Yet another damn CW thread!!!!!

So there are already an impressive number of CW threads on here already, and I’ve sat down and read all of them at some point.

Just about all of them seem to be angled from the point of view of an activator wanting to learn CW to activate summits but I’m coming at this from the point of view of a chaser who wants to learn CW to chase the summits that I’m missing from being SSB only (with the occasional local summit on FM thrown in).

It would also be good to chase some DX but I think that is a little way off as most of the big guys seem to rattle away at around 25-30 WPM (according to the decoding app on my iPad).

I guess my question comes in two parts:-

Question 1:-

I know that learning CW is a long and frustrating process. I was under no illusions on that one when I started learning.

I’m at the stage where I have the whole alphabet memorised, but it takes me about a second to decode each letter, meaning that I just cannot keep up with QSO’s on the air.

Having said that, there are certain “phrases” that I instantly recognise without any hesitation whenever I hear them (such as CQ, RR, BK & 73), even if they are being sent at 20+ WPM (well above the speed that I can decode in my head).

It seems to me that the way to get up to an acceptable/useful speed is to recognise the “phrases” used rather than trying to decode each and every letter.

Considering that SOTA contacts are generally very brief & to the point, my theory is that if I can recognise the phrases or words most commonly used the only thing that I will actually need to work out for myself is the signal report (as I would normally already have the call sign & summit reference from the spots on the website…assuming that they are correct!!!)?

This theory seems to be backed up by advise from other amateurs.

Essentially I’m looking for a list of phrases, abbreviations or words that you would use in every SOTA contact.

I’m guessing that “UR RST”, “AGN” & “QRS” would also be good ones to learn so that they are instantly recognisable and so that I can sent them without thinking!

What others do you hear in virtually every SOTA contact?

Question 2:-

I would quite like to get a couple of on air chases under my belt but I’m not sure that I’m quite up to it yet. I can send at around 10 WPM, but struggle to decode at anything faster than 5 WPM at the moment.

What is the etiquette for calling into an activator that is obviously going to be much faster than me? I’ve always been under the impression that the activator sets the pace, but I simply cannot keep up with that pace (at least not yet).

Bearing in mind that most activators seem to rattle along at 15-20 WPM, I’m imagining that it’s going to be very frustrating (and probably even infuriating) if I try to call in at between 5 & 10 WPM!

Should I wait until I’ve had a bit more practice and can keep up (or at least get close to the speed of the activator), or should I wait the pileup has cleared and call in at the end of the activation (when the chaser has called CQ several times without getting a reply) and then go for it.

I’m kind of swaying towards waiting until I can reliably run at 10-15 WPM and then call in at the end of the activation. What’s the group consensus.?

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Next time you hear me activating James, you call me at whatever speed you are happy with and I’ll slow to your speed. Probably best to wait till any pileup has diminished. is a wonderful resource for learning.


Thanks Andy. I may take you up on that offer.

Are you planning to be out & about this weekend, or has the snow put a damper on your activities (I don’t see any alerts for you)?

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Only started snowing here at 6.00pm for the 1st time this year We’ve had about 2cms. It’s been cold all week though, -7C last night. I hope to be out this weekend, probably just a local lump.

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Your theory is correct. That will adequately enable you to do SOTA chasing, and activating, and indeed contesting if you fancy.

Some will slow down for you, some won’t. If they won’t, you don’t work them and you move onto the next one.

The best training method for the stage you are at is actual live activating. It’s easier than chasing because you determine the speed and operating style, and everyone has to cooperate with you!

Try some regular activations of a local summit and watch your speed, reading and general CW ability really take off! I did my first one at 10wpm, and the chasers were fantastic.

Words and phrases - yes of course, same as learning music or any language. Sounds like you’ve already mastered most of them. You’ll pick up reading reports easily enough - usually it’s one of 339, 449, 559, 579 or 599.

Callsigns - RuFZ is very powerful training for this - but so is activating.

Vocabulary - these:

CQ, DE, SOTA, RST, 599, 73, TU, GL, OP, NAME, REF, TNX, UR


I would say absolutely get on the air and give some a try. I’ve recorded tons of SOTA cw qso’s on various YouTube videos if you’re interested (channel is mkc0pr). Also, I would end up being one who would not change the wpm rate set on the keyer (it’s down in the menu and is not practical to change from one chaser to the next), but I definitely would slow down my rate between letters.

Best of luck!!
Mike AC0PR

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When I’m on a summit, I assume that people who call me can understand at whatever speed I’m sending at, at least well enough to complete the contact. If I know the other op doesn’t know CW at that speed I’ll try and slow down for them. If they’re obviously having trouble with the CW I’ll be patient and slow down. I want them to be successful - more chasers for me!

