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

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


If we trace the reasons for dropping the CW requirement from the license, we find that it boils down to a drop in people entering the hobby and a belief that it needed to be made easier to get licensed. While it has not stopped the gradual decline, I think there is some truth in that, although some would say that the license classes should have been adjusted rather than dropping the requirement altogether. In particular, I think what a lot of people miss is the need to make it possible for younger people to get licensed. I often find that it is children who have the greatest enthusiasm for Morse code, but have to wait many years before they are able to get on air and enjoy the fruits of their labours. In many countries, the door remains firmly closed to precisely the demographic we need to appeal to. In this respect, I think England has got the right balance. The Foundation License allows even quite young children to get on air and, as some activators on this site have shown, 10 watts is more than enough to provide a lifetime of enjoyment in SOTA. Unfortunately, it is not so here in Austria, where children have to wait until they are 14 to get licensed and people who should know better pin their hopes on the increased interest in new digimodes like FT8 :person_facepalming:.
I digress. Children are desperate to learn Morse code but, just as with any other musical instrument, they often lack the staying power to see the learning process through. I am fortunate, in that I work in a primary school and so I get to see the Morse learning process from a focussed pedagogical viewpoint. I can say that there are definitely different types of learners, and what works for one may prove a hinderance to someone else. You have to play around a bit and find what works for you. I’m also fortunate, in that the teachers I work with are very open-minded. Next year, I will have my first 1st year class in about 4 years. I spoke with the main teacher of that class and she agreed (was very excited in fact) that when I am teaching the English alphabet, I can include the Morse character for each letter. I have been modifying a set of picture cards for precisely this purpose:

It will be interesting to see what effect this has, and whether it helps the pupils to start learning Morse right from day 1. Those pupils who lose interest or show no aptitude for Morse can simply forget about it. But if even a small handful pick it up, I will start an afterschool club for them to practice and hopefully get on the air.
As OE6MAD (Mario) showed last week, when he posted his first activation, (First activations - OE/ST-308 & OE/ST-320) the Graz Morse Code School has not just got a great many people on the air using CW, it produces a steady stream of competent SOTA activators as well (if I do say so myself). I know the Long Island CW School also does a great job in this regard. CW can be saved, but it needs highly motivated individuals willing to come together and start the schools. The Graz CW School also has a special pyramid system, so as soon as you graduate and get on air, you are usually given the job of tutoring some new students. It is this manner of actively growing the teaching/learning community that also plays a big role in keeping CW alive.
To everyone learning CW and looking for that one tip that will help them, I would say that just half an hour a day can be enough to get you on air, but it is best when that half hour is first thing in the morning. Set your alarm to go off half an hour earlier and do your practice before going to work. If you travel on public transport a lot, use that time to listen to Morse through headphones; don’t waste a single second. And remember, the CW operators get the coolest toys to play with, it’s worth the effort!
73 es GL de OE6FEG/M0FEU


Hi Matt,
I believe, what you have described here was the reason for introducing the two or three level licensing systems in many countries. The Foundation or Technician level forms an introductory level and this indeed increased the number of people entering the hobby when numbers were dropping off.

The Morse test while possibly seen as a block to entering the hobby on the shortwaves by many people, I believe was removed by the licencing authorities as there was no longer the need, for example, for Radio amateurs to recognise and report a call for help from ships on the high seas using CW on 160 or 80 metres as ships had stopped using Morse code and moved to using satellite communications.

One of the basic principles of SOTA is to be inclusive. Should there be a restriction on using SOTA on HF to only the CW mode as inferred by the provocative “NO HF SOTA operation unless you learn CW!” title of this thread, that would be in direct conflict with this basic principal.

I realise that some operators just love CW and want to promote its use but it would be wrong to take what could be seen as an elitist position of stopping others who are more interested in other modes such as SSB, FM and Digital and are not interested in or simply cannot manage to learn CW.

As has already been said, it can be easier in low signal conditions to make a contact using CW than SSB. One could say that makes the SSB contact more of an achievement.

Of note was a push in Australia led by Ron, VK3AFW to promote the use of CW in SOTA as initially there were very few SOTA operators using the mode in SOTA in VK. I’m sure Ron will expand on this but I believe his approach was to teach the minimum exchange needed for a SOTA contact to form as a basis of Morse code understanding. Ron was very successful with this approach as can be seen by the increase in the number of CW SOTA operators in VK.

