Carrying FreightIn a number of other articles I've talked about maximising profit from freighters, and I'm differentiating freighters from traders by saying that a freighter is uncompromisingly trying to move as many tonnes of cargo per hour at the highest profit per tonne, while a trader allows ship space for shields and guns and is looking for specific good deals and bulletin board missions that deviate from the freighters buy-jump-sell monotony.
The Rule of Acquisition
The rule of acquisition here is to maximise your profit per hour. Your only goal is to accumulate wealth. Maybe you want to spend the money touring the galaxy, maybe you want to build a huge combat ship. Maybe you want to buy a bigger freighter! Whatever your goals, running freight is a stepping stone to riches.
Economics of scale
While smaller ships can make trade runs, they are often more profitable running rares than carrying freight. As the economics of scale kick in, freighters become the bigger earners.
For the ease of the mathematics we're going to base these figures off an average of 1000Cr profit per tonne for both the outbound and return journey. Your figures may vary, and there are plenty of routes in this calibre if you are trading Advanced Catalysers, Progistinator Cells, Beryllium, and Gold.
This means each Tonne makes 2000Cr profit for the round trip, and we're going to ball-park four round trips an hour. I've stopwatched several double-jump return trips that come in under fifteen minutes so four trips per hour is a reasonable metric and lets us establish that the freighting ball park profits are 8000 Credits, per Tonne, per Hour.
To determine the "tipping point" between traders and freighters we'll compare this to a rare-runner using the numbers I got from my ZP-Hauler flying from Leesti-Chi Eridani.
Despite the ship being capable of more the practicalities or rare running puts you in the rate of about 40T/Hour because of the limited and changing availability of stock, and you'll manage 13,900Cr/T on this sort of route. A discussion on this route can be found here.
This means that a rare-runner can expect to make around 500,000 Cr/Hour and thats the value (or higher) we need to make carrying freight. Dividing in our freighter value of 8000Cr/T gives us 62.5T minimum capacity before freighting becomes profitable. Once we are carrying more than 62T of freight we are likely to be earning more than a rare run trader.
These numbers may vary, but they demonstrate that the tipping point between racing rares across the galaxy and carrying freight are going to sit somewhere above 60T of Cargo, and once you hit about 80T then the economics of scale are cleanly on your side.
ShipyardsGiven our lessons about the economics of scale, we've learned that the Cobra-3 at sixty tonnes fares well as a freighter, but stripped down it can also serve as a long distance rare runner. In fact its the versatile ship on the dividing line between being a freighter or a rare trader.
Everything larger than a Cobra makes more money carrying freight, while anything smaller won't have the high tonnage and is better served in another role.
Lakon Spaceways Type-Six Transporter.
The first of the freighters, the Type-6 Transporter from Lakon Spaceways is the cheapest vessel that easily beats the 60-80T tipping point.
Maxing out at 112T the Type-6 transporter does exactly what it says on the tin and can be bought and upgraded for around two to three million credits, depending on your needs. A roundup of the Lakon-6 can be found here:
Lakon Spaceways Type-6 Transporter
Pick a RouteThe next step is to find a route with a fast turnaround to make your profits. Binary star systems are usually a bad idea as they often have long travel times to the station, and anywhere where the arrival point is a 10,000 LS away from your docking port is going to add extra travel time, while a short 250LS trip can be made very quickly.
Every jump along your route slow you down so a freighter that has to make five jumps to cover its distance is going to lose out on profits. You don't lose much, but you should be optimising for the route with the fewest jumps possible.
Its OK to start a route that takes several jumps, and then upgrade your FSD to shorten the journey, especially if its a profitable run. You are looking for high-profit items like Gold or Beryllium in one direction, and anything that sells well in the other. I'm not going to start second guessing local economies here.
Maximise your TonnageThe next step of freight ships is to maximise your tonnage. Buy full cargo racks and have enough money to fill them with the most profitable cargo you can find.
Using the numbers above, each Tonne is worth 8000Cr/Hour and for best results you want to be filling your entire hold every trip. However there are a few considerations and limitations that might reduce your tonnage.
If your route requires a long jump, then shaving off a few tonnes to make the range may yield a higher return per hour. The entry freighter, the Lakon-6, needs to spend half a million for a Class-B frame shift drive - this should be well within budget and get you about 15.6Ly per jump with a full 112T load.
