To detect high frequency (HF) first-order sea echo spectra contaminated with ships, ionosphere interference, and other, a new characteristic-knowledge-aided detection method is proposed. With 2-D image features in range-Doppler spectrum, the trend of first-order sea echoes is extracted as indicative information by a multi-scale filter. Detection rules for both single and splitting first-order sea echoes are given based on the characteristic knowledge combining the indicative information with the global characteristics such as amplitude, symmetry, continuity,etc. Compared with the classical algorithms, the proposed method can detect and locate the first-order sea echo in the HF band more accurately especially in the environment with targets/clutters smearing. Experiments with real data verify the validity of the algorithm.