CW operating procedure

Morse code is a brand new way to communicate if you have just learned the Morse code. Before you get on the air to let your fingers do the talking, you should adopt a framework that lets you grow in your proficiency and at the same time enjoy some success at operating. After all, your grasp of the code is still a little shaky, and confidence lacking. Confidence and proficiency will come with time.

Ways of starting a QSO

Two ways you can start a conversation on CW: One is to hear another station calling CQ, copy down his call and answer him. Or you hear a station sign off and when his QSO is finished, give him a call.

The other way is to call CQ. CQ is a general call to anyone interested in making contact.

Before you go on to transmit, the modern CW transceiver offers you a sidetone that plays over the station speaker that matches the pitch of any signal that would be on your frequency. Likewise, if you tune to someone's frequency, that station's pitch to your ears will be the same note as your sidetone. For that to work, please see next:

Receiver fine-tuning set to off

First, make sure your receiver Incremental Tuning (RIT) is off or set to 0 offset from your transmitter (Yaesu brand radios call this a clarifier). Otherwise, you will be transmitting off from where you're listening.

Preparing to send CQ

Listen carefully to see that the frequency is clear, tuning slowly across the target frequency. Then send "QRL?" (DAH-DAH-di-DAH di-DAH-dit di-DAH-di-dit di-di-DAH-DAH-di-dit) then listen again.

Let's use KX7XYZ as your call in these examples. Because KX7XYZ is allocated to the Experimental service, as indicated by the 3 letters beginning with X after the numeral. There must also be 2 letters before the numeral. K7XYZ used to be so-reserved but is now available to amateurs seeking a vanity callsign. With KX7XYZ, I avoid using someone's personal amateur callsign in here.

Calling CQ

You have asked if the frequency is in use ("QRL?") and have listened for any signals on the frequency and have heard none. Now, send: CQ CQ CQ DE KX7XYZ KX7XYZ KX7XYZ K Naturally, you will substitute my KX7XYZ example with your callsign on the air.

If, having no answer the first time, after listening ten seconds, repeat as above.

Make sure you do not start sending faster as you call CQ, for you may get a reply faster than you can handle! That happened to me on my first outing fifty years ago – I got comfortable at calling CQ and sped up to beyond my general ability to copy everything else. It is a courtesy by faster operators to slow down to your speed.

When you get a response, you should hear something like this: KX7XYZ KX7XYZ KX7XYZ DE KM4XBK KM4XBK KM4XBK KN

To explain, always send CQ 3 times and your call 3 times. Always answer the CQ by sending his call at least twice, and give your call 3 times. The "DE" is French for "From," or "This is." The KN is the "private" invitation-to-transmit issued only to the specified station. Its sound is: DAH-di-DAH-DAH-dit.

There will be times when the other station is sending faster than your comfort zone and you have to send: PSE QRS meaning, Please send more slowly."

Answering a CQ

To answer a CQ or to call another station, simply transmit his call twice and transmit your call three times. End your transmission with KN.

Continues

Content of a first QSO

If you called CQ, the other station (KM4XBK) answered you: KX7XYZ KX7XYZ KX7XYZ DE KM4XBK KM4XBK KM4XBK KN Now it is your turn. For this exercise, your call is KX7XYZ: KM4XBK DE KX7XYZ KX7XYZ BT TNX FER THE CALL BT UR RST RST 579 579 BT MY QTH QTH IS NR SEATTLE, WA ? NR SEATTLE, WA BT MY NAME NAME IS CLYDE CLYDE BT HW CPY? KM4XBK DE KX7XYZ KN TNX (or TKS) is short for "Thanks." FER is shorter spelling (in terms of Morse code) than "for." UR is short for "Your" and RST is the "Readability-Strength-Tone" signal-reporting system. Most signal reports you will send or receive contain a report not containing a "9" in the third digit because rarely will someone have anything but a pure note with no hum or raspy sound.

It happens less than 1% of the time when a power supply begins to fail and the tone is anything but pure.

"QTH" is short for "location" of my station. Question mark is used at the end of a phrase that will be repeated. "NR" is short for "near" in this context. The actual location's name may be only locally known and by placing yourself in the vicinity of a well-known city saves a lot of time trying to send a complicated or very long name that is apt to get botched or lost in a fade (QSB) and needs to be repeated yet again.

We commonly use BT when moving from one topic to the next. Sometimes the operator needs a moment to collect his or her thoughts and may send BT a couple of times.

Report, name and QTH are usually repeated to allow the receiving operator to copy and verify or fill in a blank in the copy. These things usually go into the log.

What not to do

I do not recommend placing the K after plain text: RIG IS A K3 K or: MY NAME NAME IS CLYDE CLYDE K

In these examples we should send: BK or BK to represent the voice equivalent, "My rig is a K3. Over."

Do not send continuing loops of CQ and ID three or more times around. You may tire of calling short rounds of 3 CQ and 3 ID, then listen with no response. But if you do pause at the end of one to two rounds of 3x3, you will open the door to getting a response if one is to be had. I have come upon a long-winded CQ at its very beginning, waited and waited, then moved over and sent my own short round of CQ. I usually got a response. The long-winded call was the bait drawing in the fish and I snagged one.

Things you should do

Be careful with spacing. Break a "C" in half, and there is the sound of "NN." Avoid sending CQ, that is, skipping the space between the "C" and "Q." Do not send faster than you can send while still making good-sounding letters and words.

Along that line, there is a 1966 YouTube Army traing video that points out that the word, "LOW" has the exaxt same number and order od Morse code sounds as the word, "ENEMY." Only the spacing has changed: Letter "L" can be dismantled and reassembled with inappropriate spacing to create the first three letters, "ENE," of the new word. Further, shifting the letter-space one element left in the intended letters, "OW" spells "MY!" "ENEMY" is the result.

I recommend recording yourself and listening. Play yourself through a code reader. Code readers display what they see, whereas the human brain can make better sense sense of something that is not perfect.

A code reader will catch you sending with too-short letter-spacing, which is often heard when people say "the nag is Bill." class="prosign">ME, where the line over the top implies no letter-spacing, results in "G."

Too long a letter-space can insert a word-space between letters and too long an inter-element space will likely display extra letters like in the broken "C" that sounds like "NN."

The code reader can also misinterpret too-short a "DAH" as a "dit" and throw you a different result than you intended also.

Computer code readers can read perfect code perfectly, whereas skilled human code readers can make sense of imperfect code. The machine can detect your imperfect code and help you improve your sending quality.

Next page: Technique for sending Morse code by hand (Video) Previous page: Minimum character set for good CW operation First page: Morse Code For the Radio Amateur