Morse/CW SOTA novice ?’s

So I’ve been diligently practicing the Morse Code alphabet and starting to listen in on QSOs. Hoping to make my first QSOs soon. My question is? Keeping in mind my ignorance in this area. What does a high end radio like the iC705/KX2-3 add advantage wise for a SOTA activation verses the MTR3B/SW3B/QCX mini, from a purely CW-SOTA activator perspective?

I watch videos of hams conducting POTA/SOTA via CW With expensive rigs and think why would you spend all that money when a MTR3B could do the exact same thing?

It seems to me these super-small, low power radios have pretty good filtering and size/weight wise are a no brainer for long distance hikes/SOTA.

Getting even simpler. Is their any difference in dits, dahs between these radios?

Thanks in advance!


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Yes, both rigs will send and receive cw, one is compact and the light, the other bigger and heavier.

I have a kx3 and an MTR3B. To me the benefits of being able to vary the bandwidth continuously with a front panel control, the ability to change sending speed on a front panel control and the ability to see the frequency and tune up and down the band are valuable. The other modes also have their uses, ssb is very popular, other digital modes built into the kx3 have never been used by me. Against that, the MTR3B is compact, light, uses very little battery power, but has fixed bandwidth (quite narrow), takes a few menu clicks to change the speed, is limited to CW. There are places for both rigs. It is a personal preference.
I also have an FT817 which I use for vhf/uhf and for driving transverters on the higher bands (1.2 and 2.4 ghz). neither of the first two rigs can do that (though there is a transverter board available for the kx3, which is about the price of a complete ft817).

Whatever rig you use today, it is quite likely it won’t be the only one you ever buy or use. if it’s your first rig, it is probably the first of many.

Essentially I think there is no single “best” rig. it is such a personal preference.

73 Andrew VK1DA


I use a KX3 mostly for SOTA or an FT817, both rigs have SSB capability as well which helps me make enough QSO’s to qualify the summit. I have a couple HB-1B CW only rigs but probably would not use them exclusively on SOTA as some of my faithful chasers do not operate CW like I can. Out of respect for my SSB only chasers who have followed me for several years on my quest to Mountain Goat and helped me immensely to qualify every summit I ever visited. As for which rig helps you or anyone else copy CW as apposed to practicing the code yourself to become proficient is just a matter for the individual. DX S2S on CW is probably the best part of SOTA DX SSB S2S are as good but less frequent for me.
Keep up the good work on CW its a worthy tool to have.
Ian vk5cz…


Snap Andrew we both must have been musing our thoughts at the same time.
good experienced comments OM.
CZ …

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You have almost given yourself the answer. Basically you can do SOTA with all devices. This can be a lightweight minimal art or a heavy high end transceiver. Here it is simply up to the personal needs and the wallet.
Of course the performance (RX/TX, number of bands,…) increases with the price.
You just have to be clear what you want:
Which bands do you want to activate… how frequency stable do you want your device to be… how good (sensitive, selective, large-signal-proof,…) your receiver should be… how good your transmitter… do you only want to do cw… how robust should the equipment be…how is the interaction with the antennas… how well can I operate it… 1000 questions. With most ham it does not remain with one device (with me also not).

You can also start a personal challenge within SOTA… e.g. how many qsos can I get using a single 9V battery…

To the second question: a daah lasts 3x as long as a dit. … seriously: it is explained above - also the quality of this characters depends on the design of the device.

I have been using a kx2 for years… but i want to build a transceiver this winter to enter the MAS … of course as SOTA activator :wink:

so - make your choice and have fun

73 Armin


Thanks everyone for taking the time in answering. I can now understand this area better (CW activations) and the use of more expensive radios.

Another question I have is? I am reading that putting the CW filter in the FT817/818 makes a significant difference in receive capabilities perhaps even being essential in Morse operations. If you install the filter does that limit you in the ability to use SSB?

Yes, it helps simpletons like me massively. I have a 300Hz filter in my SOTA 817 for CW compared with a 2700Hz filter for SSB. You only hear 1 QSO instead 9+ QSOs. However, proper CW experts can listen in a 2.7k bandwidth mentally tune out all the other QSOs listening for just the one they want. Takes lots of practice and I think, some innate skills I lack.

No. All radios with optional filters have ways of selecting the optional filter. On my 817 you can turn the filter on or off for use on CW only. On my TS570 base station I have a 270Hz filter and you can trick the radio to use that on SSB by incorrectly setting some menu options. Normally it cannot be selected for anything but CW. That is good for many digi modes where the lack of filter and many strong signals causes AGC problems on a simple radio like a TS570 (a great radio still but showing it’s 20yr old design heritage and sub $1500 2000-2005 price point).

Better radios have variable width filters. My K2 has a variable width xtal filter at the IF which means you can remove energy from outside the frequency range you are interested in before it overloads later stages. It also has an audio DSP filter which allows very narrow bandwidths with the characteristic ringing you get with analogue filters. Those filters are available for all modes and have different characteristics for SSB/CW.