On the other hand, if you can recognize your call sign and the signal report, you know enough to have a valid chase. With practice you’ll learn anything else the activator might send. For example, the first few months I activated, when chasers sent my name, I always heard it as “weff” or “1eff”. For some reason I had trouble with the “J”. Now its no problem, I’ve learned my name :smile:

Morse Runner is another great practice program, as well as the others that have been mentioned.

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I maintain it is easier to chase on CW than it is to activate. The chaser is sat in a comfy chair, not hunched up on a cold moor with (in winter) freezing hands, wind to cope with and a temporary make shift station.

You should wait until you are able to understand the communications procedure, otherwise you will make a complete ass of yourself by calling the activator at the wrong time. i.e. Whatever speed you are receiving the Morse at you need to understand who is transmitting at the time and be able to read their callsign. It best to wait until the iniital pile up dies away and you are the only caller left, or one of a small few, then despite a slow call you should get through more easily.

Maybe some chasers who cannot properly read Morse use a type of receiving device so the characters are displayed on a screen - I don’t know. But these devices notoriously, only work with a good, clear readable signal and do not cope well with weak QRP signals, QRM, multiple callers etc very well at all. A good pair of ears and headphones are far superior.

So its not so much about what speed you can receive Morse at, it is more in the early days about understanding who is transmitting when you return your call - you need to be able to read the activators callsign therefore and time your own call in precisely - identification is made easier by SOTAWatch displaying the callsign and the frequency for you. Its crucial therefore that you understand what is happening so you time your call to the activator at the appropriate time.

Your job as a chaser is made easier in that most of us send a basic rubber stamp QSO format so that we can work the maximum number of stations in the minimum time e.g.

DE M0GQC M0GQC K (Send call once or twice and no more - depending on number of callers) LISTEN
(G4OBK then listens for other callers, op’s often exchange names if they know the op calling who is likely a regular) A regular chaser / activator knows these callsigns off by heart - just look at the top 20 EU 2019 chasers in CW mode - many of them will be there starring in the activators pile up).

As I’ve said before on various threads about CW - learning Morse takes time and hours and hours of practice - between 3 and 6 months of daily practice to read with a reasonable degree of accuracy at 12 - 15 words per minute. As the song goes - it don’t come easy, so don;t give up and come back on here moaning, spend your time doing daily practice. You need to be determined to master it. Many of us had the carrot of an HF licence dangling before our noses when you needed to pass the 12 WPM test to be able to operate on the HF bands, That was an incentive which is no longer there.

Good Luck in your learning and as others have said, so long as you can string your callsign together and understand what is happening on the frequency then call the activator at whatever speed you can muster. Keep the character speed up at a minimum 12 WPM or even faster and leave longer spaces between letters. That shows the activator you are a novice student. Most of us would come back and match our speed to yours, although with some portable menu driven transceivers that don’t have a rotary speed control for the built in keyer this is quite difficult.

73 Phil

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Bravo to you for seeking to master CW! Might I make a kind and gentle suggestion, however, that you not consider this effort “a long and frustrating process,” but rather an activity in which you get better the more you practice ;-).

To your question 1: CQ, SOTA, RR, REF?, RST?, AGN, BK, GL, CU, CUL, CFM, TU, 73/72. In addition, activators will send the ref(erence) for the summit, usually as part of CQing or in response to a REF? query.

To your question 2: Good ops will slow down to your speed. Contesters do this all the time. Most activators I’ve heard do this. That is the proper etiquette. If someone doesn’t, just send “pse QRS.”

I wouldn’t hesitate to call during the pileup; often slower speed CW is heard more clearly because of the contrast with the faster senders. Propagation also can change–call 'im when you hear 'im!

You hit on a key aspect to increasing speed: hearing words and phrases vs. characters. That’s really the only way to copy significantly faster.

In addition to the very excellent MorseRunner others have mentioned, consider the CW Academy offered by the CW Operator’s Club (CW Ops): CW Academy – CWops.

I’ll conclude with a personal story that I hope will encourage you. When I passed my US novice license exam in the mid 70s, I had to wait nearly 3 months to get my license. Until then, I couldn’t get on the air. The novice required 5 WPM, but I worried I would lose that ability, so I dutifully copied CW on 40M every night I could. Without even trying to increase my speed, I was copying closer to 15 WPM by the time my license arrived.

Stay with it and you’ll have us sending QRS in no time! GL ;-).

