A “No-Nonsense” Guide to Operating CW

A recent post to the SolidCpyCW Yahoo Group, which, in my humble opinion, contained some misinformation, got me to thinking about what I might do help people to get started in using and enjoying CW. Since I have already helped a lot of people get started in ham radio with my “No-Nonsense” license study guides, I’m thinking of writing The No-Nonsense Guide to Operating CW.

The topics I’d cover include:

  • learning the code;
  • selecting a key;
  • making contacts; and
  • other stuff, including CW clubs, modulated CW (MCW), and whatever other miscellaneous stuff that I can think of that would help hams enjoy operating CW.

There are already lots of books out there covering this stuff, most notably The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy. This is a great book, but the copy I have has more than 240 pages. Does someone really need to plow through 240 pages to learn the code?

So, what do you think? Do you think that I have the topics right? What else would you include? What resource did you find most useful when you were learning the code? What do you know now that you wish you knew when you got started learning Morse Code?


  1. I think this is a good idea—something on the order of 10 pages or fewer would be perfect—you probably know the rules of presentation for this material better than I. One of the things that is under-appreciated about learning the code and operating CW is practice. If one practices intentionally, it comes quite quickly.

  2. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    I think this is an excellent idea. There are lots of people who will tell you how to learn Morse code, but there are very few concise references on the customs and etiquette of making CW contacts.

  3. John KC8ZTJ says:

    I agree with K8GU. Keep it simple and be sure to add in tips on conversing in CW. It is different than phone or digital. Talk about frequencies and where one will find contacts especially just starting out. Experience suggests that talking about sending technique and how to manage the jitters. FWIW

  4. Dan KB6NU says:

    Great suggestions!

    How do you manage the jitters, though? To be honest, once I got a few QSOs under my belt, I wasn’t nervous about it a bit. Maybe that’s the best way–just do it! Or, is there some other technique that you use?

    I’m going to start working on this as soon as I finish the next edition of the Tech study guide.

  5. Nice tips! I’m just getting started learning CW. This lays it out in its simplest form.

  6. Dan:

    I’m still teaching the Amateur Radio course to my high school students. This includes having them learn Morse Code. Although they are not all thrilled (maybe 3 in 10 are…) to have to learn the Code, when I actually get them “live” on the air, they are really into it. It is awesome to see the kids mentor one another and help out the operator when s/he forgets a letter.

    I use the Gordon West tapes to teach them Code. 24 Lessons (~20 minutes each) that are goofy, but also very “doable.” They keep the kids interest and they actually learn the Code. While they are learning, I use MorseMaker2 to give them quizzes using the letters they have learned through their current lesson. All in all, it has been successful.

    It is very important for new students to learn the “formula” for a contact. Once my students realize that they can just send what they already wrote down with minimal changes (name/RST, etc.), some of the stress goes away. Also, knowing the CW abbreviations (FB; OM; UR, etc..) is helpful.

    On an operating note, I can’t say enough about the FIST group. We tune to 14.058 and always find an Op willing to slow down to our 5 wpm. I have not operated Morse that much lately, but am to the point of appreciation that I am probably going to join their group.

    Good luck on this new project. You are doing a great service for those new to CW or the hobby in general.


    Ronny, KC5EES
    Trustee, K5LBJ (LBJ High School ARC)
    Austin, TX

  7. ED KC8SBV says:


    Please make one! I have looked in the current ARRL Operating Manuals, and so little is said about operating CW. At the Milford swap Apr 17, I picked up a 1966 ARRL Op Manual for $1. Now this is a real find, and fills the need, but there certainly is a void to be filled.

    Ed KC8SBV

  8. The jitters… An excellent CW operator (both contester and ragchewer) I know likes to drink a beer or two before the start of a contest, just enough to be relaxed. He says it helps him ease into the contest. I’m not advocating medication per se, just some sort of relaxation. Of course, casual contacts and ragchews are different than contest QSOs. But, the idea of being at ease before you start is important.

    In retrospect, I made my first CW QSO when I was home alone. The lack of “local commotion” allowed me to concentrate on the contact. That wasn’t intentional, but I’m sure it helped.

  9. T-Michael says:

    Thanks for the blog. I have been studying for my Tech for the last month and I take the next Thurs. I think I am ready in that I have taken over 20 practice exams and passed all of them with at least at 91%. I am looking to start learning CW so I would love some kind of easy to use guide to help out with that. Look forward to reading more.


  10. That would be fantastic! There are great resources on the web to learning to decode CW, but I am having trouble finding one that teaches you the next step, IE, what you need to buy to get on the air, along with other tips that help you to get on the air. A simple resource that covers those topics would be wonderful!

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