73 Ed.


In general - I like morse code.

I got my licence at 16 (1977)… without CW and was only allowed to use frequencies above 144 Mhz.
In the early 80’s I passed the CW exam to be able to be active on HF as well… but rather because it interested me and I was interested in 2m operating modes such as Aurora, MS (at that time still with Uher Report), EME,…, where one should also be able to use CW. Today, all that has been replaced by digitalisation.

It is well known that the average age of OMs is quite high. To prevent the decline of amateur radio, the requirements for obtaining a licence have been lowered. Lowering standards has been quite fashionable for a long time…

When I took up amateur radio again after a 20-year break, I found out that doing CW is like riding a bicycle… you’re quickly back into it.

In the past, when an SSB qso broke down on HF, I could be sure to finish it successfully with CW. Today I can no longer assume that.

I still think CW has charm and opens up many possibilities. But it’s up to you to recognise that and learn CW.

73 Armin


Just to be clear, I’m not against digimodes in any way, they’re just not the way I personally like to fill the log. I also agree that they do need more bandwidth (which could be freed up by creating a new ‘digital telephony’ segment above the digimodes). What I object to, is the idea that the popularity of digimodes can reverse the decline in interest in ham radio.
To be more specific to the title of the thread: I wouldn’t be in favour of a complete HF ban for no code hams. Perhaps just a few bands, like 6m for instance.
73 Matt

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It seems to me that there are two main reasons for using CW. Firstly because it is a good mode for marginal conditions, and secondly because it is pushed on you by an elitist frame of mind where some people have the impertinance to say that you aren’t a proper ham if you don’t use CW. Its a mode, one of a palette of modes available to us, use it if you like it, don’t use it if you don’t. Forget twaddle about its past importance, ignore the elitists that want it to be compulsory. The choice to use it is yours alone.


Firstly I thank Ed for his kind remarks but I think only 1 new CW op came up from our training and practice sessions.

CW was important to mercantile ships, the military and even the Post Office up to around 1950 when typing became a more useful skill. Radio amateurs were prize recruits for WW1 and WW2 and they were used as trainers and station supervisors. Old habits die hard and CW was kept as a qualification in AR well beyond its apparent useful date.

I find the extra 8 dB or so cf SSB hard to pass up, although I did so today with 10 and 15 m full of JAs calling CQ test. I could not nut out the scoring so kept out of it.

Today the two thumb tappers hold sway.

The SSB gang have of late started running 100 W on summits to an elevated GP in order to get dx contacts. I saw one such station today and the battery box made a grand seat. It weighed two anvils.

Have fun whatever your mode.



That was mainly down to it no longer being an ITU requirement. At WRC-03 the ITU dropped Morse proficiency from its requirements for amateur licences.

I’d qualify that. I’ve met a very few folk who sat down with a Koch trainer, and were receiving accurately at 20wpm within a fortnight, and one of them went from nothing to 50wpm+ in just a few months. For most folk it takes a fair bit longer, and for some it’s a serious struggle. I make no secret of the fact that I consider the two years I spent doing regular daily Koch-style training to be two years wasted as far as learning Morse was concerned, and I’ve had a few others confess they also found it pretty much impossible. It works for some, not for others. It is most certainly not easy for everyone.

While there was a time when Morse proficiency was an essential part of any amateur’s skill set, those days are long, long past. These days CW is just another popular mode, to be used or not as you like.


It’s my recollection that the argument about whether CW proficiency was a valid (contemporary) requirement even in the 1970s was that as it was in the ITU requirements, no country could ignore the requirement to examine amateurs for morse proficiency.

I think a hard look at what happened when ships at sea needed to call SOS post about 1930 would reveal that they would do it on the 500 khz band which until 20 or so years ago (it doesn’t matter) was still monitored by competent operators at shore stations and in theory at least also by other ships radio officers. It was almost never monitored by radio amateurs unless they were also professional operators of a coastal station or a ship. I never monitored the 500 khz band.

