Smugglers are similar to traders except that they sell goods where it is illegal, on the black market. Smugglers have to use stealth, cunning, and special equipment to outwit any local law enforcement and sometimes military authorities, especially around stations, to sell their commodities at a profit while escaping fines and a criminal record. Smugglers can also be a special case of couriers, where the player is asked to transport forbidden items.
When dealing in stolen items looted from wrecks or from piracy, smuggling is also necessary as cargo is tagged and detection of stolen goods on a ship will carry consequences as well. For this reason, most pirates are also typically skilled in smuggling items into stations.
What to smuggle
Smuggling usually involves the sale of two types of commodities: illegal commodities, which are prohibited in certain systems and stations by the laws of a specific minor faction, and stolen commodities, which have been tagged as having been criminally obtained from their legitimate owners. These commodities can be obtained from a variety of sources, such as salvaging wrecks, raiding Settlements, pirating other ships, or even simply purchasing them from stations where they are not considered contraband. One commodity that is popular among smugglers is Imperial Slaves, which can be purchased legally from stations under Imperial control, but are illegal in most other systems and can be sold on the black market for a decent profit.
Smugglers can also accept passenger contracts to illegally transport wanted criminals or other secretive individuals to locations where authorities are seeking them. Smuggling passengers has little practical difference from smuggling commodities other than the module used: commodities must be transported with Cargo Racks, and passengers must be transported with Passenger Cabins.
The goal is simple: enter the station without your hold being scanned by either players or police forces. There are multiple ways to get inside of a station without being scanned, which differ based on pilot skill, ship type, and station. It is far easier to smuggle in a smaller vessel, and larger ships will find the task to be not only difficult without detection, but extremely dangerous to the ship.
The most important thing with smuggling is to get your ship under 20% heat to reduce the range at which other ships can scan you, making stealth much easier.
- Buy a heat efficient ship:
- An Asp Explorer is optimal with its excellent cooling system and medium cargo capacity.
- The Diamondback Explorer is also a good heat efficient ship and a good option if you're on a budget, but has less cargo space.
- The Python has a much larger cargo capacity, however quite costly, especially when it comes to optimising its power plant, which costs millions.
- Upgrade your power supply based on heat efficiency:
- Heat efficiency is measured in terms of per watt used. Turning your systems off to use less megawatts will generate less heat.
- A-rated power supplies are the most heat efficient, but can also be costly.
- All A-rated power supplies (A1, A4, A7 etc) have the same heat efficiency.
- If you have access to the following Engineer blueprints, they will aid your smuggling:
- Using a Low Emissions Power Plant will significantly improve heat efficiency.
- For thrusters, choosing Drive Strengthening or Clean Drive Tuning as a modification will reduce the thermal load produced by thrusters while maneuvering.
- Enhanced Low Power Shields have a reduced power draw.
- Shielded Frame Shift Drives reduce thermal load when charging for a jump, while Increased Range is more useful for longer routes.
- If you use shields to protect your hull from damage while docking (to prevent your passengers from complaining for example) the lightest powered shields will allow your ship to run cooler. This is based on power draw: a lower power shield is weaker, but will be cooler. It's more efficient in terms of shield strength per watt to use E or D rated shields, than to use those of class A.
- Reducing your system count will make "cool-running" (having every nonessential module disabled) much easier to initiate, since there is no shortcut to accomplish such a thing. Silent running is also possible, however you if take too long you will get cooked.
Docking at Outposts and Planetary Ports
Smuggling to outposts and planets is significantly riskier than smuggling to starports. When landing at an outpost, or on a planet, you do not have a mail-slot that stops your scan. To be un-scannable in these situations you must land and retract your ship underground. Outposts in general have low occurrences of patrol ships. If there are patrol ships, enter supercruise and return after a short while: it will be likely that the patrol ships will have left the area. Planetary installations usually come supplied with patrol ships flying around the surface near the space port. The number will depend on the security rating of the system you are in.
Docking at Starports
A guide to entering starports using stealth:
- At maximum range (7.5km) request docking clearance. Approach station from the side with the docking slot, as lined up as possible, and be sure that no large ships will be in your way. Be sure that you don't draw too close during this process.
- Disable every module except for Thrusters. Life Support can also be disabled if you have sufficient air capacity. Also do your best to reduce your heat to 20%: a Heatsink Launcher aids in this.
- Head towards the docking slot at speed. As soon as possible, engage Silent Running (Delete key by default, or from the right panel). This closes the heat vents on your ship to help hide it, but makes heat build up inside; this is why we allowed the ship to cool. 'Ship Scan Detected' does not mean the scan was completed. Scanning takes a moment, and if you enter the docking ring or escape before it can be completed, the scan will fail (thus no fine or reputation loss).
- Enter the docking bay and slow down as quickly as you can. Your shields will be offline, so any impact can easily cripple or destroy you.
- Disable silent running. NPC ships do not scan you once you have entered the docking bay so you can take your time with landing.
A sufficiently-skilled pilot is able to accomplish the task of entering the station without any special preparations, by requesting docking at a distance and then entering the station at considerable speed. This method is, when performed by a skilled pilot, by far the fastest and most likely to succeed undetected, but carries the highest consequence when failed: impact with the station and immediate destruction.
Smuggling is a crime that incurs penalties if the smuggler is caught. If System Authority Vessels finish a scan on the player's ship while it is holding illegal or stolen cargo they will be fined and their reputation with the star system's controlling faction will drop. It is recommended to not smuggle in systems where the controlling faction is one that you want to continue to be friendly with.
If a pilot is caught transporting wanted criminals, the penalty is very severe. Being scanned with a criminal onboard incurs an immediate bounty; if the pilot is inside a Starport or Asteroid Base and not docked at the time a bounty is placed, the station's interior defence turrets will fire upon their ship.
- In the vast majority of cases, NPC ships will not be able to finish any scan they have started once you are inside of the docking ring, however, players can continue to scan you through the station if they so choose. It is also important to note that once landed and have entered the hangar, you are safe. You are scannable when you have touched-down on your pad, but not once you enter the hangar, which can be most efficiently done by pressing the top right most button in the station UI ("Go to hangar").