The Ever Useful Good Old Morse Code.

Started by gil, July 05, 2012, 09:58:12 pm

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July 05, 2012, 09:58:12 pm Last Edit: October 01, 2013, 02:41:54 am by gil
I never thought of learning Morse code for emergency preparedness. Spending untold hours learning an archaic mode of communication wasn't on my list. I started looking for a small, portable SSB (voice) radio that would fit in my bug-out bag. The FT-817ND and MFJ-9420 caught my attention. The price of the Yaesu put it temporarily out of reach, and the MFJ was still around $300 shipped. Both radios are small, but not quite small enough for my bag. Maybe I would use one of them as my main radio, but I still needed a BOR (Bug-Out-Radio. I coined that one.. ;-)

After a few hours of web browsing, I somehow stumbled on the Rock-Mite kit, a CW ('Continuous Wave,' i.e. Morse code only) tiny transceiver from Dave Benson at Small Wonder Labs. Here was a very small radio with a 'sporadic range' of thousands of miles, for a mere $29! ($70 with MityBox and connectors). Many people mount them in a mint tin can. It took me a few hours to build the kit, which worked the first time, with no tuning required. My 20m version transmits on 14,059kHz. I just finished a 40m model as well. By the way, if you visit, see how Dave Benson built his own house in the woods! Pretty inspiring.

As I was pondering about learning Morse code, which I mistakenly considered a small detail, it hit me..  Morse archaic, when? Aren't many of the skills we like to learn archaic? Trapping, hunting, food preservation, living off the land, field medical procedures, camping, building shelters, etc. The kind of skills that can save your bacon when everything else fails. Morse is one of them! It can be used without a radio. You can tap your fingers, blink your eyes in Morse, and nobody but the intended recipient across the room would know.. You can bang on a pipe with a wrench, hit a drum, squeeze someone's hand, use a flashlight or a laser pointer to send a message in Morse. If regular means of communications were down, because of an electromagnetic pulse for instance, a simple telegraph could easily be built without using semi-conductors. The wires are already all around us.

With that epiphany in mind, I bought an Elecraft K1 kit. It is a 2-band version, 20 and 40m, covering 175kHz at the bottom of each band. I added the internal automatic tuner to be able to use random long wires as an antenna if needed.

Now I really have to finish learning Morse code!

Communications within your group would be via VHF or UHF, maybe 2m or FRS, even CB. For HF long distance, CW simply gets you more bang for your buck, especially in very small packages. It will punch through the ether with less power and more reliability than voice. My K1 uses very little current on receive (60mA), and runs for many hours on a small 2.9Ah battery. I will be getting a 10W solar panel soon to complete my kit. The Rock-Mite lives in my bag. The K1 will get a waterproof Pelican case (1200 model). Both will get Faraday bags for EMP protection. My antenna is a PAR 40/20/10 end-fed dipole. It packs into a small pouch. I also have a SOTA tuner from, and wire for a 20m antenna. I really like the tuning bridge and SWR LED on the tuner. Perfect for the Rock-Mite 20.

Morse code is not archaic, far from it. It is an excellent mode of communication usable in many different ways, not just radio. The more I think about it, the more I find possible uses for it. Prepper families and groups should learn it. You never know when the need may arise.



I think CW is a great mode of communication. I have been wanting to learn it for years, but never got around to it.

Anyone know of a software program to learn/practice?



Hello Surge, and welcome aboard. If you have an iPhone or iPod, try "Ham Morse." I had to reduce speed to 10wpm to be able to copy anything, but the app works well. Being on my iPod, I can use it anywhere when waiting...



Another very useful Morse training/learning tool is the G4FON application.  It uses the "Koch" method of learning, where you start with just a few characters, but listen to them at a fast speed.  Supposedly, that helps you get used to higher speed right away.

Anyway, here is a link to the website:  <>

73 de Ray


Hello Ray,

I am using the Koch method right now, but I had to slow down to 7wpm to be able to copy anything? The characters are still 20wpm, but the word rate, 7. Hopefully I can pick up speed later.. I try not to visualize dots and dashes?




i got into this forum because of the rockmite... here in our place we prep a lot because we are along the ring of fire of  asia and also in the way of tropical typhoons ... radio never failed me just the other day i assisted with a shanty community because the electrical post got caught by fire ... morse code will do much of a help with our setting by equiping boy scouts  with a rockmite and teaching them SOS cw as the philippine scouts moto is "laging handa" which means always ready
ty gil



I was in the Philippines for two months, around 1990. I have always thought about coming back. One of the best countries I have visited! Welcome aboard. I am also a fan of the Rock-Mite. Are you guys also using other kits like the BitX20? Or small transceivers like the MFJ-94xx series?

