CW Nets 101

(Special thanks to CW Net Guru Joe Burnett, W4BUR)

One thing that's confusing to a newcomer to the CW nets is the protocol used.  The CW nets operate differently than the SSB nets.  Since it takes a lot more time to say the same thing in CW vs SSB, brevity - getting it said with as few words as possible - is highly valued.  For that reason we use a number of abbreviations and Q-Signals to convey information in as few words as possible to keep our CW nets moving along quickly.  Hopefully the following information will help you understand what's going on when you check in for the first time.

Generally, the Net Control Station (NCS) comes on the net frequency ten or fifteen minutes prior to the published net start time.  Assuming W4BUR is the NCS, the NCS will transmit:

NCS:    CQ CQ CCN CCN DE W4BUR/NCS QNI QNI K

"QNI" is a Q-Signal requesting stations to check into the net.  When this is done prior to the scheduled net time it is an invitation to stations to get on a "prelist" to help speed up the actual check-in process when the net starts.  The NCS will assign check-in numbers at actual check-in as stations respond.

To check in, send your call followed by /M or /P (if applicable) and your state if different from your FCC registered address.

YOU:    DE WB5FDP K

or

YOU:    DE W2UJ/P K

or

YOU:    DE N6RSH/M GA es K7OPQ/M GA K    ("es" is a common CW abbreviation for the word "and.")

If NCS requires more information, like your name or state, they will inquire, otherwise NCS will give you your check in number a couple of times and would like for you to confirm you copied your number by sending the number back.

NCS:    W4BUR NR 5 NR 5 K

YOU:    QSL NR 5 NR 5 TU K

At the published net start time (or a couple of minutes thereafter) the NCS will transmit an abbreviated preamble, similar to the following (note that "BT" is a CW abbreviation for a break between sentences):

WELCOME TO THE 3905 CENTURY CLUB CW NET FOR WAS AND AWARDS BT
ALL ARE WELCOME BT
FOR MORE INFO PSE VISIT OUR WEB SITE AT WWW.3905CCN.COM BT
PSE QSL VIA WM9H BT
NW QND PSE QNZ (series of "V"s followed by a steady carrier) BT
NW QNI DE W4BUR/NCS K

The abbreviations may require some interpretation...  "NW" means "NOW"; "QND" means that this is a directed net; "PSE" means "PLEASE"; "QNZ" means to "zero beat", or make sure your frequency is the same as NCS; the "V"s and the steady carrier provide a signal to allow stations to fine tune their transmitters to the NCS frequency.

Following the abbreviated preamble the NCS will look for more check-ins and will continue to assign check-in numbers.  Depending on propagation the NCS may ask other stations to look for check-ins using the following CW abbreviation:

NCS:    AA1NZ DE W4BUR/NCS PSE NET CALL K

Hearing this, AA1NZ will transmit DE AA1NZ QSP QNI QNI K.  (QSP means relay)  If AA1NZ gets any check-ins he will give them check-in numbers and then relay the information to NCS.

When the NCS believes that all stations wishing to check in are on the list, s/he will transmit the following:

NCS:    DE W4BUR/NCS QNC QNS BT
NCS:    LIST FOLLOWS BT

QNC means "all stations copy" and QNS means "the following stations are on the list."  The check-in list will then be transmitted by NCS in a manner similar to the following:

NCS:    NR 1 AA1NZ AA1NZ  BT  NH NH  BT    OP TOM TOM NR 1 AA1NZ  BT   BT
NCS:    NR 2 N1RR N1RR  BT  MA MA  BT    OP CHAS CHAS NR 2 N1RR  BT  BT

The NCS will continue through the check-ins until all checked in stations have been listed, and will then again ask for check-ins by transmitting:

NCS:    DE W4BUR/NCS QNI QNI K

Additional stations will be checked in and assigned check-in numbers.  Following this NCS will transmit the information for the new check-ins to the others on the list as follows:

NCS:    DE W4BUR/NCS QNC NR

followed by the check-in number, station call sign, location and name as he did earlier above.

The NCS will then place herself on the list and will notify the net of her check-in number, location and name.

