Improving your CW contesting skills                                                   Chris GM3WOJ - August 2017

Some background info...  I learned CW when I was age 16 in 1967 -  a good age to learn most things. There was no internet, no CW training software, etc. My weekly 2-hour tutors were Drew GM3CEA (SK) and John GM3BST (still going strong in 2017 - aged 96!) who were very patient with me. I used the 'EISH' 'TMO' method, practising sending with a thin RSGB book 'Morse Code for Radio Amateurs' edited by Margaret Mills G3ACC (still available - new editions now edited by Roger Cooke G3LDI)

I sat my Post Office 12wpm Morse Test at Portpatrick Radio (GPK) where the professional ops. were good at calming down a nervous teenager. They left me alone in a room and told me to sit and practice sending with a straight key and buzzer for 10 minutes - they then came in and said 'you have passed the sending part of the test'. I didn't realise they had been listening outside the door! Back in 1967 there was very little activity on VHF in rural Scotland, so a VHF/UHF-only (GM8Bxx) licence was not really an option - I had to pass that Morse test.

That's enough history - why did I choose to improve my CW contesting skills? During the 1980s and 1990s I entered a lot of 70MHz contests - they were quite competitive and the exchanged information was detailed (our /P QTH was the now famous '14km West of Scares') - sometimes win or lose could depend on logging 2 or 3 DX QSOs more accurately than your rivals, so I learned that accurate logging is one of the most important skills - back then and even more so today.

What really started me off on the road to higher CW speeds was an incident in the mid-1990s where a KC1XX operator asked me to QSY to 15m and despite him sending it three times, I could not read the 15m frequency he was sending me - embarrassing!  I decided there and then - I have to be able to read CW at a faster speed.

Some hints about improving your CW reading speed ....

1.  Practise your typing skills (this will be very useful for any type of contesting) Some ops can read 35wpm fairly easily, but struggle to type the callsign and report in quickly enough to the logging software. If SE5E sends you his callsign at 45wpm, see if you can type it in and respond before he sends it again (I can't)

2.  Ditch all the props. Switch off any CW readers, Skimmer, CW decoders built into transceivers, etc. - anything that you are currently using 'just to confirm the callsign' or 'just to confirm the serial number' - you will *never* improve if you continue to rely on these devices, even periodically. They are not always 100% accurate anyway - your ears and brain are the best decoders of CW.

3.  Practice in low stress contests. Don't bother sending in an entry unless you want to. You could even just tune around and listen to a station making QSOs at a speed just above what you are comfortable with - see if you can read all the callsigns and reports. The Russian WESM contests on 80m are good for this - these Russian ops are very speedy. The more contests you do, the more callsigns you will recognise and you will build up an 'internal SCP'. Try to memorise the whole callsign, not just the prefix or suffix.

4.  Don't expect to read 40wpm callsigns and reports anytime soon - it could take you a whole year to move up from 20wpm to 30wpm, but it *will* happen if you persevere. It took me several years of entering CQ WW CW etc and going on DXpeditions to feel confident about reading the higher speeds.

5.  If you have a friend who is a faster CW op, ask to sit with them in the next contest they enter and listen to the received audio - you could even try some local 'partner mode' if they are using WinTest - this is great fun and good practice.

6.  Use some of the software packages which are available. I am a bit out-of-touch with what's currently available, but Rufz and MorseRunner are two. (I find Rufz quite stressful for some reason - give me a real pile-up any day, hi)   Any software that helps you speed up your reaction times is a good idea also.

7.  Concentrate on the CW - no-one is impressed if you can send text messages,etc. while operating - avoid distractions. Concentrate 100% on making the CW QSOs and logging them as accurately as possible.

8.  One thing I do is turn the sidetone/monitor audio down to a low level - but not so low that I can't listen to what is being sent, which is essential. Our ears/brain have AGC which can cope with a 120dB range (apparently) but I find that the low level sidetone audio is less tiring and keeps my ears ready for weaker signals.

9.  Repetition I know, but practising and persevering are the two best things you can do.....

73   Chris  GM3WOJ