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Help for a first time CW activator



Hang in there and have fun. I’ve done some CW chasing, but haven’t activated with CW yet. Work schedule changes are taking most of my time right now, but I keep working for that day to activate with CW. Not even much chasing time right now, but keep looking forward to it.

While you’re waiting to go up the hill, I’d like to suggest checking into a slow speed CW net. One I check into sometimes is the Carolinas Slow Net on 3571 at 2000L Eastern Time. Should be workable from your QTH on 80m at night, especially with that big loop (looked up your info on QRZ.com). Those folks will help you along, and you’ll get used to hearing some different characters, prosigns, etc. They won’t make you take any traffic if you don’t want to, plus are friendly and will slow down if needed. And it gets the jitters out of your system before the hill trip.

There are other slow CW nets around, I’m just familiar with this one. The link for more info is: http://web.ftc-i.net/~ale1/csn.html

Like other folks have said, most ops will slow down if needed and the flow gets easier as you go. Have fun on the hill.

Mike, N4VBV


Hi, I am also new CW operator, it’s impressive that you could reach current level so fast. To learn to manage pileups I used Morse Runner and Pileup Runner simulators they are very very useful, try and you will progress super fast. Check out at http://www.dxatlas.com

73 de LB8CG


I just did my first CW only activation this past summer on Squaw Mountain W0C/PR-082. And mostly just CW since. I am using a Yaesu 817ND, Palm Pico Paddles and a trapped end fed wire antenna held up with a Cabelas Crappie Rod. Only have 30 activations so far.

I find it easier to catch a call when a chaser sends DE before the call. After most stations call, I have to try to catch part of the call suffix, then send that with ?. If you were calling, I might send AP? Also some stations wait until the pileup is over and send their call in the clear.

If you have data on your phone during your activation, look for current spots on other summits. before calling CQ or spotting yourself, try other activators and send S2S. I am using the SOTA Spotter app on my phone.

I got tired of using my phone for the current time when logging contacts. I did not want to drop my phone into a hole in the rocks. I got a cheap digital watch to wear that makes it easy to log contact times. I get the cheap small clipboards for logging on and the paper logs are from a friend, Brad, WA6MM.

I am still getting frustrated at times and have to take a 30 second breather to clear my head. I do okay with call signs and RST reports and 73. When the QSO strays much from this, I get confused. You will have chasers send you name. You might hear GM JOSEPH, for good morning Joseph. You might get asked for your summit reference. Be ready to send that. Most chasers will already know your summit. A S2S calling station may not. Learn to listen for S2S in the pileup. I have written down S2S and then realized I was not writing a call sign, but that someone on another summit was calling. It is a thrill to respond with S2S?

Just realized Monday is a free day for National Parks. I might have to find a summit in Rocky Mountain National Park. Holidays and my retail business have kept me tied up lately.



Thanks Mark for lots of good info from the road ahead. We’re using a very similar setup (down to the Cabelas pole – they were so cheap I bought 2).

Also good heads up on the free NPs on Monday. I’ll have to do some chasing.


Hi all, here are a few hacks & hints from my perspective as a CW newbie, too:

  1. I program three memories in my keyers:

M1: CQ CQ DE mycall mycall K
M2: REF summit_reference
M3: mycall

These free my mind and fingers from giving complicated strings, like references or CEPT calls in Switzerland, hi, (HB9/DK3IT/P is not an easy one …). And it gives you short breaks for logging.

By the way, I used to include CQ SOTA in M1, but am now only using a regular CQ, because “SOTA” can be the reason that people not interested in SOTA don’t answer your call.

  1. I have a boilerplate QSO schema printed into the cover of my rig, and try to stick to it.
  • “CQ CQ DE mycall mycall K”
  • Other stations call:
    mycall DE othercall K
    or just
  • Once I spot a callsign:
    othercall UR RST 559 559 K
  • Other call responds
    R R mycall UR RST 559 559 K or TU
  • I confirm and end the QSO:
    R R TU E E
  • If no other calls come in, I ask?, QRZ?, or start calling CQ.

