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CW operating procedure

As a newcomer to Morse code, one should start with a set procedure until everything becomes familiar. After all, your grasp of the code is still a little shaky, and confidence lacking. Confidence and proficiency will come with time.

A good starting point.

When I first started, I had some good teaching materials in the late 1960s. I had an ARRL booklet that cost 50 cents, but it presented the code in the di-DAH form that I use on this site. I used the code practice off the air from W1AW, the headquarters station of the American Radio Relay League and had a teacher in an after-school activity. I hit the air calling CQ at too fast a speed and someone came back to me way too fast, because I was more proficient at calling CQ than I was at copying general message content! Next day I promised myself I would call CQ at a much slower pace. People usuallt come back to you at the speed you are sending.

Operating procedure

I will lay out a strict regimen here Once you become more confident and proficient, you may then alter the regimen to suit your needs. But both you and your contact may be brand new and a strict operating procedure will help you sort things out.

One thing I will specify in your regimen is that you send the other station's call followed by DE followed by your call, both at beginning and end of transmission. The other station comes first; "DE" is French for "From;" then your call comes last.

Calling CQ

Starting a QSO can be done by calling CQ. FIRST: Listen for a minute on the frequency you have selected. Send QRL? and listen. If you hear nothing, proceed. You apparently have a clear frequency. Send no more than three CQ, follow with DE, follow with your call sign three times. Then send AR K Now listen. If nothing heard, repeat calling CQ.

Send slowly. If you send CQ often enough, you become very profieient at it and can send it faster than you can copy anything else. That happened to me on my first day on. I was so embarrassed that I was doing faster than I could copy that I turned the radio ooff and came back the next day resolved to send much more slowly! I've never looked back.

At this point in time you might want to tune your receiver fine-tuning control across either side of the frequency listening for any calls. The fine tuning is either called a RIT or a clarifier. Then send another CQ.


Answer another station

You may hear someone calling you. Answer him back. Let's say that KD5XEE is answering you and you are KK7XAA. (These are callsigns from the Experimental service, because they have an X keading off the suffix portion of the callsign. We use these look-alikes for denonstration purposes to avoid using an actual radio amateur's call now, in the past or in the future.)


I doubled everything because either you or the other chap might need all the help you can get when you're just starting out. I signed it over with a full callsign block before applying the final K as a prosign.

  • What is "DE?" "DE" is French for "FROM." The callsign block always leads off with the other station "DE" yourself.
  • What is "RST?" R)eadability, S)trength, T)one. The 5 is stating perfectly readable, 7 is indicating moderate strength, T is noting a pure sine wave note. This is the standard signal report procedure used on CW. Most often the Tone will be pure. There will be rare cases for a need to report a tone quality of less than 9.
  • What is QTH and why the question mark? QTH is "Location." I show the question mark to indicate the location information is completed and will be repeated.
  • About the name and no question mark: The name is usually a short single word, whereas the QTH can be a long name of more than one word.
  • Alternatives when signing over: I encourage the use of both callsigns, the other chap's call first, DE, your call last, then a space and the invitation to transmit. Alternatives include using KN after the callsigns, also AR K after the callsigns, replacing K with KN if you wish.

An additional note about your frequency

If you are using a recent model (from the last 30 years) of transceiver, when you press the key, it will make a tone sound from your speaker, whether you're transmitting on the air or not. This is your sidetone. This sidetone is set at the factory to sound at the same pitch as an incoming signal will sound when he is transmitting on your frequency.

If it is a used piece of gear, the frequency of the sidetone and the incoming signal that is on your frequency may be off just a hair. Unless one is using a very sharp audio filter, it should not play too big a role in your hearing the other station.

Some people will not understand this point, and will set their frequency so they hear zero beat when you are sending, and then when they send, you will not hear the other station unless you tune your receiver. Do not adjust the VFO knob to tune someome in. Use the receiver incremental tuning (RIT) or as known on a Yaesu, a "clarifier." Otherwise you move your transmitter and will be asking yourself what the heck was the frequency we were on?!

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