CW Operators - why do some of you send much faster than the Activator?

When I activate I use the old plastic straight key I bought for 79 cents as a novice in 1968…WN3JAG. At home I use a Chinese straight key that weighs about 1kg.
73 Hal N6JZT

I agree being a new CW operator.
The RBN rarely picks me up until I send at 18WPM. (And I use a keyer) So, that is what they see, that is what chasers who don’t know me think I can copy. I know I have to set the keyer faster to be able to be picked up. Other guys say that they can be picked up at 10-12, but for some reason I can not.

I will ask them to QRS if I need it. Some of my regular chasers get a feeling for my speed (Which I try to post in my alert, usually.) There a couple of guys that chase me regularly and i have emailed them to keep sending faster than my speed to keep me on my toes.

But Yes please chasers PSE QRS.
And if possible, PSE QRS when I am trying to chase you too?


I agree Phil.

I can copy at reasonable speeds if spacing is good, but if not I struggle. I tend to be a bit nerdy when it comes to chasing, I look up the activator’s call on RBN and then set my keyer speed to match! I don’t chase all that often though outside of a SOTA activation.

I tried an activation with my SW-20 QRP rig once and someone called me at a slower speed and I had a bit of a fight with the menu system to reduce my speed, I ordered a speed pot pretty soon afterwards and fitted it to the rig! Colin M1BUU's radio stuff: SW-20+ Keyer speed control

If somebody calls me at a slightly slower speed, I tend to increase the spacing between letters, but if someone called me a lot slower, I’d change the keyer speed. I suppose QRS chasers might be put off from calling if the activator is rattling along. Food for thought, I’m glad you raised the issue Phil. Maybe I should take a leaf out of another activators book and turn the speed right down for the final CQ calls.

My usual rig has been my 2 Band Mountain Topper (MTR) and I have been the victim of a firmware bug a couple of times. I like to leave the RIT on, ready to quickly get the caller into the narrow passband of the RX, I forget to come out of RIT before attempting changing keyer speed by holding the function button down, the rig locks up and sends from keyer memory! To change the speed, first you have to exit RIT and THEN press and hold Fn. It’s just easier to stay at the set speed unfortunately!

I have the new 5 Band MTR to try out soon so I’ll have to see how that behaves!

73, Colin M1BUU

[quote=“K6CMG, post:22, topic:11919”]they can be picked up at 10-12, but for some reason I can not[/quote]Weird. I suppose it may be down to the individual skimmer operators and how they’ve set things up? I know I’ve usually been able to rely on being RBN-spotted at 12 or 13 wpm. However, I do usually have a keyer memory set up to CQ for me, and I’m sure its keying is better than mine…

I would tend to think it is caused by other factors than speed.

I often run a CWskimmer server when I don’t use the station, and as far as I know, there is no user setting that affects the minimum decoding speed.

I just made a few tests and called CQ on a dummy load. My skimmer seems to have no problem with speeds as low as 11 WPM.

When looking at the spots sent by my CWSkimmer, it looks like speed ranges at least from 11 to 33 wpm.

I someone has more information about how things can be improved, I would be very interested to hear about it.

Now about the operating practice: I often wonder why people keep calling all at the same time at the very beginning of a pileup. There is no bonus point for being on top of the activator log, nor for sending CW at high speed. Just listen until things calm down and call after the big guns/big mouths/alligators are gone. I know no activator that will not call a few times at the end of the pile up before leaving to make sure none has been left behind.


I did a quick analysis back in early August on a couple of days of RBN raw data. In the data left after I removed the beacons and data modes stuff, the slowest speed reported was two words per minute, and fastest was 62.

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thanks for that hint.

That shortcut makes it trivial, putting the radio immediately into menu #21 (CW Speed), which is almost as quick as using a front panel speed control.

On the IC703, you can use the DISP button (long press) to move into the setup options for the current mode. By leaving that option at the CW speed option, a fairly quick speed change is feasible. But all these things need to be rehearsed and actually used in the field, to put them into a “recent memory” part of the brain.

I do have a good external keyer (CMOS super keyer - Idiom Press) but I tend to leave that at home especially for a long walk where I resent every gram in my pack.

The other option mentioned for the FT8*7 does not appear in my 817. I do have extended functions enabled. Line 57 is the tx carrier offset, which I set to match my RX carrier offset, which I set by ear.

As for the chasers calling too fast, the only treatment is to not answer them until they slow down. They will continue to call, but they deserve to wait. The smart ones will get it.

Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH


I suggest experimenting with your letter spacing. Extend it and see if the skimmer copies your slower speed then. My external keyer has a letter spacing option I always enable, but the keyers in my radios don’t have that option.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH

For my activations usually send at 18 wpm which seems fast enough to get a contact over in a reasonable time.
For slower chasers space the characters out a bit so as to give a bit of time for the chaser to work things out.
Usually a chaser who can send at say 10 to 15 wpm can work the traffic out without to much trouble.
For a really slow chaser and when using the KX3 can easily adjust the speed with the front panel control.
Although at really slow speeds find sending with the Pico Paddle difficult. This is the thing about paddles, they are a device meant for faster speeds.

