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How to board and steal ships in Starfield

‘That’ll cost you one million bullets, please’

Starfield a stolen Crimson Fleet ship on a landing pad Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks via Polygon
Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

The Settled Systems of Starfield is full of enemy ships — vessels of pirates, Spacers, and, depending on your alliances and choices, everyone else. And those ships can be yours with a little work, if you’re willing to board and steal a ship.

Our Starfield guide will teach you how to board a ship, how to steal a ship, and everything else you need to know about disabling an enemy ship’s engines, docking, and claiming a ship for your own.

Piracy isn’t the same as stealing a ship in Starfield

Before we get started, let’s define something — piracy isn’t the same as stealing (both in real life and in Starfield). With the Deception skill from the Social tree, you’ll get the [Piracy] dialogue option when you hail a ship. The piracy in question only refers to stealing that ship’s cargo. You won’t actually get the option to steal the entire ship (or even to dock with it).

That part involves a lot more shooting.

How to take over an enemy ship in Starfield

To steal an enemy ship, you’ll need at least one rank of the Targeting Control Systems (Tech) skill. This lets you directly target an enemy ship’s individual systems (like weapons, shields, engines, or the grav drive).

Starfield using Targeting Control Systems to disable a ship’s engines so you can dock. Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks via Polygon

When you’re fighting an enemy ship — basically any ship whose marker is red on your HUD, which either means they started out aggressive, or you’ve (accidentally) shot them — and want to steal it for yourself, you’ll first need to take out its engines. Once your weapons have a solid lock, hit the X button, use the left stick to highlight the ENG option and fire away. Ideally, you’ll do this relatively early in the fight — damaging the engines also damages the hull, so if you reduce the hull to zero, the ship will explode.

Once the engines are disabled, you’ll get the option to dock with the enemy ship. Onboard, you’ll have to kill any enemy crew. When they’re all cleared out, you can sit in the pilot’s seat to claim the ship. Just know that a stolen ship is considered contraband, so you’ll have to register it before heading to any of the patrolled planets.

From there, once you plot a grav jump, land, or otherwise select a fast travel destination, that ship will become your Home Ship.

There’s also not a lot you can do with a stolen ship until you register it — after that, you can modify it, rename it, or even sell it.

Can you sell stolen ships?

Before you go jetting off (gravving off?) in your new ship, you’ve got a problem to deal with. The entire ship is considered contraband. It doesn’t matter what the cargo hold, er, holds; it’s the ship itself that will trigger the scanners in space controlled by the UC or Freestar Collective factions.

That means you can’t land at any of the game’s big cities or settlements — or even enter their orbit.

You have a few options here. The best place we’ve found to get around this problem is to dock at The Den in the Wolf system. You could also head to the shady Red Mile on Porrima III. If you have an outpost outside of patrolled space with a Landing Pad with Ship Builder, you can take care of it there. All three of those options will let you avoid anyone noticing your stolen ride.

What does ‘You are not authorized to pilot this ship’ mean?

There are two reasons you might see this error when you try to sit in a stolen ship’s pilot’s seat:

  • First, it might just be someone else’s ship. You can’t just stroll in and take a ship without a fight (see above). If this is a ship you’re currently stealing, there might be more crew members somewhere on board.
  • Second, it might have to do with your Piloting (Tech) skill and the ship’s (reactor) class. You can’t pilot class B ships until you hit rank 3 in Piloting, and for class C ships, you’ll have to wait for rank 4.