The need for speed in CW

CW QSO speed statistics... 

As I continue on my Morse Code Journey I have been using a desktop application called Morse News to work on my code comprehension of natural language sentences for ragchew training. I set the program to send at speeds higher than I can copy to stretch me.  Presently I have it set at 26wpm character speed and 23wpm Code speed.  I can usually figure out what the news story is talking about but I miss a lot of the specifics.

I was a kid in the 1970s when Speed Racer was a popular cartoon

The need for speed

Currently I'm OK working up to 20wpm qsos as long as the other station has good spacing.  Sometimes I lose the thread or the specifics in a ragchew at 20wpm and I just ask them PSE AGN? 

In sprints I can copy a callsign sent at 25wpm to 30wpm if I hear it a few times but that's no good for real contests where you need to catch that call sent at 30-40wpm sent the first time.  My friend AA4XX has asked me to help him in multi-op contests but I know he is sending around 30wpm and I just can't hang there at this stage in my Morse Code journey.

Statistics show 25wpm is the magic number

So it got me to wondering what was the actual "average" qso speed.  I downloaded days of raw data from Reverse Beacon Network.  RBN collects the call sign, the SNR and the SPEED.  The raw files contained between 40 to 50 thousand CW CQ calls logged each day after I filtered out other modes.

The average speed from RBN CW logs worked out to exactly 25wpm.  The standard deviation was 5.34wpm which would mean most of the time you would expect to work stations between 20wpm and 30wpm.  That seems reasonable and matches what I seem to hear on air.  These numbers are from the CQ calls themselves and are only measuring character spacing speed so the code spacing is likely a bit lower in most cases and for ragchews is likely averaging 2 to 5 wpm lower than the actual sent character speed.  Since I am not much interested in serious contesting at this stage in my hobby going over 30wpm isn't on my radar.  

So based on those calculated CW speed statistics from RBN data if I can reach the point where I am comfortable in a 25wpm ragchew I should be content (for a while)

That's all for now.

So lower your power and raise your speed.... err expectations

Richard, N4PBQ
Richard Carpenter, AA4OO, is a regular contributor to and writes from North Carolina, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

7 Responses to “The need for speed in CW”

  • Mark GØNMY:

    Hi Richard,
    That’s an interesting statistical analysis. Having let my Morse lapse for a while I really struggle with lots of stations who are running cw (RTTY STYLE) as I call it. I have spent most of this year just listening to CW stations trying to build my receive capability back up. I used to be able to run at about 25 to 28 W.P.M and while my sending is fast I struggle receive wise.
    I took and passed my 12WPM test back in early 90’s and back then I really enjoyed the mode. But recently since I came back to use the mode, I am finding it difficult. One of the comments I wanted to make was that I find the Bug type key users, difficult to copy and decode. It’s to do with the DOT/DASH ratio, my head just cant comprehend some of the characters and they seem to Merge into one long string of nonsensical dots and dashes.
    I find myself just spinning the dial to find good Morse.
    Bugs seem to be all the rage recently but I wish some users would set them up so it atleast sounds like Morse is supposed to.
    Anyway I wish you well with your Journey and I hope you and me both can enjoy Morse as a pleasurable experience and not a torture!
    72 Mark GØNMY


    Do you hard copy at 25 wpm? At my 20 wpm extra exam I barely passed because I can’t really write that fast.

  • Richard, N4PBQ:

    Mark, I fully understand the “hard to copy a bug” comment and I must admit I’m often guilty of using a vibroplex bug just because it’s so much fun but I have the dits slowed down to 19wpm so I try to keep the timing as much like a keyer as I can. If I need to send slower than 19wpm I use my straight key or paddles.

    Lenny, I jot down notes but mostly I just copy in my head now. I found that I couldn’t type or write down morse that was faster than 17wpm. In fact it helped a lot when I stopped trying to transcribe as I listened.

    Sometimes I will hand copy slow code now because I find that the words take so long to be sent that I can’t keep the individual letters straight in my head 🙂

  • Neil w0yse:

    Interesting discussion. I concur abt the problem with poor spacing.
    I used to listen to w1aw’s bulletins at 18 wpm for some good plain language
    Practice. The more u use cw the more fun it is.

  • Dan KB6NU:

    While 25 wpm may be the average speed reported on RBN, my experience is that the median speed is closer to 20 wpm or maybe even lower. You don’t have to be a speed demon to get on the air with CW.

    Having said that, I think that the faster one can go, the better. At about 25 wpm is where CW becomes more like a normal voice conversation, if you properly use the CW abbreviations and Q signals. This really does make CW more fun, and having fun with ham radio is what it’s all about.

  • Richard N4PBQ:

    Dan, The RBN data comes from qsos all over the world and that includes a lot of DX stations sending pretty fast. The max speed I saw in that data was 55wpm and the slowest was 2wpm. I agree that 20wpm is likely sufficient for 90% of ragchewing but I do like to work the occasional DX at 1w for grins and for that I have to at least copy their call at their breakneck speed, even if my 5NN TU back to them is much slower.

  • David:

    My question is how many Hams are using electronic readers ?

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