Learning Morse Code

Morse KeyEveryone can learn Morse code for transmission and reception of messages. Of course, to transmit on any licenced band, you also need an appropriate licence.

There is a great amount of choice of learning methods, but it is often more beneficial to learn by mixing methods. In my own personal experience, raw Morse transmissions adjust your hearing to much wider reception skills than any computer or machine generated code. As an example, when I was first using the code on amateur radio, I often listened to W1AW Morse practice transmissions on HF and noticed that I could read at much faster speeds listening to hand sent morse than the machine generated transmissions, as it had a more natural rhythm and feel to it.

There are plenty of software packages and applications to assist in learning, but I believe that listening to raw on-air morse is the way to go, especially as soon as you can read a fair amount of characters. When I was preparing for the compulsory (at the time) 12wpm morse test, I spent countless hours listening through a portable receiver with a BFO.

There are plenty of kits available these days for a beginner project!

For a start, you need to learn the individual characters, numbers and Prosigns.

A prosign is a bit like procedural punctuation, usually consisting of two letters sent as one. The most common are;

  • BT – A space. Originated as space down two lines, or carriage return on a typewriter.
  • AR – Stop copying (end of message).
  • KN –  Invitation to a specific named station to transmit. A “now your turn”, if you will.

It is a good idea to learn of procedural protocols as well. For example, ”KN” is a personal invitation, whereas “K” is an open invitation to anyone.

You will come across a lot of Q codes in transmissions. These are abbreviations, which are used considerably in conversational morse, though they are not really necessary. Provided that you are in a conversation, not in a pile up with some rare country, and not in a queue who want a quick contact, it is much more rewarding to send whole, coherent words.

So, let’s take a look at where we need to start;

  • Software and online resources
  • lcwo.net (Learn CWOnline) also offers online resources (1)
  • G4FON software for Koch method training (2)
  • Numorse from Nuware (3). This would be my personal choice, YMMV.

Keep in mind that there is a plethora of online choice for the actual code, but you only need the  basics mentioned above to hold a conversation.

Be sure to mix on-air listening with machine methods. At weekends there are often contests where the exchange is predictable: Callsign, RST, serial number. If you listen to a station, you soon get used to his/her sending style. With listening practice, it becomes possible to anticipate what is coming. Remember that if you understand all that he/she sends, you are not learning. You need to push yourself, so understanding part of the message (to begin with) will be more beneficial to your learning progress.

There are also various contest trainers, one of which is Morse Runner (4), which makes for good fun getting your contest speed up. But be sure to mix that with listening to QSOs, too.

Write down what you are hearing as much as you can, as this will help the information sink into your memory. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Once you are more competent, just taking notes will suffice and will help turn your minimal reply into a long over.

Vibroplex Morse KeyTransmitting Morse

Even if you have a licence to transmit on amateur bands, it is best not to do so until you are fully comfortable at sending and receiving. There are still a variety of practice oscillators available  and no doubt plenty of them are collecting dust in people’s sheds and attics. So be sure to ask around at your local club and have a look on local listing and auction websites.

If you choose to use your transceiver be sure to disable the transmitter and just use the oscillator. For directions on how to do this, check the manual for your transceiver.

Choose a frequency high up on a closed band, just to make sure you are not going to unintentionally cause interference to another amateur.

Use a decent quality straight key or single paddle to start off with. Concentrate on dot and dash length. This comes with practice, as it’s rather like being an excited child, “canihavemorecake” will, in time, be calmed down to “can i have more cake”.

Use written down receive practice to practice sending. Sending text from newspapers can be useful as it is often in decent sized text and offers repeating patterns of letters.

These days software can transmit send and receive Morse code, which is nice and convenient,  but humans do it better.

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