TL:DR (The very short version)
- A Good Planet (Lots of buildings, no water, gentle terrain, good weather)
- Patience - there’s no quick and easy method. Just ones that work, and ones that don’t.
Don’t bother with maps, transmission towers, or signal boosters. They’re unreliable, flawed, and frustrating.
Search in your ship, along a N-S compass line. Look for crashed ships on your radar. Fly low and slow. Take your time.
Full Text (The very long version)
First of all, I need to explain some concepts. By all means skip the long-winded stuff if you’re already familiar with it.
I need to introduce you to the concept of Alien Population Density.
In No Man’s Sky, there are at least three population levels a planet may be assigned - low, medium, and high. There used to be a fourth, “very high”, but that seems to have disappeared somewhere between Next and Beyond.
Each planet has a population level - the number of aliens who live there. It’s important to know this, because it’s directly linked to the number of crashed ships. The higher the population, the more crashed ships there will be.
You can tell the population level by the frequency (how many, and how close together) of certain buildings. Unfortunately, not all buildings count. The buildings we ARE interested in are:
- Large Trading Posts
- Small Trading Posts
- Transmitter Stations
- Manufacturing Facilities (locked)
- Operations Centres (locked)
For the remainder of this discussion, I will refer to these as “Occupied Buildings”. That’s my terminology, not official Hello Games nomenclature.
Other types of structure do not count towards population density. For the sake of illustration, I’ll list some. We are NOT interested in:
- Habitation Huts
- Abandoned Buildings
- Drop Pods
- Holo Towers
For the rest of this discussion, I will refer to these as “Unoccupied Buildings”. That’s my own, unofficial, terminology.
As far as I know, all occupied planets have some crashed ships. However, on many types of planet, you’ll struggle to find them.
You want to remove difficulties, and improve the odds in your favour. And that means choosing the right kind of planet in the first place. There’s no shortage of planets - pick a good one.
You will need to fly low and slow, and you will need to be able to see the ground well. You don’t want things that will obstruct your vision, flying, landing, or takeoff. So, in general, you want planets with:
- Gentle, rolling hills,
- Large, continuous areas of land,
- Pleasant weather.
you should normally avoid planets with:
- Severe or rugged geography, lots of mountains, chasms, or floating islands, giant plants.
- Large areas of water,
- Bad weather and/or frequent storms, particularly severe storms, weird lighting.
When setting out on a crashed ship hunting expedition, you need to consider a few things before you go.
Scrapping ships will rapidly fill up your available storage space. You need to free up inventory space before you go.
It is possible you will find a really high quality crashed ship, that you want to keep. If you do, you will need space in your ship collection inventory. Consider scrapping some of your lesser ships before you go, to create space.
Supplies For You
You may be travelling a long way. Make sure you have stocks of warp cells and launch fuel.
Supplies for Crashed Ships
All crashed ships are damaged when you find them. The minimum tech they require to fly is:
- Shields (repair - 50 chromatic metal and 13 sodium nitrate)
- Launch Thrusters (repair - 50 pure ferrite and 1 dihydrogen jelly)
- Pulse Engine (repair - 1 hermetic seal and 1 metal plating)
If you’re going hunting crashed ships, you’ll want to take stocks of these materials along with you. The ship can’t be moved without them.
(actually, it sort of can - if you claim it, even without repair, it will still get transported to your freighter - but you’re going to have to repair it sometime - you can’t fly it otherwise.)
It is possible to search for crashed ships by using maps, transmitter stations, navigation data, and signal boosters. I advise you not to.
Hello Games have deliberately made the search frustrating. It’s a lot of messing about and bother, to then only have roughly a one in three chance of finding a crashed ship site. I use the word “site” deliberately - from the start, the first site you find will be empty. After that you will probably find two or three crashed ships, but then you will start finding empty sites again. This is because Hello Games’ search algorithm isn’t very good, and after a few searches it starts sending you back to sites you’ve already visited.
If you want to find crashed ships easily, reliably, and with the minimum wasted effort, the way to search is with your ship’s radar.
Ship’s Radar in Space
To search, fly at around 120 - 150 u/s. Assuming the average tree to be around 15 u in height, you should aim to fly at around 60 - 100 u altitude. These figures are just guidelines - they’re very flexible. you just don’t want to fly too high or too fast.
Choose A Direction
It’s very easy to get turned around, and end up searching the same area over and over. To avoid this, choose a compass direction (you’re only given N and S) and search along it.
Pick a compass direction, and follow it. Keep watching your radar. If you’ve picked the right planet, within 10 or 15 minutes you’ll see a crashed ship pop up on your radar.
A Crashed Ship Showing On Radar
The game has to render the ground below you as you approach it, and crashed ships won’t show up on your radar until they’ve rendered - so they often show up just as you’re level with them, or even a bit past them. That’s why you don’t want to fly too fast - you’d be too far away to see them by the time they rendered. You need to keep a sharp eye on your radar, and be quick to slow down and turn round when a ship is detected.
When your radar finds a ship, follow the trace, and land. Not all radar blips are crashed ships. Since Beyond, there are also damaged ships - these have a living pilot, and can only be repaired for a small reward - they can’t be taken.
If you don’t want to bother with damaged ship sites, you don’t have to land. You can generally tell from the air, because you can see the pilot. Even if you can’t see the pilot, damaged ship sites don’t have a distress beacon - all crash sites have a distress beacon.
All nearby ships show up on your radar. Sadly, this is not a bunch of crashed ships - it’s a large trading post.
Patience Is A Virtue
Be prepared to spend a lot of time searching. Even on a good planet, it’s sometimes possible to fly for 20 minutes without finding anything (although you can equally come across three within 1,000 metres - bang, bang, bang).
Create some interest for yourself. Make an expedition of your search - investigate some of the buildings and crashed freighters you pass, scan some wildlife and plants - just don’t forget which direction you were searching in.
However, if you have searched a new planet for 30 minutes, and have not found your first crashed ship, it’s probably time to move on to a new planet. Some planets are definitely better than others.
A Starter Suggestion
You can employ this method on any planet you like. However, to start off with, I suggest you try the following:
Warp to a couple of yellow star systems, and check out the planets until you find a frozen world with no surface water. Land, and check out the weather. If it’s OK, fly in a straight line for a few minutes, and check out the buildings. If you pass a reasonable number of occupied buildings, you can be fairly sure the planet is at least medium occupation level. If there’s anything doubtful about the planet, move on - find a better one. You don’t want to get dispirited.
Assuming you’ve found a planet that fits your requirements, then fly along a North-South line. Fly at roughly 150 u/s, at roughly 2-3 times treetop height. It’s not crucial, but don’t fly too fast or too high.
Keep checking your radar. Crashed ships often don’t show up until you’re level with, or even just past, them - so you need to react quickly when you spot one. They don’t stay on your radar for long when you’re moving.
If you haven’t found your first crashed ship within 30 minutes, you should probably assume you have a dud planet. Move on to another one, and try again.
That’s more than enough for now. If you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them.