Docking your ship might be considered one of the most mundane things you need to do during the course of playing Elite Dangerous but it is also something that if mastered will afford you a lot of options in the occupations that you choose to follow.
If you’re new here and looking to make a start, check out our first guide on Elite Dangerous.
Do you really need a docking computer?
When you’ve become pretty confident with your piloting skills this is something you’ll ask yourself often. After all, it can take up a valuable cargo slot better used for something else. If you’ve been away for a while and need a refresher on docking, the video below (part of Frontier Developments’ own tutorials) should help you out.
When it comes to the smaller ships I’d say give it a miss and go manual but seriously consider it when you’re travelling with a larger vessel. Anacondas aren’t the most nimble of ships and you really need to be precise in your manoeuvring when approaching a station – a docking computer will take care of the hard stuff for you.
Note: a docking computer will only work once you have permission to land (requested within 7.5 kilometers of the station) and that your ship’s velocity has been reduced to zero.
It must be noted that flying under the docking computer can make you an easier target for a scan which you might want to avoid if you are carrying illegal cargo or a criminal passenger. With the smaller ships I usually find the scan occurs as I’m close to the docking port so a quick burst of acceleration to get through will solve that. Once inside, quickly decelerate so that the docking computer kicks in again and you’ll get a smooth landing.
Note: NEVER use boost while entering the station as you won’t have the time or room to avoid a nasty collision with the station interior.
Larger ships are a bit more of a challenge and can take longer to land or for you to respond appropriately but it’s entirely possible to do it successfully if you’re skilful enough. Regardless it’s probably best to get your skills up in regular play before trying to make the attempt with a big ship.
Those skills will also be handy in more recent scenarios. An update to the game at the close of 2017 introduced players to stations damaged from Thargoid encounters. Landing at these will certainly challenge a pilot’s abilities – not only will you need to do it manually (docking computers are disabled) but you’ll dodge floating debris inside the station whilst being buffeted by damaging temperatures and explosions. Could be worth it though to help in the evacuation…
The ability to be stealthy has been a part of Elite Dangerous from the very beginning. If you choose a vocation on the illegal side it certainly helps to not be noticed. And that is all about heat.
As your ships systems operate they generate heat which then has to be vented into space. The more heat you pump out the easier it is to track. Silent Running stops that heat from venting out and reduces your visibility but it also has some drawbacks too:
- Your shields won’t operate during silent running,
- Heat build up can rise if you fire weapons,
- If your ship overheats some systems will automatically shut down
You also have the option to manually shut down individual systems (even life support) from the menu which can reduce the amount of heat generated within your ship. Though every little bit helps in making your ship harder to find it is not 100% foolproof. More powerful sensors have a better chance of finding you at a distance and if you accidentally get too close to another vessel nothing is going hide you.
If you’re concerned about being tracked by other vessels or have been yanked out of supercruise by pirates, using heat sinks (which draw your ships internal heat into an item that can be ejected) can help you to slip away by creating dummy blips on scanners. These can also be used like chaff to confuse the tracking of missiles.
Is sneaking worth it?
When you’re after some quick credits, smuggling illegal goods (slaves, narcotics or battle weapons usually do the trick) or transporting criminal passengers is going to be incredibly tempting – especially when you are just starting out in a Sidewinder or Cobra MkIII and need the funds to get your next ship or upgrade. It’s probably the best time to do it (and learn) too as the financial risks are far, far less than they would be with the bigger ships.
You’ll also find that by the nature of your cargo, many more scenarios within the game may present themselves during the course of the mission. Pirates will attempt to yank you out of supercruise, scans by stations may result in fines (or worse) and deliveries will be rerouted. A lot of these can still happen when you have regular cargo but the odds seem to increase when you’re operating on the wrong side of the law. Being able to avoid discovery of your illegal jobs can pay good money and also keep your reputation intact too which is handy if you’re working for multiple factions.
As a commander I’m happy to admit I’m probably not the best example of a smuggler and have lost a lot of credits through failure. Instead of being discreet in docking I tend to try flying like a bullet into the station hoping I can beat the scanners. Small ships do this well, big ships not so much. This method has even worse chances if you are leaving with illegal cargo/passengers as it’s even more likely you’ll be scanned while you try to get out of mass lock to jump. Patience is very much a virtue of you want to be successful in this.
But if the money is good and you’re willing to take the risks, I say go for it. 🙂
The video below from Jypson GTS is pretty comprehensive on the subject of smuggling and is worth a look if you want to get up to speed relatively quickly. Its a little out of date so attempting the Robigo run is not going to work the same way now but there’s still some great strategies worth considering including how to best outfit your ship for the task.