Time to take the plunge

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by N1RBD, Aug 16, 2019.

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  1. N1RBD

    N1RBD XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    So, I've realized that to do SOTA/POTA successfully using an FT818 that I need to learn CW. :)

    Any suggestions as to online training materials? CW would pretty much be limited to doing SOTA/POTA activations.

  2. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I think you don't "learn CW," you learn the code.:) CW is just a mode, like SSB.

    But "learning CW" is a good point: Really learning to use the code involves receiving and understanding it, plus sending it well enough that others can understand what you sent, plus learning spacing, abbreviations, probably a few extra "Q" signals nobody uses on voice modes, and technique. So, I guess that really is "learning CW."

    Since you already have operating privileges on all the HF bands, IMO the best way to learn using the code is by setting up a key and oscillator (you can use the FT-818 to do this, using its sidetone as the oscillator and just turning VOX/QSK "off," so what you send doesn't go out over the air, but you'll still hear it), and at first perhaps using a chart as an assist, and start sending all the letters and numbers using a key so you can hear what you're sending. Once you've done that a few hundred times, throw away the chart and get used to the sound and rhythm of each letter, so you don't "visualize" what the letter should look like and instead recognize what it should sound like. I always recommend "forget about dits (dots) and dahs (dashes), don't count them, just ignore them, and focus only on the sound of each letter, number or symbol.

    Copying the ARRL W1AW code practice transmissions (their signal is pretty strong on some band, which one depends on propagation*) which are machine-sent and perfect, can help with recognition of "what it should sound like" for letters, numbers, symbols and words. They send at various speeds, but newbies start out copying the 5 wpm transmissions.

    Once you can do that even just a little bit, I'd recommend getting on the air and trying to make some contacts! Look for guys sending slowly (often found on 20m above 14.050, for example), try to copy the callsign of someone sending CQ, and answer him at any speed you feel you can send pretty well. Nothing has to be perfect, and it won't be. No cash prize for perfect sending, or for perfect copy. If you get the other station's callsign and he acknowledges your callsign, you've made a contact!

    Get used to the old, worn-out but useful initial exchange for "most" non-contest contacts, which is to send your callsign, a signal report for the other station (such as "599" or whatever it is), your QTH (location) and your first name or nickname, followed by "HW?" or "HW CPY?" and turn it over to the other station with a callsign exchange. Over time this will lead to exchanging other more interesting information, and getting better at it with each and every contact.

    If you can make 5 contacts a day for 30 days, that's 150 contacts and by that time you'll be pretty comfortable.:)

    [*Usually you'd be "in range" of hearing them on 3.5815 MHz (80m), 7.0475 MHz (40m) or 14.0475 (20m) almost no matter where you are in CONUS. You can also copy the same practice "transmissions" on-line, without even a receiver or an antenna (!), by going here: http://www.arrl.org/5-wpm-code-archive However, I sure recommend trying to copy the actual radio transmissions if at all possible, as they are more realistic in terms of signal fading, static, noise, interference, etc which you actually will experience when operating.]
    WB5YUZ, N1RBD and WN1MB like this.
  3. KM4DYX

    KM4DYX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    youtube has lots of helpful vids.
    I used the Morse Mentor app on my phone the most. Koch method with Farnsworth timing = gold.
    I learned with a paddle. YMMV. The "BK" setting in your 818 will let you practice without transmitting.
    N1RBD likes this.
  4. AA8NN

    AA8NN Ham Member QRZ Page

    I learned the code a couple of years ago using g4fon on my laptop, and morse trainer on my phone on breaks at work. If you go this route I suggest that you set the wpm speed to 15 or more to learn the letters and numbers by sound and not counting dits and dahs. With 15 to 20 minutes a day you could be on the air in a couple of months having fun. Good luck!
    W9RAC likes this.
  5. K5UNX

    K5UNX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I am learning CW currently. Please don't get a chart and start trying that way . . . You need to learn how the characters sound, not counting dits and dahs. You will recognize 2 dits vs 3 dits but you need to learn without that translation table, or less of a translation table.

    CW Ops is an organization, like and online "club" that teaches CW classes that are very well done. I took their level 1 class which starts at zero and teaches you CW. When you are done with that class, you should be able to send and receive, though slowly. I am going to start their level 2 course which speeds you up, starting next month. The CW Ops classes seem to recommend the use of paddles and keyers, not straight keys.

