International Morse Code:
Below are the characters most commonly used in amateur radio. There are additional letters, punctuations, and prosigns that are defined to support other languages and use cases. A more comprehensive list of characters can be found here.
Do NOT memorize the sequence of dits and dahs as an aid in receiving Morse code. However, you may find the representation of the characters useful for a short window in your journey as you learn to send Morse code, which should ideally happen after you have achieved some proficiency in receiving Morse code. Please see the Advice Page for more details.
Below the letters are defined as to how they should be spoken. This representation can be useful when practicing to send Morse code out loud or spoken silently in your mind. As you drive, you might consider practicing to send Morse code with the words found on signs as you pass them along the roadside.
A dash is pronounced as dah. A dot is pronounced as "di," or "dit" when it is the last part of a character. For example, the letter F ( • • - • ) is pronounced "di-di-dah-dit." Consider avoiding this chart in your learning process. You may be more likely to inadvertently memorize the sequence of dits and dahs and begin to listen for them as opposed to hearing the entire sound pattern of characters.
|A||• -||N||- •|
|B||- • • •||O||- - -|
|C||- • - •||P||• - - •|
|D||- • •||Q||- - • -|
|E||•||R||• - •|
|F||• • - •||S||• • •|
|G||- - •||T||-|
|H||• • • •||U||• • -|
|I||• •||V||• • • -|
|J||• - - -||W||• - -|
|K||- • -||X||- • • -|
|L||• - • •||Y||- • - -|
|M||- -||Z||- - • •|
|0||- - - - -||5||• • • • •|
|1||• - - - -||6||- • • • •|
|2||• • - - -||7||- - • • •|
|3||• • • - -||8||- - - • •|
|4||• • • • -||9||- - - - •|
|.||• - • - • -|
|,||- - • • - -|
|?||• • - - • •|
|/||- • • - •|
|<BT> - • • • -|
|<BK> - • • • - • -|
|<HH> • • • • • • • •|
|<KN> - • - - •|
|<SK> • • • - • -|
Prosigns have special meanings. <BT> signifies a new paragraph or break between thoughts. It can be used to fill a pause while the sender thinks of what to send next. <BK> is used to invite a receiving station to transmit. <HH> means that a mistake has been made in sending. It is followed by a short pause and the corrected word. <KN> is used to invite a specific station to transmit. <SK> signifies the end of a contact and the last transmission of the sender.
Note that prosigns, although often written as two letters for convenience, should be sent as one contiguous sequence with no letter space. So for example, if a letter space is added within the <BT> symbol, it becomes the letter B followed by the letter T, which could cause confusion and be a sign of poor sending.
The dot is the basic unit of duration that defines all other elements. As an analogy, the dot would be the tempo in music. Shorten the dot, and everything else must be shortened too. For example, the dash is defined to be three times the length of the dot.
Feel free to experiment below by dragging the slider around. Note that at 24wpm, two characters per second are sent. This is why ICR (Instant Character Recognition) is essential for head-copying at higher speeds.
|Words Per Minute (WPM):||20ms|
|Characters Per Minute (CPM):||20ms|
|Characters Per Second:||20ms|
The Koch Method is a learning technique named after German psychologist Ludwig Koch. With this method, the full target speed is used, starting with just two letters. Once strings containing those two characters can be copied with 90% accuracy, an additional character is added. This step is repeated until the full character set is mastered. Typically students start at 20wpm.
The Farnsworth method is a learning technique named after Donald R. "Russ" Farnsworth (F6TTB). With this method, people are taught to copy characters at their full target speed, that is with normal relative timing of the dots and dashes within each symbol. However, spacing is lengthed between characters and words, which gives the student time to think about the sound pattern they just heard. Typically students start with a character speed of 20 wpm and an effective speed of 10wpm. Also, like the Koch method, students start with two characters and continue to add characters as soon as they reach 90% accuracy.
Levels of copy proficiency:
1. Conscious decoding of Dits and Dahs: At this level of proficiency, you actively listen for the dits and dahs. Once there is a word or inter-word space, the sequence of dits and dahs is looked up in your conscious mind to identify the character being sent. If you find yourself repeating the sound pattern in your mind, you may also be at this level.
Because the conscious mind is so much slower than the unconscious mind, most people will be unable to go faster than 10 to 13 words a minute. This roadblock is why the general advice is to use either the Farnsworth or Koch method to learn the sound pattern of characters and skip this level.
And if you learn Morse code at 5wpm will inevitably get stuck here. Some people get stuck for years despite heroic efforts to overcome it. (If you have gotten stuck, don't despair there is a way forward.)
2. Instant Character Recognition: At this level of proficiency, the unconscious mind is doing the hard work of instantly recognizing each letter as it is sent. The characters are recognized instantly and effortlessly.
