My First CW Activation - G/DC-002

I’ve only been a member here for a short while and most of my posts seem to do a very good job of drawing attention to how little I know.

This thread continues that tradition…

On the afternoon of 12th June 2021 I drove in my campervan to the disused Davidstow airfield on the north eastern corner of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, UK, where camping overnight is tolerated if not perhaps officially allowed.

Just before leaving home I read that the airfield was next to one of the few locations in the UK for the rare Bog Orchid. A quick glance at my orchid book told me it flowered from May to July so soon after arrival I fitted the macro lens to my camera and went for a gloopy plod around the marsh beside Crowdy reservoir. Orchids were evident by their absence and on return to the 'van I did a bit more research and discovered they may well flower in May but that is in southern Europe and late July or August is more likely here in the UK. It is the most insignificant of flowers but I will return for it and hopefully a bit more SOTA activity on the nearby Brown Willy G/DC-002. The name is probably a corruption of the Cornish Bronn Ewhella meaning “Highest Hill”. An alternative theory says it means “Hill of the Swallows” which seems unlikely unless Swallows were ground nesting birds in days of yore.

After an evening trying to tune a home-made 10m 1/4 wave ground plane antenna, more of which perhaps in another thread if I can get it to work, I retired to bed and was up reasonable early to drive to Rough Tor car park and start the hour long walk to the summit of Brown Willy.

I had learned that on the morning of 13th June there was an RSGB 2m Backpackers event so at 0900 UTC I listened in on 2m SSB and was pleasantly surprised to actually hear people talking. Sadly almost no one else could hear me other than 2E0VCC who was about 10 miles away!

My 2m Yagi is a bit of a mess, the SWR is nearly 2 and it needs to be suspended from the point of balance I think as I can’t get it high enough when it is sticking out as a boom.

So I turned back to HF, which had always been my intention for today and immediately noticed my RF power was turned down to zero, although it can’t be quite zero as 2E0VCC heard me. After cranking it back up to 100% I listened on a few bands and was amazed by the amount of traffic - most of it contests I think. Looking first for an SSB contact I saw a few people spotting on SOTAWatch but I couldn’t hear them. There were two in Scotland on 20m I tried and all I could hear was “CQ Contest” from a few kw transmitters I suspect.

So I could find no valid excuse not to try CW. I only started learning it last November but I’ve been practising fairly hard recently and I really felt, as SSB was in chaos, that I had to give it a go.

This video says it all. Experienced CW operators had best look away. At the end I had 5 CW QSOs including one S2S. I stopped at that point as my brain had overheated and was dribbling out of my ears but all I can say is I am now hooked on CW. It is a brilliant mode.

Many, many thanks for the very patient operators who held my hand through these contacts.


And now the horror video!


Your video wasn’t horrible for me, it was very motivating.

So far I have only called cq sota on very quiet frequencies. But tomorrow I’ll be brave, like you.

As an activator you are in the most favorable position as a beginner, because every chaser is happy about the points.

Keep it up!

73 Chris


Congratulations on your CW activation. Your video was not a horror show at all! In fact I find this ‘reality CW’ style of recording inspiring and gives me encouragement to try it for myself. I’m sure there will be plenty of ops like me who feel the same. It takes courage to put yourself out there and give it a go, so well done. Hope to work you on the key soon!
73 - Matthew M0JSB

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Hi John,

You did pretty well.

You called CQ with your memory keyer sending perfect morse at 16 wpm or so. To most cw operators this means an experienced operator sending at the speed they can copy with ease. It turned out when you were receiving at that speed, it was too challenging especially with more than one reply. To fix that, i suggest you wind the operating speed down a bit, 12wpm would seem a lot slower but if there were no repeats necessary, you would make more contacts at a faster rate. Bring the speed back up when you have more contacts in the log and you are finding them easy.
Using the memory keyer is convenient but in a way it “sends the wrong message”, it says you are an experienced op and want replies that assume that. Sending slower by hand with even an occasional delay or mistake would tell listeners that you want them to send at that speed and not to use fancy codes or send faster than you.
There are other things i heard but slower speed is the most important suggestion. You may think you don’t want to slow people down, but they don’t mind if it gets a contact in the log.

Keep it up, you’ve made a good start.
73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH


Andrew, you make a very good point. Listening to the recording I’m amazed how I couldn’t hear what was being sent as they are so clear to me now - but sitting at home is a bit different to doing it on the top of a hill with a bit of wind blowing.

I also need to improve my transmitting so sending out the CQ call manually including the SOTA summit reference will be good practice. :slight_smile:


Hi John, a great video of first cw activation. From your own comments you certainly reflected on your experience and learnt a lot. Well done!

73 de Geoff vk3sq

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Yes - so I think you would agree that you need a few WPM of speed “up your sleeve” to be sure of copying in adverse conditions.

Adverse conditions include:

Wind noise
Sunlight obscuring your radio and/or log
Difficult to hear unless using headphones
QRM, multiple callers on close frequencies
Speed too fast for comfort hence confidence
Unfamiliarity with procedure.

In the event you did amazingly well!

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH


By the way, the standard code for “summit reference” is the code REF.

So you would send “REF G/DC002” (don’t worry about the dash)

And you don’t have to send it on every contact or even every CQ. Just every few contacts. If the chasers have found you via sotawatch they all have your summit code staring at them off a screen anyway.


