RANV mentoring: Starting with Morse Code

Hams have used Morse code since the start of the hobby. It used to be required for a license, but while that is no longer true, many people still enjoy learning and using the code. Learning is both easy and a challenge.

It is easy because a level appropriate for a first contact is about 5 words per minute, which simply means that you've memorized the alphabet and digits, and only takes a month or two of regular practice. It is also easy because the equipment needed to get on the air is reasonably simple. It is a challenge because of course you can go on to strive for higher speeds, contests, and more.

A number of members of RANV are active on CW, which is the FCC's official designation for Morse code communication. We'd be glad to help you get started. Please feel free to write ranv_mentoring at yahoo.com with any questions or requests; one of the club members who is an code enthusiast has volunteered to help out and your email will reach them.

From 0 to 5

Straight key

The most important step is the first; get a start. We recommend that you get the audio CD's from the ARRL, either by buying them or borrowing them. Practice with them for fifteen minutes a day (twice a day is ideal). You will gradually improve over the course of perhaps two months. At the end, you will be ready for your first on-the-air Morse contact.

There are also excellent computer programs for learning; if that works better for you then go for it. One is CW player.

The main points are regular practice, and to learn the letters as sounds — if you memorize index cards as "dot,dash" you are not helping yourself.

Don't forget to practice sending also. When you start you will want to use a straight key. If you can get a friend to practice with you, taking turns sending and copying, that'd be ideal.

Your first Morse contact

To make contacts in Morse code you need a High Frequency receiver and a simple antenna. You will find a lot of people looking to make contacts on 20 meters, or 40, or 80, at the lower ends of the bands. See the HF mentoring page for information on getting on these bands.

If you would like to start with someone from the club your first contact, looking for someone who will understand that you are struggling, let us know; we have been there and we'd be glad to help.

Improving

Bencher paddle

Most people who become active in Morse code find that they want to increase their code speed to between 15 and 25 words per minute. This typically takes some months. On-air practice — just listening or, better, contacts — is helpful. But some systemmatic practice is useful, also. There are a number of things that you can try.

If you now use a computer program, you can just turn up the speed. You can also download the ARRL's practice files at various speeds and put them on a MP3 player or a CD, for instance so you can listen in your car. The program Morse Runner lets you practice contesting on your computer.

And, when you become a Morse fan, think about joining FISTS, the Morse code club.