Learning CW for SOTA

Well said the old hands, VK5CZ, GI4ONL and G4AZS…

It’s like the “Miracle” Whip - we know it isn’t a miracle and it doesn’t work unless you hit the propagation just right. There is no “Miracle” way either to learn Morse Code - just practice and dedication. In previous threads the few who said that they can’t do it havign tried have never disclosed what efforts they had made to learn. i.e. time spent, how long, what methods failed them etc. I would say six months hard work and dedication and the vast majority of students could be there, either sat at home chasing or on a hill activating and tapping out reports to other SOTA enthusiasts using CW.

As for sphincter muscles… I am not a doctor, but I had to laugh like a drain when I read that comment Victor!

73 Phil

I find there’s so much advice about learning Morse that contradictions are inevitable. The one thing I’m certain of is that if anyone says “I’ve taught many people Morse this way successfully” then I’ll not have to look too far to find someone else saying “I’ve taught many people Morse the opposite way successfully”. Anyone saying “This is the only way to learn Morse” is set for a fall; a contradictory example will be just round the corner.

Rick, as has been said on numerous occasions There is only one way to learn and that is by total dedication to whatever method you choose to learn.

Of course there are lots of different methods and lots of different advice available. Imagine trying to learn to drive, there are literally hundreds of different types of cars available, but without a car you can’t learn to drive and without practice you won’t be able to do so with confidence and competence.
Learning CW is the same if you don’t use some method and stick at it you simply wont learn!


Victor GI4ONL

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In my opinion, learning morse on its own may be tough and boring and doing it in a group is much more fun.
What about organising a morse training course on the air?
I learnt that way when M. Carmen EA2TH volunteered and did so in Pamplona on 2m FM back in 1985.
We may try to organise it locally (on 2m FM) or regionally (on 40m, 80m or the band better suitting the needs depending on the location of the participants and the time of the training sessions.
I trained some colleagues many years ago and I guess I could do it again although it will have to be late in the evening.
Any thoughts, ideas, volunteers to train and be trained?

Best 73 de Guru

I would put that down to his musical skills. I know a healthy number of people who found learning to be easy and the common fact was they were all capable musicians. (i.e. capable of earning a good living from playing an instrument).

(Why do I feel like Pavlov doing his experiments having written the above? Ring! Ring! Ring! )

HI Guru

Possibly a workable idea could be put together to provide practice for budding SOTA CW operators if someone was prepared to organise this on a country or local basis perhaps. Whether this could be done within the terms of the licence I do not know as we are not allowed to broadcast as such.

A few of us CW SOTA participants who are proficient could get together maybe and simulate on air QSOs in the “SOTA rubber stamp style” at low speed - but would anyone who is learning morse “as part of their future SOTA operating procedure” be listening? In the UK this could be done on 80m or 40m or even 160m. Providing feedback from users that they are getting benefit from listening to the operators would help maintain the morale of those offering this practice. There is nothing worse than giving up your time to help others if they are reticient and don’t provide confirmation that some benefit is being gained from the practice. Any trainer would give up very quickly if this feedback was not forthcoming.

I would consider taking part in such a scheme to provide on air CW receiving practice on HF at a practical QSO speed (e.g. minimum 12 wpm) if it was within the terms of my licence. I would gladly provide a few short on-air practice sessions each week, but I have not got the time to organise a training scheme as such myself. To get any benefit from this morse practice students would need to be familiar with all the characters sent at 12 wpm or listening in would be a pointless excercise for all concerned. Counting dots and dashes and thinking about every character sent, even at 12 wpm, does not work and the listener would lose track of what was being sent over the air within seconds. That is the first barrier any individual to be overcome themselves before progress can be made into any on air listening…

73 Phil

Yes Andy, I think you are right there. Tom is a special case, (in many ways - who would sit up on the Cloud for hours on end!)) and in particular the musicality of his mind is likely to have made a difference to him learning the code so quickly.

73 Phil

Hi Phil, Ron VK3AFW already runs regular SOTA CW practice sessions and has been doing so for some time, with some successful additions to the CW activator stock in Australia.


If you have a permanent station at home this will help a lot if not there is online web SDR sites you can use to listen.
I have been learning for a while now and mainly operate on activations so my time spent on the radio is minimum.
There will be times when you feel like nothing is absorbing you just need to keep at it, may be its me but i have spent a lot of time an effort learning and feel I have long way to go still.
I started with the just learn Morse code software at 12wpm struggled and found it easier using the g4fon software along with the K7QO cw course disc at about 15wpm. Over the past 6 months I operated CW from four summits (I think), I only enjoyed my previous activation operating CW and managed to make a few qso’s. My biggest problem was trying to learn two or three letter words and not concentrating on the main essential of a qso.
As soon as you start learning the letters dont wait till after learning the 26 letters and 0-9 numbers. Start making up the abbreviations commonly used OM, DE, THX, TU, GM, GD, UR, RST, CQ, SK, QRS, AGN, QRZ, BK and many more. The g4fon software lets you upload a text file to use I found this a very useful tool for learning numbers by coping summit references on to a text file to use with the software.
For a key I went with palm paddle with code cube mainly because the exchange rate was good and the code cube gives of a small side tone For when practising.


Nearly forgot learn how to setup your transceiver properly, I spent a good hour calling with no replies blaming band conditions and only realised after switching to SSB when a callsign with a 59 report commented that he heard nothing on the CW freq I was calling.