The slow, conscious mind is still involved in the copying process. But in this case, each word is followed letter by letter. At this level, most people will not be able to go faster than 20 to 30wpm. (The exact limit depends on a variety of factors.) If you copy by hand or keyboard, you will not progress beyond this level of proficiency. If you are head copying, this level of proficiency is sometimes described as the process of affixing letters on a blank blackboard in the mind’s eye as each letter is received. Then you read what is on the board. This description is more of an analogy.
3. Instant Word Recognition: The unconscious mind does most of the hard work. You hear the sound pattern of entire words as a whole, and you effortless recognize the word. This level of proficiency often allows users to achieve speeds of 60 wpm or greater with enough practice.
People who have Instant Character Recognition often have some ability to recognize words instantly. It is common to learn the sound pattern of CQ, 599, and your callsign without trying. Transitioning from the previous level of proficiency to this one is more of a spectrum. You can think of gaining proficiency at this level, as building up a vocabulary of sound patterns.
4. Focus on the meaning: The unconscious mind is doing all of the hard work! The conscious mind is free to focus on the meaning of what is being sent entirely. This level of proficiency is the nirvana that most aspire to achieve.
For successful communication, strive for a high level of sending proficiency. Consider evaluating yourself or having an experienced CW operator evaluate your sending across these five criteria. It will provide critical feedback on where to focus your improvement efforts.
Attribution goes to Gary ZL2IFB. With his permission, I have reproduced this chart. Please consider reading his FOC Guide to Morse Code Proficiency for an in-depth review on Speed, Timing, and much more!
|Sending Proficiency Scale|
|Character Formation||Seemingly random transmissions with no discernible form or pattern||Several characters are malformed e.g. spurious dots, dashes, and spaces||Occasional, minor sending errors, barely noticeable||All characters are perfectly formed, as per the ITU Morse standard||%|
|Number of Errors||Numerous errors, all of which remain uncorrected||Several errors, few corrected||Few errors, all corrected||No errors made||%|
|Timing Consistency||The length of dots, dashes, and spaces very frequently and randomly||Speed varies markedly during transmissions||Speed varies a little, occcasionally||Speed is fixed and consistent||%|
|Information Exchanged||No useful information exchanged||Some vaguely useful information exchanged||Useful information exchanged, and then some||Lots of useful and interesting information freely exchanged||%|
|Intelligibility||Transmissions are totally undecipherable, even by a highly experienced and competent CW operator||Transmissions are quite hard to decipher. Most operators and all programs struggle or fail to copy||Transmissions are quite easy to decipher by most operators and programs||Transmissions readily deciphered by all||%|
|Overall Score (mean)||%|
RST (Readability Signal Tone):
Signal reports are helpful for quickly communicating how well both stations are receiving each other. For CW, the report is composed of three numbers — Readability, Signal, and Tone. The most common reports are 559 and 339. The first RST of 559 indicates an extremely strong signal that is perfectly copyable with perfect tone. In contrast, an RST 339 indicates a readable signal with some difficulty while copying a weak signal with perfect tone.
Signal and Tone numbers range from 1 to 9, while Readability ranges from 1 to 5. On occasion, an additional letter is appended to the RST. C indicates there is a Chirp, such as 559C. The letter A indicates Aurora fluter. And the letter K indicates a problem with key clicks.
Because S-meters are rarely calibrated, consider describing the Signal strength relative to your band noise, QRM, and other stations. Anything below 5 means you are having trouble hearing the other station. Strength 5, 6, or 7 means that the other station is above the general noise. S8 means the signal is well above the noise, and S9 is strong.
In contests, an RST of 599 is virtually always used. However, outside of contest exchanges, please consider providing honest and useful RST reports. It will the other operator evaluate what to send, such as choosing to send critical information twice or slowing down.
|Not Used||Extremely strong signals||Perfect tone||9|
|Not Used||Strong signals||Near perfect tone||8|
|Not Used||Moderately strong signals||Near pure tone||7|
|Not Used||Good signals||Filtered tone||6|
|Perfectly readable||Fairly good siganls||Filtered rectified||5|
|Readable with practically no difficulty||Fair signals||Rough note||4|
|Readable with considerable difficulty||Weak signals||Rough a.c. tone||3|
|Barely readable, occasional words distinguishable||Very weak signals||Very rough||2|
|Unreadable||Signals barely perceptable||Sixty cycle a.c. or less||1|
Cut numbers are letters that are used in place of a number. You will most often hear them in a signal report. Instead of 599, 5NN is sent instead. The numbers 0 and 9 are frequently substituted with T and N respectively. Some of the cut numbers are uncommon, and using all of them is known as using full cut numbers.
Cut numbers can only be used when it is evident that a number should be received. You may frequently encounter cut numbers in serial numbers during a contest exchange. See the table below for the letters that may stand in for a number.