    Another resource that I am using is the K7QO code course. It is an iso file that contains over 500 mp3 files all with CW for you to "receive". File 1 starts with the letter A, file 2 teaches you a B etc. You eventually work through the alphabet, numbers, punctuation characters, sample QSO's and even the book "The War of the Worlds" in CW. The letter are sent at a fast speed but spread out, like the Farnsworth timing. I have all the mp3 files on my phone and use it while driving alone. I listen to the letters and say the characters, etc out loud while I am driving. It's a good resource that I can use when away from my paddle, radio etc.

    The other resources that were listed above, ARRL broadcasts, and listening to real QSOs on the air are worth doing as well. You can also download the ARRl transmissions to practice with as mp3 files from arrl.org.

    Then get on the air! I am just starting to get brave enough to get on the air. I have about 10 CW contacts logged so far.
    KD7ICW likes this.
  6. KB5ZCR

    KB5ZCR Ham Member QRZ Page

    I used an app on my phone called CW Trainer. You can set the speed as slow as you need. You can set it to only send two letters so you can get to tell the difference between those two letters (this is where you start), then add more as you learn until your doing them all.

    I think that 30 min of dedicated (thinking of nothing else) practice a day will get you there fairly quickly.
    Once you can copy all the letters and numbers, get on 7055 and give it a shot.

    The SKCC (google it) is a great place to start and see others on the air right then who will go as slow as you need.
    Here is a link to see others on the radio right now willing to have a slow QSO with you.

    Go here to see info on the SKCC and how to join (it's free).

    Be careful, the CW bug can bite you and you may be infected for life. It bit me and now its the only mode I use.

    Thanks, Tim
    WB5YUZ and N7BKV like this.
  7. N7BKV

    N7BKV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yep. Dit happens!
  8. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I hope those learning using apps and stuff actually learn how to use CW, and not just copy it.:)

    I remember as a Novice 53-54 years ago, everyone had to learn some code to become licensed, and the "brand new hams" actually knew how to use CW, probably because almost all of us listened to hundreds of CW QSOs on the air before we ever transmitted or became licensed. I worked tons of Novices and they could all operate.

    Now I work a lot of CW (these days) and when I answer a slower station, it seems like half the time I surprise them; they often use really poor technique for calling CQ; I send them all information at the same speed they were sending (whatever that was) and they miss a lot of it. They often send full words when hams use abbreviations. They often send periods, when hams very rarely use any. They frequently use "BK TO U" and stuff like that which no experienced CW op would ever use.

    So, I wonder if this is the new-gen thing, to learn code by an app, but never actually copy any CW QSOs before getting on the air?

    I'm reluctant to try to correct their practices while in QSO, as I think that would be kind of a waste and may even be taken as insulting, which isn't the intention.

    Instead, I try to operate like real CW ops do and "hope" they figure it out. But often, they don't seem to and just keep doing whatever it was.:(

    I like "the old way" better, but it always involved being an SWL and copying lots of QSOs before ever transmitting a dit, and usually before getting licensed.
    WW2PT, WB5YUZ and N8AFT like this.
  9. AA8TA

    AA8TA XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I have been an advisor in the CW Academy for a couple of years. Everything we do is by ear; during the 8-week class I try to have students not write anything down. I’m trying to figure out how to go the entire 8 weeks with their eyes closed. We do a lot of sending, too. That can also be done with your eyes closed.

    At first, you’ll be ‘thinking” code but eventually you’ll “hear” code. There is a subtle and significant difference.

    Getting on the air is scary for many. FISTS, SKCC, state QSO parties and such can be a good way to break the ice. The exchanges are short and predictable and you don’t have to sweat about what to say.

    Really no need to overthink this. It’s fun! Once you get one contact in the log, the next dozen will be easier. The 100 after that even easier. Pretty soon, it will be second nature.

    If you need tips, I can help.
    WW2PT, W9RAC and N7BKV like this.
  10. WB5YUZ

    WB5YUZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    One bit of advice I can give: if you find yourself struggling, don't start looking for a new app or program. Stick it out and keep practicing.

    And, you will never get a consensus on the "right" way to learn CW. It doesn't matter. Lots of us, maybe most of us, learned the code the "wrong" way. But we became lifelong CW ops anyway!

    If you are determined to learn, and if you start having twenty or so QSOs a week as soon as possible in the learning process, you will be successful - almost all of us were.
    K7TRF likes this.

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