When the check-in list is complete the NCS will give stations their turn for a call by transmitting:

NCS:    DE W4BUR/NCS LET'S GET STARTED

or something similar to let the stations on the net know that it's time to begin making contacts.  Then NCS will give a turn to a specific station by transmitting:

NCS:    DE W4BUR/NCS NR 1 AA1NZ K

perhaps adding UR TURN, but probably not.  At this point in the net, all stations are expected to realize that it's time to start making contacts and that it's their turn to make a call.  Brevity, making transmissions as short as reasonably possible, is a major consideration on all CW nets and it's something for all stations to strive to accomplish.

A typical exchange of information goes like this:

YOU:    DE AA1NZ GE ALL BT
YOU:    NR 2 N1RR N1RR DE AA1NZ AA1NZ UR 599 599 K

What the above means is that AA1NZ said good evening to everyone on the net and then called check-in number 2, N1RR, giving him a signal report of 599.

In response N1RR will say thank you, I QSL the 599 signal report, and you are also 599 as follows:

HIM:    AA1NZ DE N1RR TU QSL 599 599 UR ALSO 599 599 K

Then AA1NZ will identify, acknowledge the "also 599", say Thank You (TU), and turn it over to the net control ("BTN" means "Back To Net") as follows:

YOU:    DE AA1NZ QSL ALSO 599 TU BTN K

NCS will then transmit "CFM" (confirm) to let the net know that the contact was a good one and will call the next check-in on the list for his/her turn to make a call.  This will be repeated until the round is complete, stopping occasionally to ask for check-ins (QNI).

You'll note that the signal reports exchanged in the example above contained three digits.  This is a signal report in the standard R-S-T Signal Report System.  The first two digits are the same as are used for SSB signal reports, Readability and Strength.  On CW, the third digit is used to let the other station know what kind of "Tone" is being transmitted.  A "9" is the best, indicating a perfect tone with no distortion.  Ordinarily you won't hear anything except a "9" as the third digit, but occasionally someone will have a transmitter problem and should be made aware of it.  The following is from the ARRL Handbook for Radio Amateurs describing the numeric codes used for tone (the third digit in a CW signal report).

  1. Sixty cycle ac or less, very rough and broad.
  2. Very rough ac, very harsh and broad.
  3. Rough ac tone, rectified but not filtered.
  4. Rough note, some trace of filtering.
  5. Filtered rectified ac but strongly ripple-modulated.
  6. Filtered tone, definite trace of ripple modulation.
  7. Near pure tone, trace of ripple modulation.
  8. Near perfect tone, slight trace of modulation.
  9. Perfect tone, no trace of ripple or modulation of any kind.

The above examples are just that - examples.  Actual exchanges of information will vary depending on the operator and what s/he has to say or add to the signal report data.  Additional info should be restricted to info that needs to be on the QSL card sent to confirm the QSO.  Idle chatter is discouraged to avoid excessive delay in everyone getting a turn in a timely manner.

Hopefully the above was helpful and will give you some encouragement to participate in the CW nets.  Don't worry about making mistakes - we all do that.  All we ask is that you learn from them.

CU on CW

Hopefully the following info will be helpful to some who are not familiar with Net "Q" signals.  These are from the ARRL Net Directory with a couple more included.  This is not a complete list, but a collection of the most popular...

 

COMMON CW NET Q-SIGNALS
SIGNAL MEANING
QNA Answer in prearranged order
QNC All Net stations please copy
QND Net is directed  (has an NCS)
QNF Net is free  (not or no longer directed)
QNG Take over as net control
QNH Your net freq is high
QNI Net stations check in
QNL Your net freq is low
QNN Net Control is _______
QNO Station is leaving the net
QNP Unable to copy_______
QNS Following stations are in the net (list)
QNX Station is excused from the net
QNZ Please zero beat ur freq with mine
WE ALSO USE:
QRU Do you have anything for me?
QSP Please relay
QSX Please listen for _______
HUMOROUS & RARELY HEARD:
QPP I have to take a nature break
QTT Same as QPP
QLF Are you sending with your left foot?
TOF Try other foot (only if QLF = yes)