CW Lives!


Well it seems as if the U.S. Navy has rediscovered something that most hams, especially older ones, have know for a long time ... CW is pretty darn handy!

After many years of abandonment by the various branches of the armed forces, the Navy has taken another look at the usefulness of knowing how to use CW and has been training a limited number of their Cryptologic Technicians (CTR's) each year, at the Center for Information Dominance (CID) based at Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida,

I've always absolutely loved CW, ever since first learning it at around twelve years of age, eventually using my new-found skill to help me get a ticket when I turned fifteen. A big stumbling-block for many, the requirement to send and receive CW was eventually eliminated with the introduction of the no-code licence and had many hams believing it would be the end of ham radio.

As the Coast Guard and maritimers around the world abandoned CW, somehow, it has managed to not only survive, but to seemingly flourish on the ham bands. Granted, operating habits and patterns may be changing and fewer stations are to be found, randomly CQ-ing, seeking a nice CW ragchew, but a short listen during any contest weekend or during a rare DX-pedition pileup will quickly reveal that the art of CW itself is still alive and well in 2016!

One of the reasons for CW's longevity, aside from the fact that it's just plain fun, is it's ability to be understood under the worst of conditions, unlike many other modes ... and it can be used with the simplest of equipment, without needing a computer.


"In the updated course, sailors learn how to operate radio-receiving and associated computer-based equipment. From basic safeguards of security to communication procedures and systems theory to operation of communications equipment, the course teaches how to intercept Morse communications, as well as copy and send Morse code."

"Morse code continues to be an inexpensive and efficient means of communication for many states throughout the globe,” said Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collection) (IDW/NAC/SW/AW) Tony Gonzales, CTR rate training manager for CID headquarters. “Manual Morse operators here at Corry Station are learning a skill set that has stood the test of time. Many of our most senior CTRs began their careers as Manual Morse operators.”

Somehow, it's very gratifying to see that the Navy is still keen on training sailors in the art ... affirming what hams have known since the earliest days of radio.

It's not clear if these folks are learning to actually send with a hand key or keyer but I rather suspect that their sending skills may be limited to how fast they can type as I don't see any keys in the training-center's photos ... but it's a start.

Maybe we'll hear a few of them on CW sometime in the future.
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

5 Responses to “CW Lives!”

  • David Ritter N6DL:

    Ah my old alma mater. I graduated back in 2/1965 as a CTT3. Back then one had to pass 5 letter code groups a 28 wpm RX but the TX, yes a straight key was somewhat less, but I don’t recall any longer. Today, the keyboard just does not match up to the old mod14 or Remington typewriter. My fingers just can’t seem to adjust.. its a stick for me.


  • guy teague kg5vt:

    wow david, you predate me! i graduated from radio ‘a’ school in bainbridge in 1970. us ‘basic’ radiomen were required to copy 10wpm and type 30 or 35wpm. i already typed over 80wpm because i took typing in school and i was a novice (wn5ibn) and knew the code and even though i have a learning block for languages and code, i got to 18wpm.

    the navy had ‘c’ schools in san diego which took the specialists up to 36wpm if i remember rightly. right after i graduated the navy dropped the code requirement completely as satellite was coming in.

    but here’s the funny story. about 6 years later i was on the forrestal (cv59) with about 135 radiomen onboard. i had my general (conditional really, i was in cuba when i got it) and had passed the 13wpm since school.

    we were in the med on a nato exercise and the french (it’s always the french!) insisted on a proper cw circuit. so how many do you think out of the 135 radiomen knew enough code to sit the circuit? only 3 and two of us were hams as well! and no one knew french so we drove one guy with a bilingual dictionary crazy. [g]

    /guy (73 de kg5vt | wqpz784)

  • kg7owo:

    OK,I approaching my 15% off at the country kitchen, but have been a ham less than 18 months, having gotten my general ticket in October. I am also substantially disabled in the coordination dept. But I am he’ll bent on learning CW. For one reason. What is more reliable, a laptop or pen and paper. When things get complicated, simpler tech often wins out. If you need to build a way to send a message out of the kitchen junk drawer, and scrounged pieces of copper from an old water heater, packet won’t be the most likely way to get a tx out there. Neat toys are great, but in a pickle simpler usually wins out.

  • Ernest AA1IK:

    Just a few hours ago, I was in my truck, stopped on the side of a country road, when a fiend of mine stopped by to see what I was doing as I fiddled with the radio, trying to tune in a CW Dx station. I explained to my friend that I was using Morse code and he, knowing absolutely nothing about radios or Morse code, felt obliged to tell me that it Morse code was fading into oblivion.

    Sigh!(Shaking my head)

    BTW, I worked 3 DX stations on 30 M CW as I drove down an isolated, almost deserted dirt road. I also worked 3 mobile to mobile contacts all CW, on the way back home.

  • Tom Kb3hg:

    Don’t they have one of those hands free cell phone laws up in your neck of the woods? Here you can’t use ham radio on the move unless it’s an emergency. Never saw a truck driver puled yet for CB usage yet either. The SM here in DE sent out a list of use that were acceptable.
    I’m not calling the kettle black, I have been around D. C. on 395 working cw in the 80’s. But cell phones put and end to that. It’s hands free only now down here. they say commercial users, fire, police, ect exempt due to special training. I’d like to know where to get special training so I can go mobile legally.

    Enjoy it while you can, CW is still a nice relaxing diversion, enjoyed your post.

    Tom Kb3hg

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