Have a great week-end,



hi we dont have access to bitx or mjf the rm is cheaper and dave ships it cheap also another option are the kits from china crkits  60 dollars and 3 watts power


August 14, 2012, 10:53:06 pm #9 Last Edit: August 14, 2012, 10:55:25 pm by grainum
Brian here from eham.  Gil have You tried QRQ yet? 
Do you have a keyer and paddle?  Interesting if I'll hear you that live in the SE. Do you Floridians and nearby folks have any ssb nets, or get on 20 meters?   
Keep that code listening up!


August 14, 2012, 11:03:11 pm #10 Last Edit: September 05, 2012, 01:32:28 am by gil
Hello Brian,

I haven't tried QRQ yet, but heard of it. I have listened to 2m traffic, and I have a list of repeaters saved in my handheld. Not having my license yet, I can't transmit. Actually, except for the K1 I built, which can receive 40mLSB, I have no SSB radios. I can't justify buying more gear before getting my ticket. Up to 14 letters now with the Koch method...

Thanks for joining!


August 14, 2012, 11:51:55 pm #11 Last Edit: August 14, 2012, 11:57:33 pm by grainum
Quote from: gil on August 14, 2012, 11:03:11 pm
Not having my license yet, I can't transmit.

That not THAT big of a deal, really.  I spend most of my radio time just listening, anyway.  SSB doesn't thrill me that often.  And we both got some significant time left to learn the rest of the character set.  We're kinda in the same boat. I'll probably take me a yr or so to get code down, head copying at 20/20wpm.  I took a HUGE detour, doing this "head copy" thing.  I enjoy the road  learning code tho.  I definitely don't want to get on the air like some suggest, BARELY knowing (receive) code.  I could probably send an entire QSO at 15-20wpm, But WHY, when I can only decipher heard code at half that speed.  I don't really see that as fun, sweating to copy at 8-13wpm or so.  I'd just rather wait, till I get my speed up, and have practiced listening to files of HUNDREDS of QSO'S first. 
I can't justify buying more gear before getting my ticket.

I'm sorta thinking the same thing in not wanting yet to buy QRP radios.  I've got an old 100W Kenwood HF radio that I've had for 15 yrs. And it has sat most of 13 yrs, until I re-upped my expired lic.
No reason yet to go collecting more radios, till I get much closer to the goal of knowing ALL the letters numbers and prosigns. 

One good thing for you is, you have been collecting the RIGHT QRP CW radios and are getting familiar with them.

What is your target speed with words only, before adding more characters?


Hi Brian,

Yes, I have done my homework on the radios. I can't buy anything without knowing I made the correct decision. I am not sure of my "target speed" The problem with 8-10wpm, is that it still allows you to count dits and dahs. So, some letters, I know by sound, some I cheat and visualize the dots and dashes. Not good. I would be happy with 15wpm to start. I downloaded a program called "CW Freak," which gives you call signs one by one, and speeds up every time you succeed, slows down when you miss. I still need to first learn all the letters at least. I'm up to 15 letters, but before adding more, I think I will try to increase my speed to 15wpm.

I think the record is about 140wpm, insane!

About head copying, I read a good article last night about a trick to increase your capability. You ask someone to read a book/article to you by spelling the letters, and you assemble them in your head. You can do it with a metronome... 100 characters per minutes I think might be 20wpm. Listening on my K1, I can only add up 3-4 letters before my "buffer" runs out of memory!

If you can already head-copy half the letters at 20wpm, my hat is off yo you! Stick with it.



August 15, 2012, 07:22:29 pm #13 Last Edit: August 15, 2012, 09:22:43 pm by grainum
Speaking of a metronome, I was reading up on Cootie keys and decided to have some fun!  I wired one of my Benchers to act like one.
A Cootie is keyed like a metronome, left, right, left, right.  Doesn't matter what's coming next, a dit or a dah, the finger or thumb (which ever's turn it is next) keys the sound. 

Kinda cool, I say!  I think I see yet another diversion, coming.  Ambidextrous fingers?  Capable of Iambic/keying AND Sideswiping?  Might as well try.  A study in which is faster?  I figure I've got a year till code is learned.  So might as well be fluent in both--Iambic and COOTIE!

Cootie examples
Some are NOISEY
Dual lever iambic Kent wired for Cootie/sideswiping 

RufzXP High Speed CW
Speed ranged between 745 and 606 CpM (= 149 and 121 WpM)

Quote from: gil on August 15, 2012, 10:38:29 am
You ask someone to read a book/article to you by spelling the letters, and you assemble them in your head. You can do it with a metronome..

Good idea!  Yet another program needs to be written, perhaps.  It'd take text files, and spit them out audibly with the same porportions that code has.  FAST "e" and "i", and really SLOW "p, q's and y's".  He HE!

3-4 letters before my "buffer" runs out of memory!

A lot of those char's are not in your vocabulary of "Head copyable" yet, tho.  So to be expected.  You prob can handle 3, 4, & 5 char words in your conquered char list of 15, right?


August 15, 2012, 08:18:11 pm #14 Last Edit: August 15, 2012, 08:21:11 pm by grainum
And for the REAL metronome, go to the 3 minute mark, here...