NO HF SOTA operation unless you learn CW! (Part 1)

HI Folks

I was listening to a prolific SOTA operator today on Phone saying he’d tried learning CW but was unsuccessful. After a glass of wine this evening it got me thinking…

Let me take you back to the years before July 2003 when the need to pass a 12 WPM Morse Test was mandatory for all radio amateurs if you wanted to operate on HF from the UK.

I wonder then, if this licencing regulation was reintroduced today and amateurs without the ability to pass a 12 WPM Morse test were barred from HF operation, how many operators out there in the world of SOTA would make a more determined effort to reach the necessary standard and pass the old Morse test?

My thoughts turned to the effort needed to reach a usable QSO standard on the amateur bands based on my own experience in learning - notably, I was aged 30 when I put the time in to learn and reach the tested 12 WPM with 100% accuracy. This took me 30 minutes practice a day with a Datong Random Morse Generator for 5 months before I was able to pass the test in Liverpool, in addition I monitored as a short wave listener two RSGB sponsored Slow Morse Transmissions on 80m each week. There are better software tools available for learning today, so maybe that would be an advantage…

For those who have tried and given up or fallen by the wayside, I wondered if you lost your use of SOTA operation on HF either as a Chaser or an Activator because you could not receive Morse with almost 100% accuracy at 12 WPM, would this ficticious new ruling give you the incentive and determination and force you into putting the effort into reaching the 12 WPM standard?

73 Phil G4OBK


I have been learning morse for 2 months so far, using the Koch method at 20wpm…
Currently up to character 20, so 5 months to be competent at 12wpm seems right.

Had my first CW SOTA chase this morning (although I have a feeling I ended it with “37” and gave a sigal report of SNN, but at least it is a start, apologies to activator @G4ZAO )

The problem is the huge investment in time before you can do anything useful, lwading to the risk of losing interest.

Learning morse has its own advantages, without needing to create artificial privileges through the licensing structure. I’m not sure I would have moved from intermediate to full if a morse test was required…and that would have been a pity.

If morse was required before getting any licence then I doubt I would have bothered …the months of effort required before even being able to transmit would have been too much for me

Having said all of the above, I am unexpectedly enjoying the learning process of morse, it is quite rewarding

I recommend the app IZ2UUF, it is very well featured.



I think it’s fair to say that Morse for me is a struggle and always has been. I’m not musical at all, which apparently is quite relevant. I can’t really define why I have been so determined to do CW, but I really enjoy it when I can make contacts with home brew gear. I guess it’s the journey and not the destination.

I’m not sure I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have to sit a Morse test to get to HF.
(25 years licenced this year, time to join RAOTA!)


Just one? Reads like a 3+ glass idea to me.


Could be right, I vaguely recall Brian ADD saying something similar.


Sadly these days, what I wrote is true. Due to heart failure I am under a heart specialists directive to restrict myself to one glass of red wine per week.

73 Phil


You have pretty much hit the nail on the head. I wish I had £1 for every time I have tried to explain this to budding CW operators, unless you are prepared to put in the time and effort you will NEVER master learning CW. For those people that do master the art, the reward and satisfaction is inexplicable.

73 Victor GI4ONL (RSGB morse assessor)


I passed the 12 wpm test, but when I got my license didn’t really enjoy CW QSO’s, after a huge break I have spent some time practicing, and I’ve managed a few CW SOTA chases, and I’m not sure why but I still don’t really enjoy it. (I still find it hard work and struggle much over 15 wpm)… I never bothered with an old G8 call as my interest was HF, so I did pass the test to get on HF but the cw fire has still not lit - ( I put in a lot of time over lockdown so am much improved but I still don’t enjoy it!) …nearly 50 years later. The op that taught me Harry G8QZ was a member of the FCOC so I don’t think it was the teaching …


Not quite! I mean I played sax and clarinet in orchestras, dance bands and jazz bands, only giving up gigging when my first kid arrived, but I found getting proficient in code brutally difficult. One major problem was that I kept hearing passages of code that reminded me of tunes and I was bending the code to fit! :grinning: Actually my callsign mentally fits nicely into a waltz if you start on the down beat, emphasise the upbeat and bend the spacing a bit - once I got that thought in my mind I had trouble sending my own callsign! Anyway, I got up to about 18 wpm a few years ago, and realised that for me CW was terminally boring so I left it at that. In the words of the old BT advert, “it’s good to talk”!



There are probably heart specialists who would prescribe a glass of wine a day as good therapy…

Yes, with Morse it is sometimes a matter of luck. When I was called up for military assignment, I had already attended 3 pre-service Morse courses and was able to give and receive 16 wpm without errors.

When the responsible officer, knowing from the Morse code courses I had attended, asked me what I wanted to be assigned to, I said without hesitation…Panzergrenadier. The officer gave me a searching look and also said without hesitation… You with that knowledge of Morse code? That’s out of the question, he said, and classified me as a Morse pioneer (now electronic warfare).
From today’s perspective, I am very grateful for this first military “order”, hi.

