New to Morse Code? Embrace Your “Fist”! A message to budding CW operators

Are you a new CW operator, fresh on the airwaves?

Do you find yourself worrying about what your Morse code “fist” sounds like to others, or about making mistakes on the air?

If that’s you, then this message is for you:

Public Service Announcement: Stop worrying about how you sound on the air!

Several times a month, I hear from new CW operators who I’ve logged during POTA and SOTA activations .

This is no surprise! As I’ve said before, I wholeheartedly encourage new CW operators to get started by hunting stations in these on-the-air activities. After all, CW exchanges in POTA and SOTA are predictable and straightforward, giving you a great opportunity to practice your sending and receiving skills.

More often than not, new CW operators who’ve reached out will apologize for their “fist” or code sending skills. I get it…still…and I mean this is the most positive light possible… 

No Apologies Necessary

Give yourself a break! If your sending isn’t perfectly smooth or machine-like, that’s absolutely fine.

If you stumble and make mistakes, that’s absolutely fine too.

In fact, it’s a beautiful reminder that there’s a real human being on the other end of the signal, someone at their own place in their CW journey.

Yes, we should all strive for a good, readable fist, but especially in the beginning, no one expects you to sound like a seasoned operator.

And remember: every single Morse code operator on the planet has been a beginner at some point. We’ve all felt nervous, made mistakes on the air, and even flubbed our own callsigns. I’m certainly guilty of all three, and, to be completely honest, far, far more than once!

Embrace the Learning Curve

So, who cares if you stumble a bit? I can confidently tell you that most of us on the other end of the contact are cheering you on! We’ve been in your shoes, and we know the thrill of mastering this challenging but rewarding mode of communication.

Instead of apologizing, you deserve congratulations for diving into one of the oldest and most skill-demanding wireless communication modes out there!

Mistakes Are Badges of Honor

Photo from my first POTA CW activation int he summer of 2020.

Be proud of those mistakes! They’re not setbacks, but rather milestones on your CW journey. Embrace them, learn from them, and keep sending.

Your ham radio community is here to support you every step of the way!

73/72, and I look forward to putting you in the logs!

dit dit

Thomas (K4SWL)

19 thoughts on “New to Morse Code? Embrace Your “Fist”! A message to budding CW operators”

  1. Well said! *Everyone* makes sending mistakes – beginners and experienced operators alike. CW is a continuous journey, with ups and downs along the way. I’ve only been focused on CW for the last several years, and there are days when I feel very comfortable and do great, and there are days where I seem to flub every transmission and can’t copy worth a darn. It’s all part of journey for each of us -embrace it and enjoy!

  2. Part of the fun of getting better at CW is that you will be able to recognize the sending mistakes made by way more experienced operators. From the receiving end, we don’t know why that is. Maybe somebody switched from padded to a bug, or is using a straight key again after years with a keyer. Or a park ranger came by and is asking probing questions… We just don’t know. What we do know is that they are not afraid of doing that. So let’s take a lesson from their playbook and embrace our being human. The trick is to recover from this “being human” without skipping a beat.

  3. Thank you very much for your kind words. I am one of those you are talking to. I have had issues with certain letters and have hoped the other party copied them ok.

    Since, I have began to listen and figure out if they copied the entire call sign by how they respond. It’s getting there.

    Thank you again and I hope to catch you down the log de KD8VSP. Dit dit

  4. Not all errors are due to “Beginner’s fears, phobia’s etc” there are many operators out there (myself included) that are senior’s and age has a lot to do with our reflexes. conditioning, health, mental agility, illness’s, all are factors for a lot of operators in this catagory. and yes there is just plain old “Sloppy senders” there are good and bad in every facet of life. and cw is just one of them. copy what you hear and continue on, let the mistake you heard just be excepted a “normal” thing to happen. ECF.

  5. Sending and receiving CW is a skill, skills are attained by practice, practice is gained by doing as often as one can. Beginners, look back at your CW skill from this time last year, your CW skill is better than then, next year at this time your CW skill will be better than now.

  6. There was a fellow at my radio club who was a retired civilian radio operator at the British naval base in Singapore. He used to ‘chat’ at 35 pm all the time. He never used the mic ever. Amazing man.

  7. Thank you these encouraging words, Thomas. I’ve “hunted” about 20 parks in CW. It is a great way to build skills and nerves/confidence. You can listen to the park until sure of the activator’s call before jumping in. That correct call is needed for Field Day but not really for POTA unless you keep a log (which you should do).