Below is a comprehensive list of CW abbreviations that are used by amateur radio operators. I have bolded the most commonly used abbreviations.
|AA - All after||OB - Old boy|
|AB - All before||OC - Old chap|
|ABT - About||OM - Old man|
|ADEE - Addressee||OP - Operator|
|ADR - Address||OPR - Operator|
|AGN - Again||OT - Old timer; Old top|
|AM - Amplitude Modulation||PBL - Preamble|
|ANT - Antenna||PKG - Package|
|BCI - Broadcast Interference||PSE - Please|
|BCL - Broadcast Listener||PT - Point|
|BCNU - Be seeing you||PWR - Power|
|BK - Break, Break in||PX - Press|
|BN - All between; Been||R - Received as transmitted; Are; Decimal|
|BT - Separation (break) between addr and text||RC - Ragchew|
|BTR - Better||RCD - Received|
|BUG - Semi-Automatic key||RCVR - Receiver|
|B4 - Before||RE - Concerning; Regarding|
|C - Yes, Correct||REF - Refer to; Referring to; Reference|
|CFM - Confirm; I confirm||RFI - Radio frequency interference|
|CK - Check||RIG - Station equipment|
|CKT - Circuit||RPT - Repeat, report|
|CL - I am closing my station; Call||RTTY - Radioteletype|
|CLBK - Callbook||RST - Readability, strength, tone|
|CLD - Called||RX - Receive, Receiver|
|CLG - Calling||SASE - Self-addressed, stamped envelope|
|CNT - Can't||SED - Said|
|CONDX - Conditions||SEZ - Says|
|CQ - Calling any station||SGD - Signed|
|CU - See you||SIG - Signal; Signature|
|CUL - See you Later||SINE - Operator's personal initials or nickname|
|CUM - Come||SKED - Schedule|
|CW - Continuous wave||SRI - Sorry|
|DA - Day||SS - Sweepstakes|
|DE - From, This is||SSB - Single Side Band|
|DIFF - Difference||STN - Station|
|DLD - Delivered||SUM - Some|
|DLVD - Delivered||SVC - Service; Prefix to service message|
|DN - Down||T - Zero|
|DR - Dear||TFC - Traffic|
|EL - Element||TMW - Tomorrow|
|ES - And||TKS - Thanks|
|DX - Distance||TNX - Thanks|
|FB - Fine business; excellent||TR - Transmit|
|FER - For||T/R - Transmit/Receive|
|FM - Frequency Modulation; From||TRIX - Tricks|
|GA - Good afternoon; Go ahead||TT - That|
|GB - Good bye; God bless||TTS - That is|
|GD - Good||TU - Thank you|
|GE - Good evening||TVI - Television interference|
|GESS - Guess||TX - Transmitter; Transmit|
|GG - Going||TXT - Text|
|GM - Good morning||U - You|
|GN - Good night||UR - Your; Your're|
|GND - Ground||URS - Yours|
|GUD - Good||VFB - Very fun business|
|GV - Give||VFO - Variable Frequency Oscillator|
|GVG - Giving||VY - Very|
|HH - Error in sending||W - Watts|
|HI - The telegraph laugh||WA - Word after|
|HPE - Hope||WB - Word before|
|HQ - Headquarters||WD - Word|
|HR - Here; hear||WDS - Words|
|HV - Have||WID - With|
|HW - How; How copy?||WKD - Worked|
|IMI - Repeat; Say again||WKG - Working|
|INFO - Info||WL - Well; will|
|LID - A poor operator||WPM - Words Per Minute|
|LNG - Long||WRD - Word|
|LTR - Later; letter||WUD - Would|
|LV - Leave||WX - Weather|
|LVG - Leaving||XCVR - Transceiver|
|MA - Milliamperes||XMTR - Transmitter|
|MILL - Typewriter||XTAL - Crystal|
|MILS - Milliamperes||XYL - Wife|
|MSG - Message; Prefix to radiogram||WL - Well|
|N - No, Negative, Incorrect, No more||YL - Young lady|
|NC - Nothing copied||YR - Year|
|NIL - Nothing copied||30 - I have no more to send|
|NCS - Net Control Station||73 - Best regards|
|ND - Nothing; Doing NIL (Nothing); I have nothing||88 - Love and kisses|
|NM - No more|
|NR - Number|
|NW - Now; I resume transmission|
DX Code of Conduct:
CW operators are known for their high operating standards and code of conduct. Please help uphold this tradition and a high ethical standard for future generations!
The DX Code of Conduct was developed by an international group of DXers to inspire a higher ethical standard. Unfortunately, frustration, unexpected difficulties, excessive competitiveness, and a lack of awareness cause significant problems and bring out the worst in us.
Many items may seem obvious but please carefully think about each of them.