73 Paula k9ir


Hi James,

I agree with Phil, I would start off doing some chasing in the comfort of a warm shack. You need to be able to recognise the Activator’s callsign. You should know what it is you are listening for from the SOTA spot. Most Activator’s in Europe add /P to the callsign so listen for the /P.

I don’t know what tcvr you are using but most have CW memories. You could program one with your callsign. As Phil says, you need to recognise the communication procedure to know when to send your call. Also do wait until things die down a bit. Set your speed to say 15 WPM which will indicate you are a novice CW operator. Actually it will also help your chase stand out amongst other Chasers. Send your callsign once or twice then listen. You are listening for your own callsign, which you should be able to recognise and then listen for your report. Then to complete it can be as simple as BK R TU report report 73 TU. I tend to send my report twice in case there is some QSB.

Have a go. Once you have completed a successful chase it gets easier and easier.

73 Andrew G4AFI


Excellent tips from Andrew - so give it a go James, once you are confident you know what is going on on the frequency.

73 Phil

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Thanks for the advice folks Some good suggestions there.

I’ve been spending a couple of hours each evening scanning the CW sections of the 40m band and trying to pick out what I can.

I always manage to pick out CQ or CQ DX, and can usually figure out the call sign after they have sent about 3-4 CQ calls. I nearly always manage to hear the 73 at the end.

Basically I can figure out when they are calling CQ and when a QSO has ended. It’s the bit in the middle that leaves me totally stuffed!!!

I usually pick out the signal report if they send 599. If they send anything different, or include names or other info, it completely throws me.

If the signal is strong enough I use the iPad to follow the QSO & confirm what I am hearing (also helps me make sense of some of the other info sent). As Phil has already pointed out, unfortunately decoders can be very hit & miss, often throwing up a load of gibberish!!!

Bearing in mind that most of the QSO’s that I’m listening to are between 15-20 WPM, I have a feeling that if it was sent at a much slower speed (or at least with more of a gap between each letter or digit to give me time to think) I would probably be able to copy enough of it & complete the QSO.

Also been practising sending (with the TX turned off so I’m not actually transmitting, just using the radio to generate the tone) my call sign and some of the abbreviations (such as CU AGN, BK, DE, 73 etc) as well as random call signs that I hear on the air.

Mike made a good point (which I hadn’t considered) that many people use the rigs internal keyer, making it impractical to slow it down (especially on a summit).

To be honest, I learnt the letters at between 18-20 WPM, so decoding the letters at that speed isn’t really a problem for me. I just need the gap between each character to give my poor brain time to compute what has just been sent!!!

Progress is slow, but I think it’s starting to click. I’ll keep plodding away. It’s been about 2 months, so I don’t think that I’ve done too badly for the time that I’ve been working at it.

I agree that the best way is to just go for it!
I’m returning to cw, I was never any good at it, you are probably better than me by the sounds of it.
When activating, the chasers will repeat their call sign or any character you are struggling with.
When I’ve finished building my paddle I’m going on air. Actually going on the air is the second hardest part.



All good advice, and as one who returned to CW through SOTA after many years absence, I confirm that OPs are very understanding and willing to be supportive!

Three more commonly used “words” that you will hear, and I don’t think have yet been mentioned:

GM, GA, GE (good morning / afternoon / evening)

as in: M0GIA de G4AZS GM UR 559 etc


Good to see Sean back dabbling in the mode again :+1:

73 Phil


No matter what phrases, abbreviations and so on you memorise or learn, you’ll still have to be able to read callsigns. Its a bit like learning a few phrases in a language and then hoping/expecting/praying that no one ever replies with a non standard reply.

If you want to get your speed up practice, and practice at least every day for several days and you will see an improvement.

Slower morse is often on 14050khz and there’s an equivalent on 7mhz. Try listening to that as its often around 10wpm. that should be good practice for you.

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I didn’t think it was that long ago.

Paddle nearly finished, just needs wiring up.


Correct, it wasn’t that long ago.

7th April 2013 - Billinge Hill - was your last activation. You made four contacts, all on 30m CW.

Looking forward to joining you for a joint activation, just for the spectacle of you operating CW on that instrument of medieval torture you’re building.

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That’s my shack paddle, I’m waiting on some parts for my portable paddle.

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This wasn’t Sean M0GIA’s last SOTA activation as he was with us when we did my 21st Birthday activation which was Esgeiriau Gwynion GW/NW-031 on 29th September 2013. I don’t think Sean did any CW on this activation, but I seem to remember he made on contacts on HF SSB, but looks like he never submitted his log for this activation to the SOTA Database.

Jimmy M0HGY