Hope that helps!

73 de Martin, DK3IT


One more thing: It’s no problem if you miss part of the other station. It will be good to understand the following ones, but you can improve over time:

  • other party wants to confirm your summit reference - e.g. asking “REF?”
  • other party want to tell you that this is summit-to-summit
  • other party corrects his/her callsign

73 de Martin. DK3IT


Wow I’d tried MorseRunner before, but for whatever reason didn’t really get into it. I decided to give it a try to prep for doing an activation. With 5+ responders it was total chaos. When I dialed it back to 3, though, it suddenly became something like a fun puzzle. And now I’m up to 5 and finding it’s seriously addictive. The developer did a very nice job of replicating the feel/sound of cw on a radio. It would be swell if you could interact with it via a paddle/key.


Excellent idea Martin. I am closing in on buying a MTR-3b for my prime SOTA radio, and it conveniently has memory slots to hold those.


I love my MTR-3B, but I love my MTR.-5B a tiny bit more, you may want to look at both :wink:
For some extra money, you get a few extra features that I find very useful for SOTA and other uses:

  1. Frequency display vs. readout: The MTR-3B can tell you its operating frequency, but it is not very user-friendly. If you want to log the exact frequency, you have one extra step after finding a free frequency (tap Fn and wait for the digit-by-digit display or Morse readout).

  2. Real-time clock: The MTR-5B has an integrated RTC (you need to fix the coin battery issue, but that is not difficult - replace it by 2 x AAAA cells). That is super-useful for logging.

  3. RIT / split-mode is transparent. With the MTR-3B, it is more of a Mensa admission test.

  4. When you enter messages for the keyer, the MTR-5B allows you to edit the message while recording. With the MTR-3B, you have to re-enter the full message.

  5. 17m is a nice additional band, even in the current state of propagation.

As said, I love them both. But if I could only have one, I would likely take the 5-bander.

73 de Martin, DK3IT


I debated this very question for some time, but then I found a scantly used 3b for very cheap so the decision was made :smiley:

Seriously though, I definitely see those advantages. There is something oddly appealing to me about the clever interface on the 3b, though. I say this from the standpoint of never having used one of course. I have, however, watched every video review of them both online!


For the memories in my MTR 3B, I have
M1: CQ CQ CQ de aa6xa aa6xa aa6xa k
M2: tu 73 aa6xa k
M3: not used

I find I don’t send the reference enough that its worth going through the trouble of programming it in for each activation. I’ve also found that having the programmed 73 gives me a moment to catch up logging or take a quick mental break between contacts to enjoy the scenery.

Jeff, aa6xa


Yes, point taken - the reason I put the REF in a memory slot is that is a bit more difficult to give without making an error - long characters etc.

CQ SOTA mycall K is something I can give more easily with frozen fingers than XY/XY 1234.

Martin, DK3IT


(writing to the me of a couple months ago and any other would-be new cw activators)

I’ve now done three activations via code under widely varying cdx. The first was under what I imagine is maximal duress in my SOTA world unless I start activating summits with a number >3 after the “5.” (which, I guess is a possibility). Long roadtrip, hard ascent, bad cdx, bad wx, first activation, first cw activation. On the upside, given the other hard/bad things, there wasn’t much room for cw apprehensiveness, and code saved the expedition. My second activation was basically the opposite: a literal walk in the park. Nice temps, drive up, sitting under a tree with a nice view. The third was also low stress, but an approaching storm and it’s QRN added some challenge.

So given that experience, here’s what I’d tell me back then.