In my opinion, just sending series of characters/numbers or anything else in morse on the air to an annonimous audience is beyond our licences and not interesting at all.
I think the best way is putting together a list of colleagues willing to take a morse training.
It’s very important the iinteraction between the trainer and the trainees, as well as encouraging and motivating for the trainees seeing his own progress with respect to the other trainees taking part of the course.
Depending on the number of people, their location and their availability as well the trainer’s, then decide whether the group would be getting together at a given time on a suitable frequency or in a radioclub…
Probably the best way will be organising the groups within the same region but let’s see first how many colleagues would fancy learning CW and we can decide later how to organise it for the training sessions.
73 de Guru

Hi Guru, in my opinion that is a very important part of group training and certainly does help.
The biggest problem I’ve found in the past is people are doing this for a hobby/fun and sometimes interpret comments as criticism, albeit in a constructive manner, and give up as a result.

I agree 100% Phil, I’ve been there and sometimes it feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall and it’s very easy to loose motivation.


Victor GI4ONL

HI Graeme

As a fellow multi-mode man myself I can clearly see that you have proved to be a CW operator with the determination to succeed without doubt, but progress will be very slow if time is not spent at home practicing receiving, rather than trying to pick up speed with all the trials and tribulations an activation presents on top of building up a further skill!

However your mettle was tested and is well proven in 2015 from the database - and I note we had a 40m CW QSO when you were on G/LD-018 Stony Cove Pike in September. You have since used the mode on a summit on at least two occasions. I was unsuccessful in working you on CW on Xmas day - but your CQ calls came in 559 to me inPickering from Buckden Pike, again on 40m CW and you worked six other stations using morse, so congratulations on your progress so far. You can dothe business for sure and you will improve much with practice if you can find the time. Thank you for sharing your learning methods with us and bringing us old timers up to date in morse learning techniques in the 21st century.

Ed, I used to be part of the RSGB Slow Morse Transmission team in the 1980s. I provided a Sunday evening practice session on 160m and 80m for around 2 years from my then QTH near Chorley in Lancashire.

It’s pretty obvious when you hear ops who have still not learnt the sound.
Those are the calls you get , usually at about 8 to 10wpm which are a totally unreadable series of random elements of different and undeterminable length. You can almost imagine the poor op at the other end reading something off a piece of paper. I try my best, but usually have to revert to sending QSD QRK1 :frowning:

On my first day of morse tuition, our instructor told us to remove the page of our books which listed the code:
A = .- B= -… etc.

We were NEVER to look at that page again. The only way we’d learn a character is by listening to it!
It’s my number one tip!

Luckily I’ve just got home from surgery to completely disable one of my sphincters!
Unluckily, it means I’ll probably miss the early winter bonus period…


Hi Phil, Ron’s classes are specifically SOTA related - which I think you were suggesting in your earlier comment. I just wanted to say that this approach does work.

My suggestions :

Go iambic, Curtis B. I use Bugambic and Kanga K14 keyers, just a few grams. The 857 internal keyer is Curtis A.
Use a key that has a rain hood over the contacts
Sit upright on a “Karimat” against the trig point, wall or similar. Fasten the key to your right thigh with a bootlace or similar
Use headphones, wind noise can exceed 599+20.
Wear hand warmers (grannies knitted sleeve extensions) to keep up what little circulation remains
At and below 0C wear thin “texters” gloves or silk gloves (this is OK because you won’t be seen!)
Operate 3 WPM slower than you would in the shack
Operate CW first whilst still warmish from the ascent and let the skimmers do their thing in spotting you
Try to avoid the survival tent wrapping itself round the key
Make lots of mistakes, I do!
Have fun
David G0EVV

How dare you copy my operating style!

Yes I am a musician and the fact that my brain is already primed to recognise, repeat and interpret sequences of rhythms, was undoubtedly helpful.

However, I am deeply concerned about this “you have to be dedicated to it for six months” stuff. What a way to put people off! Motivation is the key to learning anything. I found that most of my “at home”/6 months dedication practice was boring and meaningless, and as such my progress was slow and in fact negative at times.

As soon as I decided to quit the dedicated drills and do my practice actually by doing SOTA activations, then my progress took off.

Anyone who thinks they haven’t got a musical ear, well ask yourself if you have a favourite band, singer, song or CD - and think again. Nothing that exceptional really.


That’s my opinion and personal experience too.
My advise is, get on the air and CQ to start playing as soon as you have learnt the characters, numbers, basic punctuation symbols like . , / = and you’ve got a cheat sheet with the basic QSO exchanges.
By making QSOs you’ll get the motivation to keep practising in order to improve and you will improve just by practising.
Best 73 de Guru


An interesting variation of Morse conservation training is to listen to the news, e.g. using HamMorse by AA9PW.

As a Sputnik Kid who learned it at age 12 and only remembers not knowing-- then knowing it, during some very short duration, I am of no help. But I do know folks learn languages, folks learn long symphonies by heart, and stage actors learn 2 hours of dialogue. I have never understood why CW would be any different and need any more special kid gloves for learning. All that special technique bunk is a substitute for the following:

Practice, practice, practice, practice. And then, there is more practice of course.

As for only learning the minimum you need to know to conduct a SOTA QSO as has been discussed here, that is a horrifying way to treat our beloved CW. Might as well kick the can down the road and buy a code reader (far more prevalent out there than admitted to).