    I also get practice copying call signs by listening to your videos, eyes shut, verbalizing their call. My own CW POTA activation? It’s going to happen.

    Larry – W7LDT

  8. Hi ,
    From a real beginner I am very pleased to hear what has been said. I haven’t had the courage yet to send that CQ, or reply to a CQ. However, these words of encouragement are worth their weight in gold. Thank you and I now really have to take that plunge.
    Fred (GM3ALZ)

    1. Just go ahead and call CQ. Think of a mistake as an opportunity to get better. Those of us who are listening to you won’t care — we make mistakes and hear mistakes all the time, and just keep going. People figure out the intended message through all sorts of QRM, QRN, mistakes and whatever and still have a good time,.
      You will too 🙂

  9. I once miscoppied a callsign mistaking the last character for an S instead of an H. Realized something was wrong when it belonged to an SK. I managed to figure it out though.

    WS0SWV Shawn

  10. POTA is one of THE best ways to practice your CW. Proficiency will come with continued practice, so if possible, “touch the key everyday.” There is no CW POLICE! Nobody cares about errors! CW is not about “performance”…. it is all about “communication.” In addition to becoming a POTA hunter, record your QSOs with you phone! Wait a day or two and then play it back. If more OPs did this simple exercise, they would hear exactly what they sound like on-air and improve their skill sending. We ALL make mistakes so don’t let that stop you from getting on-air. The only “perfect CW” is what you hear that is computer generated.
    Don’t wait to get good to be on the air…. Be on the air to get good! And always be sure to have FUN with CW.

    73 de KC1FUU

    Coach / CWInnovations

  11. I think the errors, and the different fists you hear, are in a way reassuring and very representative of the hobby. Nothing wrong with computer assistance and high end gear, but not everyone on the air is using a CW decoder and an $800 Begali (although if one appeared on my doorstep by accident I wouldn’t complain!) .

    Hearing someone going quite slowly and pretty obviously using a straight key sharing the same airwaves as contest operators sending 40+ is what ham radio is all about. My brother could do 40+ while listening to the weather reports and eating a sandwich but would always slow down in a contest for a slower sender. It’s what we do because we’ve all been or still are there, going slow and steady.

    David W7CDT

  12. Thank you Thomas. This message was meant for people like me. I have been practicing my CW off line for almost 2 years, and I am at the point where I think I want, and have to finally give it a go. This article really puts me at ease with the contemplation, and the what ifs about just finally doing it. Thanks again for these awesome words of encouragement and understanding this CW community has.

  13. As a lifelong brasspounder, I say “Amen!” One other important message: don’t make contesting (including xOTAs) your only, or even your main, activity. Get out there and CQ for real. Your skills will grow exponentially, and you’ll have a lot more fun.

    I hear from new fists all the time who talk about ragchewing like it’s the most terrifying thing on the planet, which is both surprising and sad for an OT like me. Time was, there were much fewer contests than there are now, and “ham radio” basically meant ragchewing. Us old guys don’t judge newcomers (or anybody, really) if their skills are a little underdeveloped or rusty. Get out there with the best intentions and the will to learn, and you’ll be fine.

    Fact is, strikers are among my favourite QSOs. The newer, the better. Been that way since I started myself.

  14. Greetings!
    I used to do CW all the time in past. Recently getting back into it using a MFJ contest keyer, I found my sending mentally was around 30 + and was sending too slow on my Iambic Bencher key, so sending errors could be possibly minimized if you adjust to the keyer speed to where you operate smoothly and are comfortable with minimal errors. Then stick to that speed zone that works best for you. With the keyer I use, the ratio auto changes with speed I select, so less fiddling and errors.

  15. This post is very well done. CW mistakes are a reminder that we are human. FT8 never makes a mistake. How boring is that?

  16. Nicely said, Thomas. Sorry I haven’t been on the air much lately, work is being mischievous and I’ve been swamped….anyway, thanks for creating a pep-talk for new CW operators!

    72 and QSO soon!

    Mark KD8EDC

  17. This is such a simple message, yet so very important. Any experienced ham should be DELIGHTED to encounter someone new on code, who, of course, makes mistakes.

    In fact, these days, I sometimes find OMs who are practically giants in ham radio (my opinion), who struggle with their fist for health reasons. That’s just fine. I love to work them. Everyone else should too!

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