq and repeat. If after listening for a few seconds and you hear nothing, send "QRL?" again. Do you hear anything?? No??? Good, you're ready to call CQ. This is part of being a courteous operator.
You would call CQ like this: (insert your callsign in place of mine). Do not send quicker than you can copy. We all have a tendency to send quicker than we can copy.
"CQ CQ CQ DE W8RIT W8RIT W8RIT AR"
"de" is the CW abbreviation for the French word "from". The prosign AR is for end of transmission. ON4UN in his Ethics & Procedures for Amateur Radio brings up his observation that it is incorrect to send the prosign "K". The prosign "K" has the meaning of "OVER", as in "OVER TO YOU", as if you are handing it off to another station. At this point in time, there is no other station to hand an exchange off to.
Ok....did you hear anyone come back?? If not, repeat the CQ again, send CQ 3 times, "de", and follow that with your call 3 times. Don't send CQ or your call 40 million times, it gets to be a bit redundant and will lose the interest of those tuning around. Send brief CQ's more frequently.
If someone did come back to you, they might do it in the following manner:
"W8RIT W8RIT W8RIT DE KW8K KW8K KW8K K"
Hopefully, you copied the callsign. If you did not, don't sweat it. You can ask for a repeat very easily. Most (but not all) veteran CW operators, will have NO problem helping someone who is new to CW. Sometimes it may be a little difficult for them to "shift gears" to slow down their sending.
If you did not copy the callsign (or a part of it), just send something like this:
"W8RIT PSE RPT? K" or "W8RIT QRZ?"
He would then come back to you with:
"W8RIT W8RIT W8RIT DE KW8K KW8K KW8K K"
Now that you successfully copied his callsign, you might reply something along the lines of:
"KW8K DE W8RIT GA UR RST 599 OP DAVE QTH NR MARINE CITY MI BTU KW8K DE W8RIT K"
Remember to leave a space between characters in a word, and an even longer space between words.
So basically, I acknowledged that it was in fact his station that I heard in the beginning of my transmission. I told him GA, which is Good Afternoon. Obviously depending on the time of day I might use GM, GN, or GE. I am assuming that he is a stateside contact due to his callsign. If this were a DX station, I would have to be aware that he may be in a different time zone. For example if his callsign were VK5MRD, I would know that would be Australia and he would be roughly opposite to me in terms of the time of day. If it were late afternoon here, it might be late morning to him. So even though it may be afternoon to me, I might reply back to him GM for Good Morning. Keep that in mind for later. In my exchange, I also told him his signal report. For more info refer to a RST description. I also told him my name was Dave ("OP DAVE"), followed by my location ("QTH NR MARINE CITY"). "NR" is the CW abbreviation for the word "near".
He may reply like this:
"W8RIT DE KW8K FB DAVE UR RST IS 569 OP STU QTH CLEVELAND OH GA DAVE I AM MOBILE HEADING BACK HOME TO DETROIT AREA BTU W8RIT DE KW8K"
Now in these examples of exchanges I am excluding the usage of many of the prosigns, with the hypothetical assumption that the experienced ham (KW8K) recognizes that he is communicating with a newer ham (W8RIT) and does not wish to confuse him.
In the above exchange, he replies FB which means Fine Business...in other words he understood everything I sent. It can also be used as a compliment. He also replied back with a signal report, his name and location. He also threw in a tidbit of info that he was mobile and his destination. Instead of using FB, he possibly could have used RR, which would indicate "Roger Roger".
Depending on conditions of interference (both manmade or natural), or fading due to propagation, an operator may add after "RST 569...", one of the Q-signals. QRM, QRN, or QSB to indicate to the other operator a little more information about reception.
Now I may reply back to him in this exchange this way:
"KW8K DE W8RIT RR STU I AM USING AN ICOM 746 RUNNING ABOUT 100 WATTS INTO A 160 M FULL WAVELENGTH LOOP ANTENNA I AM SENDING WITH A J38 STRAIGHT KEY BTU STU KW8K DE W8RIT K"
Now there are ways that this inexperienced operator was lengthy and will in time and with experience learn and use some "shorthand" abbreviations. The experienced operator will continue the usage of what he has learned from what he has under the belt with CW QSO's.
"W8RIT DE KW8K RR DAVE RIG HR TEN TEC SCOUT 555 RUNNING ABT 25W INTO A HUSTLER ANT FB ON SK I AM USING PADDLES HW MNY QSOS HAVE U MADE WID CW? UR DOING GREAT BTU DAVE W8RIT DE KW8K K"
Now at this point being that I am new to CW I may be having some difficulty with my copy...hopefully not terrible, but a little. I am thinking that I want to wrap up the contact, log it, sit back and exhale. So I send back:
"KW8K DE W8RIT RR STU ON RIG UR MY FIRST CW CONTACT THANKS I AM GOING TO SIGN NOW AND GO RELAX THANK YOU FOR THE CONTACT 73 STU KW8K DE W8RIT K"
Now this time around I did pick up on the usage of "UR" for you are. I heard it and thought it is better to send than "YOU ARE". Being that I am inexperienced I did not know it, but I could have chose to sign with the proword "SK" instead of "K". Don't worry about it, no one will bite your head off for not using it. I hear this in reply:
"W8RIT DE KW8K RR FB ON UR FIRST CW QSO GLAD TO BE UR FIRST CONTACT OK I HPE TO HEAR U OUT MORE TU FER QSO 73 73 W8RIT DE KW8K SK SK"
Now in his reply he used some more CW "shorthand". He used "HPE" for the word "HOPE". Another very common abbreviation he used is, "TU" which means "Thank You". He signed off with the proword "SK" to indicate end of traffic, which really means the end of the contact.
Many operators at the end of the contact will also exchange what sounds like 2 "E's" DIT DIT.
There....you have just completed your first QSO. Log it. Doesn't it feel good?? Well, get on out and make some more when you want.
I would like to recommend using the FISTS calling frequencies. There are frequencies on each of the bands, and usually end with #.058 MHz. I have provided a list below. For more info, please visit the FISTS website. It is an organization that promotes the use of CW, and it's members are VERY eager to help out hams getting their feet wet in CW. I myself have felt quite welcome with contacts with WB4DAD and W6DDB. (Sorry, I didn't mean to leave anyone else out of the list, but if I included everyone it would be a rather lengthy list).
List FISTS calling freqs
Explain about zero-beating and break-in.