Spacing in Morse code

For a CW operator, the spaces in Morse code are quite important. The spaces between dashes and dots, those between words and those between sentences make up Morse code. They are as important as dashes and dots themselves. Imagine that these spaces are irregular or inappropriate. It could be almost impossible for us to read the code. Appropriate setteing of spaces, that is, spacings, is crucial for beautiful and efficient CW.

I would like to mention of two issues related with the spacing.

The problem of "BK" sent in the end of messages which I questioned in the previous article could be a kind of, or an extension of this issue. In the end of messages, there should be appropriate spacings.  Sending IDs could be a kind of spacings. It will enable us read the message comfortably as well as fluently.  Without this "spacings" between transmission and reception, we could hardly go on communicating.

The other point is the minute but still substantial variation of spacings. CW is often compared to music. Silence in music should be comparable to spaces in Morse code. When some phrase or motif is accentuated in music, a minute pause of silence is often put immediately before it. It is called "Auftakt" in German. In sending Morse code, we put a bit of exaggerated space before some word which we would like to emphasize, if consciously or not. For example, when calling CQ, we often wait a bit before giving our call following DE. It is to emphasize our call sign, which is most important in this message. If this "Auftakt" sounds proper, the Morse code could be a real music.

CW is an art. It is not so complicated as the other arts like music. It sounds, however, like real music in our mind. It delivers our idea and emotion directly. Why won't you send it in a beautiful and efficient way?


  1. Shin San,

    I could not agree more. On the ham bands just listening, you will find many stations who need to find rhythm and add the spacing necessary to seperate the individual characters, words, phrases,etc. I am not a musician but I do recognise the need for rhythm with sending CW.

    I am human and get in a hurry like most every person does at times, however in the art of sending this communications mode, the sender should expect someone to understand what they are saying. Unfortunately some of this mode of commuication is labor intensive just to be able to get a general impression of what the person is trying to say. I know this because I have spent many hours patiently commuicating with people who do not always do their best at sending the International Morse Code. In some cases there are good reasons for this type of sending, and for those people I have spent time trying to understand their messages and have even done so repeatedly. I have found that often you can get used to some peoples way of sending and can eventually learn to copy them with much more ease. But it is plesant, when you find a person whose fist is easy to copy and pleasant to hear, I find this to be so and enjoy just sitting and listening to them much like you hear a passage of Music.

    In the early years of my CW experience,
    there were very few KEYERS, but a few times I heard a few fists that sounded like machine sent code, but had a bit of a swing, but they all had good rhythm which provide good spacing. Some of these were using vacuum tube Keyers.

    I use a Bug for most of my sending, and
    I was fortunate to have several individuals who were seniors showing a young kid how to do it correctly. Too bad this type of mentor is not more prevalent today.

    I lost my fist for awhile because I learned to use a keyer and did not continue to use a bug for over two years. I cost me dearly and took several months before I got my fist back. So today I will use a keyer, but not extensively or exclusively. I much prefer the sending personality I have developed with using a bug.

    Bob Gates

    1. Hi Bob, Shin san

      I agree - spacing is very important. At radio college before I went to sea, our Morse instructor repeatedly stressed that spacing was a fundamental element of CW and had to be correct. We learned on straight keys at an exam speed of 20 wpm. The aim was to reproduce perfect machine Morse. However, an extension of spacing between words was sometimes tolerated, even encouraged, especially when trying to send QTCs in heavy QRM. As Shin says, sometimes an elongation of the correct space length actually assists the operator on the receiving end. (The Morse practice room had an ancient AR88 receiver which was turned full up, the audio noise then mixed with our sidetones).

      It seems to be a question of balance in practice, these days. If spaces are too heavily accented (along with dahs), Morse sounds affected and idiosyncratic. The aim with a bug is to hit that happy medium of trying to send perfect machine code versus very slight personal touches.

      Bob, I did not use Morse for 15 years and suffered a lot in consequence. Only now I feel my old hand has returned (we called our style our "hand" at sea - hams say "fist"). The sad irony is I travel a lot, and what with my station being hit my lightning a few months ago, I am still QRT !

      I am looking forward to working you both maybe in March !

      73 de 9V1VV

  2. Hi both OM,

    Spacing, especially that between words, seems to be very important to send readable code. In addition, it may give accents or even personality in sending. This may make CW more artistic.

    I agree with both of you in every respect. Bob, I can't imagine you without that old bug. John, are you practising sending code when on aboard? Even though I don't think it is necessary for you. Too bad you can't operate radio on the ship. Come back on the air in Mar.

    Being active with your fists is the best way to be a good mentor for beginners on the air. See you soon.

  3. Memorizing the right code is the most important part of this mode of communication.