  1. The pileups are nothing to worry about. Really. They sound fierce, but there is nearly always somebody that is distinct from the group. Sometimes they’re either faster or slower than the rest, but I find that usually one is just louder. And if you can’t copy the whole sign out of the pileup (which I rarely can so far) all you need is two characters because:
  2. The prosign KN is your best friend (thanks Andy!). If I can copy “N4” and nothing else, I am set. I send “??N4?? KN” and Rich sends N4EX out into beautiful silence and we complete the QSO. Chasers with rare exception obey the KN very well. I have used it with a single letter too – “??N?? KN” That obviously is likely to result in a couple of people responding, but instead of 10 it’s 2 and I can pick up another letter etc. I haven’t had to use the random number+KN method Andy proposed.
  3. If all else fails, send another QRZ? Sometimes nothing sticks out so sending another QRZ gives you another listen. I have to do this much less than I imagined I would.
  4. The chasers are incredibly patient. Brain lockups seem to happen more often on a hill. Lots of distractions etc. Chasers will help you.
  5. I seem completely incapable of remembering the callsigns of people I know while doing code activations. On all three, I’ve looked at my log afterward and said “whoa I didn’t even notice I worked X” I think I am going to make a list of those I work most often and keep it on my clipboard.
  6. Activating, as someone noted above, is actually substantially easier than a normal QSO as it’s so scripted. The one divergence to be aware of are S2Ss. I had my first of those on activation #2 (thanks George!) and it threw me off for a bit. Have your ref handy to send and make sure you know what “S2S” sounds like.
  7. Cold wx becomes a thing for cw way before I imagined. At 40Fish, I start out being able to send accurately at 14wpm or so. Without gloves I can’t keep that up for more than maybe 45min. Then I start not being able to get my thumb off the dit paddle quick enough (I actually thought there was a problem with the paddle at first). I’ve dealt with this by dialing the keyer slower. I haven’t tried gloves. I did just order a tiny British military straight key. I much prefer using a straight key in general, so maybe I’ll go that route for activating as well.
  8. The most difficult thing I’ve run into so far is QRN from lightning, and I’ve had it on 2 of the three activations I’ve done. A big crash can obliterate half a callsign. Nothing to be done but “AGN?” I suppose.

Hope that helps someone else out along the way!



Thanks Joe very encouraging - in fact near-on inspiring! :slight_smile:

73 de G4MD

(struggling to work up the courage to try CW again after a long, long time :-s)


And if you were to try doing it right now, you’d likely conclude what I did: that there was nothing to worry about at all.

I had two plans to help with making that initial jump. For me, the main fear was the pileup, so both were attempts to mitigate pileup fear. First I considered several routes to limit the number of people who could hear me. Early morning activation, using very low power, and using 80m were all things I considered. I also considered doing a WWFF activation for a mostly unique audience to embarrass myself in front of.

Before I could enact either, I got the best help of all: you drove 600mi and hiked 8.5mi straight up a mountain, and if you want the activation you will use code. Done deal! But that just functioned as a way of removing my excuses. If you can have a basic QSO at 10wpm, you can activate using code. It’s just a matter of figuring out your own way to take that first step.



You did the proper test Paul, much harder that what I did.

Just go on the air. As I was told and am happy to repeat, nobody cares how rubbish you are as long as they here you send their call and a report. You have nothing to lose.



Good advice! One thing I’ve done to offset any (self originating) sense of pressure using CW on an activation is to give chasers a chance to make a SSB contact with me first, and only do CW at the end of the activation. The tradeoff is that I may be more cold, tired, etc., by then and not as sharp mentally.

I have a lot of SOTA callsigns memorized. I think this helps often, but with cw it occasionally will cause me to anticipate letters and then be thrown off when what I hear is different. If I had just listened, I may have gotten the call the first time and not had to ask for a repeat.

I am too new to cw activations to have any thoughts on pileups. Thanks for the reminder about KN,
I will have to remember to use it.

I heard you on straight key this weekend, activating in W9/IL, FB OM!



You can also watch videos that have cw activations. There are a number of us that post them. Mine can be found here:
I watched a ton of videos before going on my first activation. I think it helped a lot which is why I posted my own once I started.

Best of luck!
73, Mike