Many thanks John for your activation report and video - as someone who is trying to relearn my CW after 30+ years of inactivity its a great encouragement to keep persevering, and more importantly having a go. I know I’ll make the most improvement by getting on the air but its having the confidence to make that first step!


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Hello John

It’s like everything else in life… it’s all a matter of practice and experience.
I hope you won’t get discouraged now.

The activator sets the rules. He sets the speed and the order.

Andrew is right when he suggests slowing down the tempo of the CW call. Let it run at a speed that you can receive well - to set the speed for the others

I would be happy to hear you again in cw.

73 Armin


Thanks for the write-up, John, and congratulations on your first CW activation. Terrifying, isn’t it?! I think my recent experience doing the same was very similar to yours - both in terms of my competence, the patience of the chasers, and the fact that I’ll definitely be doing more :slight_smile:

A shame we didn’t make contact on 2m SSB - you would have added one more to my count of grid squares worked in the backpackers contest. Next time!

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Yes! But it should get easier - I hope. :slight_smile:

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Hi John,


I made my first CW activations some weeks ago with about 11 or 12 wpm and the chasers came with the same speed. It was fine.

Have fun on your next CW activations!!!

73 Ludwig


Well done John in dipping your toe in the water by using CW from the top of a mountain and being brave enough to video the results for all to see!

Not everyone will agree, but its much easier operating in Morse from home than it is on a summit whether in SOTA, Contesting or just day to day rubber stamp / rag chew contacts.

At home you will likely have a better key, you will be more comfortable rather than hunched up on the ground and you will be more relaxed overall as a hunter rather than as the hunted.

The only other point of note I would say on top of the excellent tips you have already received is if you have a home station then practice your CW there - ideally as a SOTA Chaser. You will pick up good experience just by listening around 7032/10118/14062 or whatever freq you see spotted. You will learn the callsigns of the usual suspects among the SOTA chasers and you will probably remember either their full or partial callsigns when you are next operating from the summit, which will help your callsign recognition and reduce the likelihood of having to ask for a repeat when they call you.

Good luck - I can tell that you will stick at the Morse (Many fall by the wayside) and with time could become a very good operator indeed I’m sure!

Most of us older hands learnt the Morse Code before SOTA was conceived - the incentive then was that you could not not use HF without passing a 12 WPM send and receive Morse test with almost 100% accuracy. Many hams from that period passed the test and rarely or never used the mode again. The others such as me and many more amateurs here and elswhere, enjoyed the code so much, improved their skills in using it and it became their favourite mode. There are also a few, in the last 15 years or so who did not need to pass a Morse test to be able to operate on HF and from these a small number took to the mode well. They are in a minority, but you could well be one of these guys I would say.

73 Phil G4OBK


The video isn’t terrifying - unless you are highlighting the subject is ‘terrified’.
I still find my finger hovering over the spot button on Sota Spotter when about to announce a CW activation, however the dread is slowly subsiding. And last night on Seat Sandal I felt it was time to go ‘all-in’ and do my first CW-only activation. Sending slowly is the key and you’ll find the really savvy chasers will match your speed perfectly, and as you send at that speed all the time it just sounds lovely in response.

My trouble is fixating on letters in a callsign which turn out to be wrong - and are very obvious in a playback. Those who want the points will be patient. Not sure who holds the record for the longest start-finish time for a CW QSO but it has to be more than a dozen minutes at least. Last night SP9AMH was a good ten minutes, partly because of my fixation and partly because I had S8 noise on 80m and it was just really hard to pull the callsign out of the noise. Mind, that is a good distance for 80m!

Just keep forcing yourself to do CW activations, chase when you can, and learning what is tripping you up - then forcing yourself to get that corrected. Like most things SOTA a healthy appreciation of how much masochism is required to be good at this hobby helps!

Mark. M0NOM.

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Spot on, nerves certainly affect my ability to transmit - and dull my hearing too. :slight_smile: I tried listening to one of my apps, CW Trainer, this morning while walking the dog and after turning it down from the 22 WPM I had been using to 15 WPM I was suddenly able to read everything the first time. A revelation! :slight_smile:

Listening again to the recording I have a suspicion EA1JD might have been using a straight key as I am sure they slowed down while transmitting - or maybe just sending each dot and dash individually and not holding down the paddles to let the keyer choose the rate?

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I stopped practicing a while back every day and although I’ve not gone backward I am not making any progress speed wise. Anything about 13 wpm becomes challenging.

Could be straight key, or someone using an external keyer with a speed knob, or a rig with an easily accessible speed control. I don’t have one of those, but I’m sure they must exist. Same thing happened with one of the chasers last night.

I also find the contesters turn up the ‘wick’ when they get to the 599, regardless of what speed the preamble was at.


Good for you!
You can always ask the other op to QRS (slow down)


Contest programs like N1MM, for instance, let you write the text of preset messages to be sent when pushing the F keys and you can insert symbols like ++ and - - making the text in between be sent at a higher (+) or lower (-) speed than the rest of the message.
Additional micro pause symbols can also be inserted to make farnsworth spacing.




Even people who can’t do Morse can spot the 50wpm “brrrp dahdt dahdit” report in a contest QSO :slight_smile: