And, technically, that’s true. A starter’s Sidewinder has four cargo can holders and can therefore tote cargo from one system to another.
The problem is, of course, that you need to buy low and sell high, and there are a few traps lurking in there.
Now, my first rule on making money from cargo hauling is this: don’t. Not until you get a ship with a LOT of cargo holds that makes each trip pay for itself.
But assuming you are, here are the main underpinnings of the trade.
- Know the port types. An agricultural port is going to be far more interested in tractors than fruits and vegetables.
- Learn to use the galaxy map to discern trade routes. Find the source of an item and who are buying it, and plan accordingly.
- Don’t bother with the “buy trade data” option in the galaxy map – the trade route plots are a lot more useful and profitable.
- Items available in high quantities can be purchased for less than an item for which there are fewer items in stock.
- Keep the price differential between buy and sell as wide as possible. Learn, and note down, what the ranges are and try to hit the edges for maximum profit.
- Quantity matters. Four cans with 100C profit is 400C profit. 200 cans with the same profit margin is 200,000C profit, and even half that profit margin is 100,000C. The economics of scale can help absorb poor trading conditions.
- Think defensively – a cargo ship with a lot of hardpoints may be tempting, but one that can accept a gazillion defensive fittings will be much better – the goal is to get away to sell your cargo, not treat them thar pirates a lesson.
- Unless you’re goal is both, in which case you’re going to have to settle with a ship that has less room for cargo but plenty of room for hardpoints and offensive systems, such as a Cobra Mk III.
If that sounds like a lot of bloody work, you’re right.
And speaking of which, there is a related career path that has a bit more risk but a lot more potential for profit per ton, and that is the career of Salvage Specialist. Generally, salvage specs drift around a system looking for the faint telltales of cargo cans floating free in space, often with the accompanying noise of a battle.
Why are the canisters just floating there? Maybe the pirates didn’t like the contents. Maybe they had full cargo hold already. Maybe it wasn’t even pirates – I’ve seen contracts carried out in which the contractor was all boom and no carry – subbing a second shield generator for the cargo hooks, for example – and thus the cargo was just a side-effect.
The upshot is that we don’t really care why. We just want the cans, nobody else is around to take them, so we take them. Easy pickings.
The downside of this trade is twofold: 1) you are exposing yourself in an area with known conflicts taking place, never a good thing. And 2) you can’t just dump your cans on the open market. The Feds and the Royals have marked salvage out as government territory, and mere pilots just aren’t allowed to partake.
With this in mind, consider the following:
- Find a port with a black market near or in a system with a conflict zone or high piracy levels. The closer to anarchy, the better, in my experience. Make this port your base of operations.
- Be prepared to pay fines; any time a Roller scans you, and you have salvage in your hold, you’re gonna get dinged.
- Corollary to that: never make port with just a LITTLE salvage. Make sure there’s enough in your hold to pay the fines. No shame in having some legal cargo in there to help cover the costs.
- Second corollary: a port in an anarchist system tends to have fewer Rollers patrolling.
- Lots of cargo room to make the trip worthwhile.
- Plenty of hard points hold off counter claims.
- Plenty of defensive toys (chaff, ECM, shield enhancements) for when you decide it’s not worth dying over.
The main thing to remember here is that salvaging is by nature an aggressive move, so “run away and live to salvage another day” is not an altogether appropriate viewpoint. Pirates and other CMDRs are going to show up wanting a piece of the action. If they open fire, you may need to convince them that the cargo’s not worth THEM dying for it.
Know when to fight. Know when to run. Act accordingly.
One last thing, a matter of values. I know plenty of traders that have zero compunctions about trading in human slaves, and plenty others that draw the line at that point. There is a significant difference between trading and salvage, though – in the case of salvage, you’re effectively rescuing them from certain death, and being sold into black market slavery is probably better than dying. I’m not saying they should send you flowers and champagne else they’re a bunch of ingrates; I’m just providing some hints to help you align your moral compass.
And remember: each can of slaves is approximately 13 –14 actual people. It looks like a faceless can on the screen, but that’s what it amounts to. So destroying a trader toting 100 tons of slaves is effectively marooning 1300 people in outer space with no food, life support, or means to acquire same. Depending on where you land on the Feds’ great interstellar alignment chart, that might make a difference in your decision making.