So you could ask why was morse a requirement for radio amateurs. Well, here’s my theory. When all this was dreamt up, pre 1930s, (in fact not far past 1901, Titanic was sunk in 1912), radio wasn’t neatly divided into bands and tuned by people using receivers with sub khz bandwidth as they do today. Transmitters were a choice of spark or higher powered spark. That was a wideband mode. It probably covered DC to 1 MHZ and beyond, if anyone had the equipment to examine it. A tuned circuit, probably in the antenna matching, probably reduced the bandwidth to a couple of hundred khz.

Receivers were little better than what we would now call a crystal set. Tuning was equally broad. So everyone with a “receiver” heard everything if they were in range. That is why amateurs needed to be competent enough to copy and respond to an SOS, because if it happened, they might be the only operator in range, awake and able to respond. They may have to summon help by riding their horse down to the nearest police station, but that may have been better than nothing. Better equipped amateurs might have one of those new fangled telephones.

So why did the requirement for amateurs to be competent at morse stay in the rules? Perhaps the IARU feared that pointing out that more modern modes and equipment had actually made amateurs redundant for the purpose of hearing SOS calls, might have unpleasant consequences?

Indeed the WIA used to point out that by raising the question of morse proficiency, we might be opening up a pandora’s box of issues that in some scenarios could result in a significant downgrade of amateur privileges, or worse. So the sleeping dog stayed comfortably sleeping on the rug and nobody disturbed it.

(No ship would ever call SOS on an amateur band, would they? )

Re learning morse, which is the topic here, I equate it [edit: compare it] with learning a language, a very small vocabulary, but still, the brain needs to learn new stuff. Something that is easy at age 12-15 is much more difficult at age 50+. I’m still trying to learn more Spanish than I did in 2019, it is slow going and I don’t put enough time into it. But I am gradually learning more. An incentive like having to book a hotel room, or order a meal, accelerated my learning in 2019 much more than anything else has since.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2DA


For me, to begin with, it was more like learning to read and write again, but using sound. Maybe it starts to become more like a language when you get to the point of hearing words rather than letters…


I thought the reason that Morse was a requirement was so a ship or coastal station (or whoever) could ask you to QSY if you were causing interference. This was a possibility as many of our bands are shared with other services. Anyway, Morse isn’t and shouldn’t be a requirement any more as it is no longer used by professional services.

I had to take a Morse test in 1983 to get on HF and having had to learn it I embraced it. I’ve always found it a shame that many of those who had to take a test never then used it on the air. That seems like such a lost opportunity.

I use CW for most of my ham radio because I like to use homebrew equipment and CW transmitters are much easier to build and more efficient. QRP works well. And I don’t have to shout into a microphone and disturb others in the house or on the hill top. For SOTA activations I do also like to use 2m FM but that’s a more relaxed mode as signals are usually strong from local stations.

I was away from ham radio for many years. After 2/1/89 I didn’t have a CW QSO until 23/11/17. I had to relearn the code but it was much quicker than the first time. Strangely though, I originally didn’t get much faster than the 12wpm test speed but have now got much nearer 20wpm and could probably get faster if I went on the air more from home. I do use a paddle now though rather than the straight key I took my test with.

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Nonsense. You are a CW activator. My own target was to reach a standard of CW whereby I could do SOTA activations with it - so that level is success AFAIAC.



It’s quite easy to get to a level of proficiency whereby you can do CW SOTA activations or CW contesting, and IMO we shouldn’t be putting people off by saying that it requires lots of this hard work and dedication stuff :slight_smile:


I’m sure you may have heard this but learning at 5wpm is now really frowned upon. The problem is at that speed you are counting dots and dashes and referring to an imaginary look-up table in your head.

The recommended way is to learn at a higher speed, say 16wpm or even more and begin to learn the sound of the characters. For example K sound like “baa di baa” to my ear. Other ears may hear something different but that doesn’t matter. So instead of thinking of K as sounding like “kay” you hear “baa di baa”.

There are lots of online resources but for me the app Morse Mania worked very well and it was actually fun to use. It now has a feature to allow sending but I can’t get on with it - tapping a screen doesn’t work for me.



Try doing that when playing a ballroom or sequence waltz for a Warners or Saga cruise dancing crowd. You will not be popular.

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I agree, John. I use the Farnsworth method at 15wpm and learn the overall sounds, not the individual dots and dashes. My point was that from zero knowledge I can now copy at an average of 5wpm on my CW journey - I hope - to much faster speeds in future. But it takes time and effort and practice - and lots of listening.