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Morse Code (CW) - Getting Started

Morse code (or continouse wave, cw) is the communications method that’s most resistant to interference and noise. Communicating with morse code requires recognizing letters easily by hearing them and knowing the protocol. Contrary to common belief, it is not practically possible to communicate with morse code by just memorizing the alphabeth.

This “getting started” tutorial explains how to get started with morse code.

© 2006 Tero Karvinen

Learning the Alphabeth

Morse code consists of short beeps (.) and long beeps (-), all in the same tone. In radio, these beeps are produced by sending carrier wave without any additional modulation.

To learn the alphabeth, you must pick a couple of letters and learn them well. After that, you can add a couple of more.

For example, you could start with

 T  -
 E  .
 O  ---
 R  .-.

There are also Free programs that can play morse code for you.

Alphabeth Exercise

Memorize the four letters above.

Work with a pair. Have your pair write random combinations of those letters to paper, without showing you that. Take a paper and pen.

Your pair send you the letter combinations she has on paper, and you try to catch it. Write down the letters.

You don’t need fancy rig to send morse code, your pair can say: “daa da da daa da daa daa daa”. Only use single tone to communicate the beeps. Don’t say “long short” or “di daa”, if you would have a walkie talkie you could just speak your message.

After a while (e. g. two sets of five characters), compare your paper with your pair.


Protocol is essential to be able to have any sensible communications. If you did the previous exercise, you probably noticed that you have to use words like “slower”, “what”, “my turn” and pay attention to your friends face. If you are just connected by beeps coming from a radio, you need another method to change turns and correct mistakes. Luckily, there is an internationally accepted communications protocol for morse code.

The Simplest Conversation

The simplest morse conversation is probably a test connection, just calling the other station to check that we can hear each other. Here we have two stations, with stations TERO and FOO.

TERO calls FOO, so TERO sends: FOO this is TERO listenting:



The remote stations call is given first (remote_station DE my_call). Anything you say ends with K (listening), so that the other party can know it’s her turn to talk.

And FOO replies: TERO this is FOO listenting:



To show that it has heard the call, FOO just called TERO.

After the initial handshake would be the time to chat or send messages. In this case TERO just called in to check that it can reach FOO, so now TERO ends the communication by saying “Over”:



Over “VA” is sent as a single character ..._._ without a pause between V and A. There is no “listening” K after “over” VA.



All communications with morse code has these elements (calling, changing turns, ending), so this was a very important example.

The abreviations we learned:

  K   -.-       Listening 
  DE  -..   .   This is 
  VA  ...-.-    Over (sent as single character)

Last modified: 2006-03-28. Permanent url: http://www.iki.fi/karvinen/morse.html

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