And because my Morse skills were over 20 wpm after completing the obligatory military service, acquiring the radio telegraph operator’s license (for all bands and operating modes) was just a “formal thing”, fortunately.


Unless you chose the 5wpm option introduced in the late 1990’s

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Those who say learning Morse is hard-going, needs patience, time and dedication are completely…….correct!
I’m finding it hard and it’s tricky to set aside the time to practise regularly BUT in the past year I am up to 5wpm and better tuning my ear all the time. I dream of happy QRP SOTA days ahead with just a mini paddle (or straight key) and modest antenna to carry rather than all the SSB paraphernalia.
For obvious reasons there are relatively few slow Morse activations to hear but one day I’ll pluck up the courage to press the key.
Dit dit.


Morse enthusiasts unite!!!

      Tom KH0/KC0W

You know, reading this thread, and Tom’s ringing call for unity, anyone would think that CW operation in SOTA was under threat. In fact nothing could be further from the truth! A look at the database shows that it records 7,746,024 QSOs, of which 3,433,268 used CW - 44.32% of all SOTA operating is in CW, compared with 37.06% in SSB and 18.03% in FM. CW is thriving in SOTA, it isn’t under any sort of threat - perhaps the slogan ought to be “SSB operators unite!” By comparison Data modes are hardly visible in the statistics, SOTA is a refuge for legacy modes, long may it be so!


You are wright! To this we must add that many CW ops also activate on phone and thus increasing the statatistics of SSB-FM QSOs

Almost certainly not. I was initially licensed in the US in the early 2000s when there was still a 5wpm requirement for any but the most basic license. I took a few months and trained myself up to 13wpm, passed the test and got my ticket. In the almost 20 years since, I’ve made 3 CW QSOs, all right after getting my license. I don’t enjoy it, I’m not interested in doing the work to maintain (or in my case, regain) the skill. I 100% agree that it’s valuable, worthwhile, and a legitimately beneficial skill for radio operators – but it’s not for me. I’m also not vegan, a marathon runner, or super disciplined about my sleep habits.

For people who want to do CW, I’m fully supportive, and I’m sure they’ll make more contacts than I do, mountaintop or otherwise. They should be proud of the skill – they deserve it. I’m new to SOTA, and it’s giving me all sorts of skill-related challenges that are fun and interesting. If the ‘cost of entry’ also included a lot of resentful tedium? No thank you. Maybe in the future. But maybe not.

73 Rich AD0G (stubborn but content phone and data operator)


I had two brushes with amateur radio a long time back. One, as a teen in the late seventies, when I totally ploughed the old written RAE. Then in the early nineties I looked into trying the RAE again, and even found a reasonably handy club that ran the occasional course, but looked just far enough into the licencing requirements to learn that you had to pass a Morse test in order to get onto HF. That became one barrier too many, and it was nearly twenty years more before I again considered the idea. By then the Morse test was history and the Foundation licence wasn’t quite as daunting as the RAE had been. I doubt I’d have bothered if the Morse test had still been required to use HF.

Having caught the SOTA chasing bug quite soon after I got my licence, I soon realised that I was missing a lot of activity because I couldn’t chase the CW activations, but learning Morse has been a very slow process for me. Koch was a dead loss I wasted two years on. I’m a dozen years down the road now, and I might, on a good day with a following wind, pass an old-school 12wpm test… or not.

Great topic.
I sat 4 CW exams during my licence test experiences, they were 10 times more nerve racking than any SOTA QSO, chase or activation. It took me probably 2 years on air with about 3000 JA Rubber stamp QSO’s on 15m to get any good at CW. When SOTA started in VK 10 years ago none of the participants in SOTA I worked or chased were regular CW ops on the 40m CW net that run every Sunday. I think SOTA has flushed out pretty much all the VK SOTA ops to take up or improve their CW skills so they could take part. Of the Activators who first started SOTA in VK3 only a couple had CW only rigs I remember 1 Op spending 4 hours on the summit to rustle up 4 QSO’s. I was never game to do CW only always needed a few SSB contacts to make a score. Now 10 years later I could say confidently I could qualify a summit on CW only but have a following of SSB chasers who don’t do CW so got to give them a score as well. Keep up the good work using CW where possible.
Ian vk5cz …


If you want more (overseas) operators to learn morse - I suggest subjecting them to 3/1 SSB SOTA contacts with broad-accented scotsmen. Certainly encouraged me to double down my efforts!

‘An accent ideally suited to morse code’.


I got licensed in Nov 2020 and I had zero interest in learning CW, then I found Sota…In May 2021 I sat down and Started teaching myself cw using various forms of learning G4FON was instrumental in the beginning as well as the Morse Ninja youtube channel and then in September 2021 I took a deep breathe and started Chasing Sota using CW. Jump ahead roughly a month and I did my first activation and hit the ground running from 10wpm to 22wpm with the occasional brain fart and going qrp.

CW is easy to learn with dedication and persistence and anyone who does Sota should really try to learn it cause its fantastic and there is always a s2s and always chasers and the RBN !!

Anyway I agree CW should be a requirement even if only 5wpm its a starting point.

73 de VE6JTW