How to send a standard POTA CW exchange

Many thanks to Mike (KO4RIT) who writes:

For those of us really, really new CW operators and aspiring QRPers, can you do a video (or a walk n talk) showing several POTA QSO’s in slow motion?

Love your work, thanks.
-mike ko4rit

Mike, your timing was impeccable.  I noticed your message on my phone as I was preparing a park activation at Lake Norman State Park on August 9, 2021.

I decided to take a few moments prior to the activation and dissect a “typical” POTA CW exchange on my notepad with the camera rolling.

As I mention in the video, there is no standard or “POTA ordained” exchange, however, once you get into CW you’ll notice that most follow a common formula. POTA, SOTA, and WWFF CW exchanges are, in fact, very formulaic.

I believe in exchanging all of the important details–callsign, signal report and sometimes a state, province, or park number–along with a  little common courtesy. You don’t want to make the exchange too long, but these aren’t contest situations either, so it’s okay to go off script a bit sometimes, too. Just remember that there are (hopefully!) others in-line waiting to work your station when you finish your exchange in progress.


Note that this video is impromptu, unscripted and unedited. I’m sure I missed a few details and it’s perfectly fine, dear readers, to leave other best practices below in the comments section.

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

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14 thoughts on “How to send a standard POTA CW exchange”

  1. When I do a park I am more than just 599 73. What real fun is that. And most of the POTA videos I see including the ones given here are almost always 599, but look at S-meter on the rig and it is barely moving. About any 599 for a QRP station is bogus.

    I like having a conversation with those I have QSOs with, a real test of your QRP station.

    1. Hi, Ron,

      I actually like doing both: short exchanges when activating a park or summit, and rag-chewing when operating casually.

      I rarely read hte meter when giving a signal report, I simply rely on my ears. I try to be accurate, but sometimes my hand sends 599 when I mean 577, but I don’t go back and correct. And, frankly, with conditions and QSB these days, I’ll often give a 559 and they come back at 599 levels in peak. 🙂 It’s like a moving target! 🙂


  2. So you never send your POTA park code? All that is transmitted via non-amateur-radio means?

    No Morse expert here, but in Continental Code, O is dadadah. In American Morse — *real* Morse, by gummy, sent by wire! — O is dit dit because American Morse had Dots, Dashes, Long Dashes, and Spaces as character elements. I assume “Continental Code” was developed because it only included dits and dahs, with spaces to separate characters only. Presumably “O” in American Morse, was “over” … but again, not an expert.

    An actual question: In the iOS ecosystem, what is a good Morse decoder? I am “OK” at Morse having even passed the old Element 1B way back in the Day, but need a crutch. Recommendations?

    1. Hi, Peter,

      I hope someone here can offer a good decoder app for iOS.

      Regarding the park code, in most CW POTA exchanges, no–the park number isn’t automatically sent. There’s nothing wrong with volunteering the park code at all if you wish, but 97%+ do not unless asked. Since most park activators are discovered through the park spotting network, the park code is already known. POTA doesn’t require it to be sent in the exchange either. With that said, if asked for a park code, I always send it a couple times to make sure it was copied correctly.

      1. I think there are many parks with no code. We here in Florida have lots of local parks, some state owned, some count and some city. The closest National Prk is over 2 hours away.

        I seldom give the park name, but do mention I am at a park and QRP. Doing one this Saturday at a county park. Coupling it with our club picnic. When you say food and drink are there get a better turn out, hi. But I go for the QRP work.

    2. I’ve heard of some using actual Morse code just for the fun of it, takes some adjustment but understand is not all that difficult. Do like on Mr Morse’s birthday.

    3. I do like to hear from POTA stns their park number. So many only give RST and no location.. Would like at least the state.

      There are some Ham contest using the old real Morse code. A few of the characters are different and I am sure takes some practice to use it. It is usually done as special event on like Sam Morse’s birthday.

      In early days of the code different countries made up their own code and when traffic was going between them it could be confusing like what stock to buy; many messages were used to keep up on the stock markets of the world, the main reason for Marconi’s spark gap on the Titanic. Finally all got together and decided on the International Code, what we use today.

      Initially Morse did not have the code like we use. He had only numbers and each 3 digit number rep’d a word or phrase. Like 123 meant “location” or 446 meaning “home” (made up the numbers here). Actually an employee of Morse came up with the code for characters, but Morse being a SOB made sure any thing his company came up with Morse himself was given credit.

      At the time of the code yes only an on/off electrical devices were used so the code was a natural. There was no microphone or speakers, just relays and switches (keys).

      There are apps for smart phones and computer for aiding in the code. I am sure a search . Do search in Apple Store for “Morse Code” There is a ton of them and for free, both receiving and sending. But do recommend get a good book on learning the code. It is a skill and if learned right you can really advance. Try learning by coping in your head, not writing down. Receiving code is a reflex, one hears dit-dah and automatically thinks/writes/types “A”, automatically. This occurs around 12wpm.

      73, ron, n9ee/r

  3. Thomas, this was a very helpful video. I’ve avoided operating CW on any POTA activations so far, because it usually takes me at least three attempts to decode someone’s callsign at 20 WPM. But I think POTA hunting might be a great way for me to practice and to improve my copy skills, and eventually give it a try while activating. Thank you!

    BTW, I’ve also discovered the CWT (CWops weekly contest) which also uses a very concise exchange format. I think I’ll be giving that one a try as well.

  4. Good to have exchange with RST and location and maybe your name.

    But when calling CQ as a POTA station I like hearing POTA in the CQ. Like “CQ POTA CQ POTA DE W4XYZ or CQ CQ CQ DE W4XYZ/POTA. Also like knowing if QRP. CQ CQ POTA DE W4XYZ/QRP . I am sure this would attract many responses.

    73, ron, n9ee/r

    1. Great question!
      Outside the US and Canada, I have not heard any regional abbreviations used in a POTA exchange. I’ve always assume this is because Europe/UK is (relatively speaking) smaller and, as you say, callsigns give the country info. Here, it’s difficult to see via the POTA park number (with a K or VE prefix) or callsign where someone actually is operating in North America.
      Perhaps someone has a better answer, but this is what I’ve always assumed.

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