73’s, Nick

As a chaser I never send faster than the activator, & if the activator is a novice at CW I will not only match their speed & maybe even leave bigger gaps if necessary, I will stay on the frequency & try my best to make sure they at least get a good QSO with me.

Many times I have heard QRS activators being called by a huge pile-up of chasers, some of whom are sending at twice their speed or even more. For someone new at CW, simply using the mode on the air is daunting enough, without a pile-up of QRK chasers to deal with!

I used to think that an activator could thin-out a pile-up by sending faster, but now having a bit of CW experience I know that is not the case. Actually sending slower is far more effective! The impatient chaser will lose interest if you do not work them within a couple of minutes, leaving the those patient enough to wait & work the activator at a speed they can read, to get the chase.

Sending faster than the activator is pointless, as the chances are that he or she cannot read you anyway.Also, If the activator is more comfortable with a full format QSO (ie Both callsigns beginning & end of each over with AR & KN or K at the end as appropriate) then show them the courtesy of working them in that format. For a beginner, each sucessful QSO is a real achievement, & whilst a full format QSO may seem to take a long time at 12-15WPM for those comfortable at 35WPM plus, every successful QSO for a learner inspires them to use the mode again.

If a novice CW operators first experiences on the air are marred by bad operating by chasers, they may simply decide to give up the mode completely, which in the end could mean less CW activators for people to chase. I was very fortunate in that my first experiences as a CW activator were with some very good & friendly CW operators so I stuck with the mode.

When I do get the chance to play radio now, it is mostly CW.

Best of luck to any just starting out, stick with it, it is worth it in the end :slight_smile:

Thanks & best 73,

Mark G0VOF

Need to lay off the caffeine perhaps…

Seemingly no mode is perfect


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Or just straight out ego showing off, one incident, calling cq on 20M recently at 18-20wpm and some Ukraine speed merchant came back at 31 wpm.
Know he was at 31 wpm as saw his calls on RBN.
Don’t know what he was trying to prove and just ignored him. Waste of time.

73’s, Nick

Several times i’ve included QRS in my alert or when i spot myself on sotawatch. Chasers still do come back with speeds of 30WPM. I don’t mind but i says a lot about their operating practice.

Being activator in sometimes uncomfortabel positions it is already hard enough…

Another thing is listening…chasers keep on calling, calling calling…while activators already work another station…DO LISTEN PLEASE !!!



I am totally new to CW mode and only operate on activations due to restrictions at my QTH. I tend to operate SSB then switch to cw at the end of the activation and average about 2-3 cw qso’s per activation. ( not sure if that’s a good idea as the concentration level has dropped a bit)
Anyone that I have worked has slowed down to my ability with larger spacing between words and has been surprising with the odd dx chaser appearing.
On my last activation I sat calling on the 40m and 20m bands for about 30mins with cw thinking the bands were in a bad shape only to realise the ft817 wasn’t transmitting a carrier when keyed it took me 10mins to correct was either the kyr or the bk.


In reference to the RBN comments above.

I found the RBN picks up call signs better if there is a space before
and after the call sign.

Hi- I disagree- it is VERY simple on the 857.

rotate select knob to J menu, press and hold button C, adjust speed. It really is not that hard. Or simply program KYR to one of the 3 user menu slots. If you are skilled enough to operate CW and keyer you are skilled enough to read a manual and set up your station before you operate.

" I looked at the manual for the 857 that just happened to be handy, and
there are five different operations involved in changing the keyer
speed, including live sending whilst actually adjusting the speed, so
while I don’t excuse it, I can understand why a lazy person would forge
ahead rather than adjust the speed, particularly if he has to find the
manual and the page before doing it!"

We are lucky here in VK, whilst there are chasers capable of high speeds, they are all happy to slow down to my speed. Generally I run at 15wpm, and simply extend the spaces for the regulars who come up around the 10-12wpm mark.

Certainly it’s a different story on 20m, if the band is open I will spot on sotawatch with a preferred speed, at the end of the day it’s simply quicker to bring the chasers speed down to my speed as there will be less repeats for me to get it right.

As activators we know how variable the conditions can be on a summits, it is never as comfortable as the arm chair in the shack at home, I think sometimes the chasers forget this.

Warren vk3byd

I use CWSkimmer here. It’s possible the quicker calls get through intact in between fades, plus it does mean you can send more calls in a given time. Even on reasonable strength signals, it can take 2 or 3 calls before skimmer is happy to report it as a CQ.

Style of sending (spacing, consistent call signs) is also important, I’ve seen big differences between operators. Using a keyer memory should improve matters.

As for QRQ chasers, I echo several others comments, essentially that I can usually copy and send faster sitting at my desk, but put me in the field and it’s a total mess, especially sending. That said, I don’t particularly mind when regular chasers come back slightly faster.


Co-latha-breith sona, En Ian. :birthday:

Not necessarily that simple, Clifford. You omitted the initial and final press of “F”, of course, and if you are already using select for IF shift (I use it all the time at home) you have to exit that first. Sure, it quickly becomes second nature if you are the sort of person to get the best out of your gear, but the point is that some people that are skilled enough to operate CW are not considerate enough to change speed, and perhaps it is just too much trouble for them.