The Lakon-7 isn't so fast, and a Class-B will only find 13.8Ly at it maximum 232T capacity and you may find yourself paying the extra five million credits for the Class-A
As above, instrument your route. If taking a couple of tonnes off will drop you from a tripple-jump to a double-jump on your route then stopwatch the route in both configurations, work out your hourly rate and go with what works.
UpgradesThe choice to equip shields is a personal one. Shields are going to cost you 16T, 32T, or more depending on your ship. At 8000Cr/T/H the choice to fit a shield generator instead of carrying 16T of cargo is going to cost you 128,000 Credits per hour.
And this is how costs are measured in a freighter. Its not the purchase cost like a small ship, its not the power consumption like a fighter, its the cost in lost-earnings-per-hour.
Discovery Scanner? Sounds like free money ... Think again! Its going to live in a size-2 compartment so cost you four tonnes of space or 32,000 Credits an hour. There is no way you are going to scan that much, so lose it and carry cargo.
Fuel Scoop - same story. A size-2 compartment scoop costs you 32,000 Credits an hour in lost tonnage AND you have to spend time scooping, slowing down your run and reducing your margins.
In a 2MCr/H Lakon-7 you are making 550 Credits per second if you are flying on route. Each detour costs you 550 Credits PER SECOND. You think you cover your costs by scooping fuel for thirty seconds... Thats sixteen thousands credits of lost earnings. Its literally cheaper to pay for fuel than to scoop it for free.
If you can afford them... you might as well add weapons. The cost of beam lasers compared to the ship hull is pocket-change. You are likely to be able to afford the extra power draw and you want to never have to deploy your hardpoints anyway. For a few extra credits you can upgrade from gimble to turret lasers, which makes up for your freighters low turning rate.
Its questionable if weapons are really going to help if you don't have shields too, and it might be that top notch Thrusters and Power Couplings to boost out of trouble are going to be better for you than loading your ship down and sacrificing tonnage.
Adding weapons will increase your tonnage too and consequently may decrease your range. If you are range limited you might want to strip them off so that you can get your distance jumps.
Minimise your travel timeOnce you have a good route and are packing in as much as you can the you need to look at further minimising your travel time. If you have already dropped to the fewest jumps possible, the piloting practice is next up. You need to get good at dropping in and out of supercruise, and you need to reach your destination without overshooting. Time is money and practice makes perfect here - I've found this makes the biggest difference, after getting a short route.
The rest of the fast flying tricks will save you seconds - and at hundreds of credits a second are well worth doing - but you should take the low-effort big-savings of good piloting skills.
A freighters only concern is that profit bottom line - credits per hour are the goal. There are a number of tricks in my Fast Flying post for shaving time off your travels, and while some of them can be a little dangerous that literally is the name of the game and I've had a lot of fun doing it.
For the technically minded, I've noted a few possible ship builds in my Lakon-6 roundup which recommends some essential freighter upgrades too. For a freighter pilot, money is not as much of a limiting factor as other careers and I found upgrades were very easy to get hold of because of my higher income. As such your ship build isn't as critical and you will constantly be tempted to outfit something new.
Freighter lifestyleThere isn't much to say about being a freighter pilot. Aside from the fast flying tricks you are just repeating a cycle of Launch-Jump-Dock, but getting slick at these is all part of your trade now.
Before long you'll notice that carrying high-volume of goods may start to shift the market price and make your profits decline. When this happens, switch to an alternate cargo, or have a secondary route planned you can use. This will happen sooner in the bigger ships, and you have to be more aware of the galaxy around you.
Running from trouble is a good skill to have, and fitting bigger thrusters when you can afford them is a must. Tally your flight hours and log any wastage from piracy and then take it into account for calculating future profit margins. If your route is too hot, then you may need to pick a less profitable - but safer - flight path.
You can hire a fighter escort if you want to see off trouble, I'll talk about these options and about flying convoys in another article. Having a wingman in a Viper, Cobra or other Combat equipped vessel will really help to safeguard your cargo but cut deeply into your profit bottom line. It is quite possible to carry close to a hundred tonnes in an Asp with shields - with its two medium and four small hardpoints it will put up a lot more of a fight than a stock Lakon.
If you have a ship focus you'd like to see, a pilot academy article, or more rules of acquisition leave a comment below. Please like, favorite, share, and subscribe.
As always, fly casual.