1. I will listen, and listen, and then listen again before calling.
This seems so obvious but it is the most vital thing to do. Careful listening rather than rushing to transmit will get the DX into your log. You must listen to find out whether the DX is working split and if so, where is he listening? Then you need to listen to the calling stations in order to determine what the DX station is doing. For example, he may be working gradually up or down the pile-up frequency range – and you need to find the best spot to call. And it may be time to ask yourself: “Do I really need to work this bit of DX, right now? Can I wait a while for the pile-up to subside?”
2. I will only call if I can copy the DX station properly.
You also need to listen carefully to determine how well you can hear the DX station to be sure you will hear his reply to your call and to avoid causing interference by transmitting at the wrong time. It is extremely frustrating for a DX station to return a call to a station that is unable to hear him, thereby causing incessant QRM.
3. I will not trust the DX cluster and will be sure of the DX station's call sign before calling.
Cluster spots often show the wrong call sign. Before you log a station, you should hear the station’s callsign on the air – don’t trust spotting networks. The DX operator should send his call sign at regular intervals. Unfortunately, not all operators do this!
4. I will not interfere with the DX station nor anyone calling and will never tune up on the DX frequency or in the QSX slow.
Sadly, this covers a multitude of operators, employing poor operating practices. We are frequently afflicted with “Policemen,” people who repeatedly jump in to tell callers that “the DX is listening up” – often adding a gratuitous insult. The rule is quite simple: never, ever transmit on the DX frequency for any purpose whatsoever. I will pay attention to the operator’s instructions if he is operating “split” so as to stay in his preferred bandwidth.
5. I will wait for the DX station to end a contact before I call.
If you transmit before a QSO is over, you are likely to interfere with the exchange of information, lengthening the QSO and slowing the process. It may seem clever to “nip in” as the previous contact is ending but many DX stations don’t like it, as such operating may break the pattern of the operator, which is what helps everyone to know when to transmit.
6. I will always send my full call sign.
This is essential for CW and SSB, because incomplete calls lead to an extra transmission, slowing the operator’s progress with the pileup. If the operator is responding to partial call signs, it may appear that you should call with only several letters. Generally, this is not the case. Always use your full call sign.
7. I will call and then listen for a reasonable interval. I will not call continuously.
Continuous calling is selfish and arrogant. With a computer or memory keyer, it is easy to send continuously. Unfortunately, it prevents you from listening and knowing what is taking place. In addition, it raises the QRM floor greatly, making life difficult for the DX station and everyone else.
8. I will not transmit when the DX operator calls another call sign not like mine.
Perhaps this is intuitively obvious, but it is a common occurrence. If it is clear that the station is not calling you, do not transmit.
9. I will not transmit when the DX operator queries a call sign not like mine.
In life outside amateur radio it would simply be considered rude to answer when someone else is asked a question! How do you know if the station is calling you? Perhaps the DX operator has a partial version of your call. Is it me? “The timing is right!” Yes, the timing may seem right, but it may also be “right” for many other stations. If the DX is actually calling you and hears nothing, he will call you again. Then you can call. Only one letter from your call sign is NOT enough, however. Calling when not being addressed raises the floor level of QRM and slows progress dramatically.
10. I will not transmit when the DX station requests geographic areas other than mine. When the DX operator calls me, I will not repeat my call sign unless I think he has copied it incorrectly.
You must recognise and accept that when an operator is calling for a specific geographic area (e.g. NA for North America, AS for Asia ), you must not call until the operator’s instructions change. Even if his choice appears incorrect, you must follow his instructions. The DX operator is in control. Here’s an important point: If a DX operator is working, some area, perhaps North America , and he fails to say so between QSOs, do not begin calling immediately. Call only when it is clear that the operator’s instructions have changed. To do otherwise is impolite and simply slows the process.
11. I will be thankful if and when I do make a contact.
If you repeat your call sign, the DX station may think that he has your call sign wrong. He might then listen very carefully – again – thus slowing the process. A DX operator will generally log what he has if you say nothing further.
12. I will respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn their respect.
There should certainly be a pride of accomplishment when you get a QSO with a guy in a far-away entity. But before you start basking in the glow of accomplishment, think about the help you received from your partners, perhaps Mr. Icom, Mr. Alpha, and Mr. Force 12. If your ego still feels a need to take ALL the credit, try again. But this time turn off your amplifier and connect your rig barefoot to a dipole. If you get through the pile up this time, then YOU, as the operator, can take more of the credit.
You should also acknowledge that you would not have had the contact without the skill of the operator at the other end who undoubtedly made sacrifices to be there for you. So be thankful for all this help you received.
13. I will respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn their respect.
Respect is about behaving well toward others. DXing is very competitive. If you operate otherwise, you may acquire a bad reputation. DXing will be the most fun for everyone if we all behave with politeness, mutual respect and even a bit of humility!