I received some encouraging emails after my first CW activation. Thanks! Since there are some other activators with ‘emerging’ CW skills, I thought it might be helpful to capture what went well and what didn’t, as a newbie, while the activation is still fresh in my mind.

  • Spot yourself via SMS or APRS. Don’t rely on RBN. RBN is great, but you’ve got enough on your mind – You want to know when you’re spotted and you want this activation to flow similar to your prior activations.
  • If you have CW memories on your rig, store the initial CQ, which should include the summit ID. I wouldn’t bother with anything else.
    • You could also add a “DE callsign ON summit-ID K”, with a plan to mix it in every few minutes. I had this plus other useful phrases, but my brain was so totally focused on listening and eking out a response that there was no horsepower for, “Oh, I could send that other stored message.”
  • Activating on a band with limited propagation is a definite winner. The half-dozen chasers on 40m was enough to feel like a real activation, without having a pile-up too big for me to handle.
  • It is going to be obvious you’re a newbie. This is a good thing. Don’t sweat it. The chasers did everything they possibly could to help out. They knew what I needed more than I did. I sent call sign, SNR, and BK. That’s it. They knew I’d need to hear my SNR twice. They knew to drop in a pause here or there.
  • Don’t panic when you can’t pick out a partial call sign from the pile-up. Take a deep breath (breathing helps!), and just sit tight. Someone’s gonna send again, and you can get that one. If it gets quiet and stays that way, you can always play your recorded initial CQ.
  • Don’t panic. Really. If you mess something up, someone might send “?”. Just rewind and pick up where you left off. They’re probably laughing and thinking, “Oh, he’s gonna be so freaked out. How can I help him recover?” and not “Geez Louise! This guy should go home.” (They’re the same helpful people who straightened you out when you got stuck on SSB.)
  • Don’t go out at the fastest speed you can copy. Hold back a couple of WPM. Hearing those call signs coming in within your comfort zone is… comforting. (“Hey! I can really copy this!”) Almost everyone will slow to your speed. If someone doesn’t, he just heard you as “slow,” picked a slow speed from his repertoire. Respond to the calls you can copy. When the fast ones are left, “PSE QRS K”. They’re on your side.
  • Focus on call signs, RST, BK, K, KN and ‘dit dit’. You’ll hear some FB and 73 and TU, and you might pick up a few encouraging remarks. Your mission is to copy the call sign and the RST. Let the rest flow past you. It’s a great time to breathe and say, “Yeah. I can handle this.”
    • Note to chasers: The occasional bit of extra content was helpful. I had a tendency to think, “Wow! I actually copied that,” after a call sign or an RST, and ‘lose it’ for a bit. Picking up after “something something something EVIN”, gave me a chance to think, “Musta been ‘FB Kevin’” and re-synch and climb back on the horse.
  • I prepped by:
    • Listening to a few slowed-down activations. Very helpful, particularly since I’ve done almost no real CW QSOs.
    • Doing at total of two CW QSOs before attempting a CW activation. (I’ve got a lame antenna at home.) Other than confirming that I could really copy live code and send with a semi-intelligible fist, this was not much help. I’ll do more of this just for the CW practice, but activations are so different from regular QSOs that I didn’t get a lot of procedure value here. And chasers send with a much clearer fist than some random newbie who’s sending CQ at 10 WPM.
    • Getting up to ~95% correct at 20 WPM on lcwo.net for a 12 WPM SOTA debut. (There is no way I can copy 20 WPM of meaningful, live content, but I had no trouble copying 12 WPM live.) Drilling well above my on-the-air speed was a big help. The only time I had no idea what the chaser was sending was when someone came at me a little faster than I was ready for (and a single “PSE QRS” fixed that). Being in my comfort zone for the character speed was a big, big help.
    • http://aa9pw.com/morsecode/ - I made up a log template with call sign, RST, and some of the other facts included in his practice QSOs. This was helpful for transitioning back and forth from, “I’m transcribing these characters as they are sent” to “I’m listening, spelling it out in my head and watching for a fact to copy.” This was very helpful practice for grabbing just call signs and RST. I got this up to 14 WPM for a 12 WPM SOTA debut.
  • Picnic table – very, very helpful. Being able to spread out the rig, log sheet, a notebook, two or three ball point pens (in case I dropped one), etc., let me focus on sending/receiving and not “How am I going to keep this notebook on my lap while I’m hunched over trying to work the key on the ground, and ‘is that a spider crawling up my arm?’”

I may have gone SK before the last chaser was worked. I got so ‘up’ from having actually worked a successful CW activation that I had to shut it down and do a victory dance. I simply couldn’t concentrate any longer. I was chortling with glee.

Thanks a million to the chasers who worked me! 73 DE K4KPK / Kevin