Space in Morse Code
Richard Carpenter, AA4OO, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from North Carolina, USA. Contact him at [email protected].
Silence is Beautiful
The space between characters and words is just as important as properly forming the characters.
If you're rushing your characters the elements of one character will not be easily discerned from the next and the person your sending to will find it indecipherable and respond with a 73 and spin the dial. I have a number of comments in my logs about operators who ran their characters and words together. I tend to avoid those contacts down the log.
But, many of us, including myself, are guilty of rushing when we send, especially as a ragchew moves into the 3rd or 4th exchange. I think the problem is that as the person sending the code, I know what I am sending and in the excitement of wanting to get out all the things I want to say and turn it over, I start to rush and begin compressing the space between my sent characters and words. After all, it's very clear in my head what I'm sending, it must be just as clear to the listener, right? Wrong.
The exchange above isn't far from reality and that's assuming the character spacing was good. When the character spacing is rushed two characters become a different character or no character at all, and you sit there with your head tilted thinking "what in the world are they saying?"
Proper Space (Timing)
What is considered proper spacing? Let's review some basics. A DIT is counted as a single Morse Code element (think of it as a unit of time). A DAH is counted as 3 times longer or 3 Morse Code elements (3 times the DIT time unit).
Of course the length (time) of a sent DIT or DAH will change with the speed you are sending. As the word per minute speed rises, the length of of DITs and DAHs decreases accordingly and vice-versa. Unless you're using Farnsworth timing, but that's a different discussion...
Space between DITS and DAHS in a Character
Characters other than the E and T are made up of more than a single DIT or DAH. Between each DIT and DAH making up a single character is space. The space between each DIT and DAH making up a single character should be as long as a single Morse Code element... a DIT. So there's a DIT's space of silence between every DIT and DAH in a character.
"R" = DIT.DAH.DIT (where the '.' is the length of a DIT)
Space between characters within a Word
There should be 3 Morse Code elements of silence between each letter in a word, or silence the length of a DAH, at the speed you are sending.
"WORD" = W-O-R-D (where the '-' is the length of a DAH)
Space between Words
There should be 7 Morse Code elements of silence between each word you send.
"HERE<>ARE<>SOME<>WORDS" (where the '<>' is the length of a the M character)
The length of an "M" ?? Yes. I was corrected about this in a video I made. In that video I was counting the DITS and DAHS only, and said to count the inter-word space to be the length of the 'W' character because it is made of a DIT and two DAHS, but I was forgetting the space between the DITS and DAHS that make up the character. A 'W' character contains 9 elements. An 'M' contains 7 elements since it is 2 DAHS (3*2=6) plus the inter-character element that spaces them (1-element of silence) equals 7 Morse code elements.
How to Practice
If you use an electronic keyer it will take care of the inter-character spacing between the DITS and DAHS of your sent characters. If you use a manual key you'll have to take care of that yourself. You can practice by sending strings of DITS, listening to see if you are placing the same space between each DIT as the length of the DIT itself.
To practice spacing letters in a word, get used to the length of a DAH (a 'T' character). Send a T over and over making sure you have the space of the character and the space of silence equivalent. This gets a bit more complicated with different characters. An 'E' character is of course much shorter than a 'Z' character but you need to have the same amount of space after each before sending the next character. I find that I tend to rush into the next character after sending a long character like an 'F 'or an 'L' and add too much space after short characters like an 'E' or 'T'. If you use a decoder of some type it can be helpful in showing you timing mistakes. Send into a decoder and see if it turns two of your characters into a different character (you rushed the timing), or see if it spaces the word out as if there's a word break (you're putting too much space between the letters). It is a very humbling experience to send into a decoder.
Similar to working on letter spacing, spacing for words is potentially an even more important skill. When we listen to Morse at speed the rhythmic sound of the characters in a word as a whole tends to tell our brain what we've heard. If the next word is rushed then we don't process the first and miss the beginning of the next. Practice sending the 'M' character at your preferred speed and get used to the amount of time it takes to send.
One thing I've tried that works pretty well is setting the break-in timing of my transceiver to match the space I want between words. At 20wpm the DIT length is between 50-60 milliseconds depending on the measurement you use. So if I want to be sure I'm spacing properly I should have 7 time-units or 7*50 = 350 milliseconds break-in set in the transceiver. Both my Elecraft KX3 and Ten-Tec Eagle support setting the break-in in milliseconds. By being sure that I hear break-in occur between every word I know that I'm putting in a good minimum amount of spacing. If I don't hear break-in occurring, it reminds me that I'm rushing my words.
When I hear break-in occur between every word I know that I'm putting in a good minimum amount of spacing
The silence you send is just as important as the signal. Silence is golden