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It totally depends on what you want to do on the mountain top. In my YouTube videos you’ll see me use a 300 mW Pixie, MTR3b, Ft-817, and FT897, depending on my goals for that activation. QRO, QRPP, SSB and bands other than 20,30,40 are all exciting and fun in their own way.
Charlie NJ7V


Hahaha! Sorry!

s/with/without :blush:

I am going to be cheeky and horn in on this, I am far from a “CW expert” as Andy puts it, since I don’t do CW though I have learned it and do some listening, but I find picking one signal out of many in a wide passband pretty easy, and I think it is a skill that many, perhaps most operators could master. What you are doing is seperating pitches - think of them as musical notes - and you probably do it quite unconsciously when you listen to music. It is a skill which can be developed quite easily. A music lover listens and hears it all, a collection of threads all at the same time - a fugue is four independent voices, all equally important, all should be followed, in an extreme form an Elizabethan madrigal can be up to fifteen voices. All should be heard as well as the overall effect. If you want to develop the skill you can start with everyday popular music. Say you hear a singer and accompaniment on the radio, TV or whatever. Try as a first step concentrating on the instruments and ignoring the voice. Next pick out the bass, which many people tend to ignore. Follow what the bass is doing while tuning out the rest, until it becomes easy. Next step, in an orchestral or band piece pick out one instrument with a distinct sound and follow it. You may well find that you can already do it, you just don’t realise it. This is the natural skill that can be harnessed to picking one CW QSO out of a passband full of QSOs. Of course it is no good if you are one of the unfortunate individuals that are tone deaf! On the other hand, develop the skill for CW and it will enhance your enjoyment of music.


As do I… try doing it and reading the CW at the same time. That’s when “nous trions les hommes des garçons” as they say in France.

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Erik, no matter what radio you decide on, you surely want to have
a CW filter of at least 300 or 500 cycles. Or, as folks have mentioned,
a radio with variable bandwidth. Not just an audio filter, but an I.F. filter.
It will save you a lot of headaches when trying to reduce or eliminate
unwanted signals. You’ll notice that your hearing will have a “sweet
spot”, a certain frequency tone that you hear better than others. This
is really helpful when listening to real weak signals. You rock the tuning knob or RIT a bit and you’ll find a spot where you can pull a
weak one out of the noise.
Good luck with the code. It will be worth all the work once you get
good enough to copy QSOs. It’s like a new language, once you learn
it, you’ll like it!
John, K6YK (CW man for 63 years)


Pick out one tone with your mental peak and notch the others and it is just reading morse code, once peak and notch are automatic it is no harder than reading morse code with a narrow filter. ISTR there is a morse program that is supposed to train you in picking out one signal amongst many, anyone tried it?

This must be why you have so many CW QSOs logged then? In my case I can do one or the other but not both. I shall bow to your greater abilities and be glad I have narrow filters in all my CW capable radios.

Just thinking about having filters (Kenwood 270Hz, Inrad 300Hz, Inrad 500, Icom 500Hz) the costs mount up. The Inrad is no longer made and I’m not sure if they still make narrow crystal filters any more with the advent of SDR but you can still find NOS examples. But those 4 come to a new cost of somewhere close to at least £450 which is serious money in anyone’s book!

Nope, not one, I haven’t even bothered to log my copies as a SWL. Sometimes, Andy, you are so predictable! :smiley:

Agreed - especially on the IF filter. Filters make a world of difference for a CW op - compared to a radio with no filtering. Erik - I look forward to working you on cw!


Listening to stronger &/or weaker signals was the norm for the average sea going operator or coastal station operator. 500khz was a shared frequency around the world and just about every ship operator used it and it simply was not possible to ask if the frequency was busy.

Rather varied QRI/tones too. No one bothered what tone you had - as long as it could be heard & read. It was a normal feature of many ships’ radios…

Skip the intro if you wish.


NB. Shore stations = 3 letter callsign and ship’s = 4 letter callsign.


Oh MY !
That’s something! What a bunch of awful sounding signals.
But easy to pick one out and copy, just pick your favorite chirp
or AC hum !

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John, just remember that the ship or shore station you needed to work wasn’t necessarily the loudest - or had the nicest tone!!


If you are committed to “CW or bust”, then a radio which does solely CW is a fine choice. Propagation has picked up a bit lately, but I’ve been on the occasional activation where propagation was poor, noise was high, and rounding up 4 contacts was tough.

I don’t want to be in the situation where I’ve made 3 contacts, and there’s exactly one chaser who can hear me but he’s using a mode I can’t work. I don’t take that to the extreme; I just try to be prepared to work CW+SSB+FM. (Thinking about WSJT-X, for a just-in-case.)

I had an activation where I finally made my 4th contact only after working FM+SSB+CW. While I understand “why would you spend all that money” there’s also “why would you go to the effort of climbing to the top of that mountain without ensuring you can work 4+ chasers?”

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