Journal article Open Access

Morse code is still worth learning – but why?


Since July 2003, radio amateurs in the UK do not need to learn Morse code to obtain their license.

Until that point in time, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) included an assessment of Morse code proficiency in the global amateur radio licensing process.

In recent years, the Morse code has been added as an optional feature to amateur radio practice, and many countries have removed the compulsory Morse component from amateur radio licensing requirements.

That doesn't mean it isn't just as relevant today.
You only need to listen to the bottom end of most HF bands (such as 40m (7 MHz) or 20m (14 MHz) to realize that Morse code is alive and well and will be used by an increasing number of hams in the future.

Using Morse code translator, you can encode text character as sequences of dots and dashes or dits and dahs, which are standardized sequences of different signal durations. 

Morse code manages to get through

When SSB fails miserably, Morse code gets through. I am not just speaking for the die-hard CW (continuous wave) fans, this is a well-known, demonstrable fact.

Around the world, hams use CW and 100W or less plus basic wire antennas to operate in distant countries where single sideband (SSB) signals are virtually unaudible.

There is more than a 10-20 dB advantage for CW over SSB (depending on what book you read).

SSB signals usually occupy about 2.5 kHz. CW can take place in a bandwidth of about 300 Hz, unlike FM signals, which take up about 10 kHz. It is easier to filter out QRM and electrical interference since you are only listening to a single tone in a narrow band. It is especially crucial in urban areas and with compromised antennas, which can pick up noise from nearby electrical wiring, domestic TV sets, power line transmission (PLT), and a host of other items.

Many DXpeditions place a high priority on CW as an operating mode. While they may be possible to work on SSB, you might find Morse code easier.

Over 200 countries have been worked by RSGB member Dave G3YMC using only five Watts of CW on the HF bands. Don't be discouraged by the pundits who claim you can only work DX with a big linear amplifier and beam antennas. Even you can do it.

What are your other reasons for wanting to learn CW?

  • Morse Code identifies repeaters - if you learn it, you can determine what you are listening to, and what CTCSS (Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System) code you need to access them.
  • You can also identify beacons by Morse; - find out what countries are broadcasting on the 10m band and others.
  • There are many easy CW transmitters you can make. SSB transmitters are usually harder to build.
  • In general, CW is more efficient than AM or FM. As a result, you can usually get away with less effective antennas or lower power levels to make your contacts. You are therefore less likely to cause interference while still being able to work DX.
  • You can still make DX contacts even if your Foundation license limits you to 10 Watts.
  • This is a widely understood international language with no accent or pronunciation problems.
  • The CW is easy to learn and to use!

In a future feature, we will examine the best ways to learn Morse Code, but in the meantime, Roger G3LDI's book "Morse Code for Radio Amateurs", available from the RSGB book shop, is a great place to start.

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