If you're ratting in friendly territory, a tech 1 battleship is the obvious choice. Any battleship can be set up to tank even the biggest NPC asteroid belt spawn and most make short work of NPC battleships. Popular choices for ratting battleships include the Raven, Typhoon, Armageddon, Apocalypse and Dominix, though others can perform just as well. A cruise missile Raven or Typhoon can deliver its full damage to NPC battleships from up to 250km away, suffering from none of the range or tracking issues that might slow down ratting in a turret-based ship. The ship never has to move from each asteroid belt's warp-in point and requires very little micro-management.
Other popular ships for ratting include tech 2 heavy assault cruisers and tech 3 strategic cruisers. They both have a very high power-to-weight ratio, able to deal around 500 damage per second but without the sluggish turning speed of battleships. With their high agility, they're able to align and warp out much quicker than a battleship in the event that an enemy pilot enters the system. If you can afford the ISK to splash out on a tech 3 cruiser, it can be set up with the same damage output as a heavy assault cruiser but with double the tanking potential. This makes strategic cruisers perfectly suited to running cosmic anomalies and exploration complexes solo. At the lower end of the price spectrum, tech 1 battlecruisers like the Drake and Myrmidon can also make good ratting ships.
For long-term stays in nullsec, laser-using ships like the Armageddon, Apocalypse, Zealot or Legion have the added benefit of not consuming ammunition. Similarly, dedicated drone ships like the Dominix and Ishtar will never need to restock on ammo, with the added advantage of being able to field any damage type they want. If you're using a ship that needs ammo, you'll need to keep a stock of it nearby. For ratting in NPC systems or your alliance's territory, you'll have the luxury of being able to store ammo in the nearest station. If you're ratting somewhere more remote, I'd recommend hauling a giant secure container or two full of ammo to the target system and anchoring them in space for easy resupplying.
The general idea with ratting ship setups is to maximise your damage per second while making sure you have a tank that's both capacitor-stable and strong enough to withstand a triple battleship spawn. To save on slots that might be useful for other modules, it's best to fit hardeners for only the damage types the enemy deal. Serpentis and Guristas deal only kinetic and thermal damage and Sanshas and Blood Raiders deal EM and thermal damage, making it very easy to tank them without using too many low or mid slots. Angel Cartel and Rogue Drone NPCs are a little harder to tank as they deal all four damage types. If you're expecting trouble, it also makes sense to tank against all four damage types as roaming pirates will expect you to be tanked only against the local NPCs.
The simplest way to get into nullsec would be to join a corporation that's already established there. For those who don't live in nullsec, getting out there might seem like an incredibly daunting task but it doesn't have to be. You've probably heard horror stories about all the entry systems being permanently camped, with warp disruption bubbles on every stargate and station and people throwing capital ships at small targets like a hammer used to smash an ant. Anyone who has been in nullsec for any length of time will tell you how far from the truth this actually is.
The reality is that most of the time there's at least one mostly unguarded entry system into a nullsec region from empire. There will also always be a time of day during which the local alliance has low member activity and the route may be clear. To find out which routes are clear enough for you to run the gauntlet, get a friend to go ahead in a cheap frigate or cloaked covert ops ship. Having a scout stay one jump ahead of you will warn you of impending danger, including gate camps you might be headed for and warp disruption bubbles you might get caught in. It's absolutely essential that you have a scout if you plan to move through nullsec safely; to do otherwise is practically suicide.
Rather than fitting your ratting setup for the journey into nullsec, you're much better off stowing those modules in your cargo hold and fitting a travel setup. A few warp core stabilisers will let you escape if you're tackled by a roaming pirate or two but if you get caught inside a warp disruption field or interdiction sphere, they won't help you at all. Keep in mind that when you warp to a stargate with a warp disruption bubble behind it, you can sometimes be pulled into the bubble. This is because your warp path lined up with the bubble and if this happens to your scout, try to warp to the stargate from a different angle by first warping to another planet in the system.
Tech 3 cruisers are particularly great for travel as with the right subsystems they can get both a covert ops cloak and an immunity to warp disruption fields. With careful timing on your warp commands and activating the cloaking device, a tech 3 cruiser can go right through a crowded gate camp unimpeded. You'll need to stow your full combat setup, including subsystems, in the cargo hold of your ship. Once you reach your destination, you'll need a station or a friendly starbase or carrier to refit the ship.
If it ever comes down to a fire-fight between a ratting ship and a couple of pirates, the ratter's probably heading home in a pod. The best strategy in nullsec is to avoid fights entirely and to help you do that, your first line of defense is the local chat channel. Detach it from your other channels and place it at the side of your screen where you can always keep an eye on it. The pilot list in the local channel will update instantly when any pilot enters the system. If an enemy or unknown pilot appears in the list, align to a planet and be ready to warp out if anyone appears in the asteroid belt with you. If you're within range of a stargate, you might be able to pick the enemy up on your directional scanner and see what class of ship the pilot's in.
Cloaked covert ops ships and force recons won't show up on the directional scanner and may take you by surprise. Even if a force recon ship can't kill you on its own, you can be sure its buddies aren't far behind! If you suspect that there's a cloaked enemy ship in the system or just want to get safe as soon as a name appears, your best bet is to set up safe-spot bookmarks in the system before you start ratting. Just warp between any of the planets in the system and make a bookmark through the people and places tab while in warp. Since you can still be found here using scanner probes, you should have a number of safe-spots and warp between them constantly until the enemy ship leaves the system. If an enemy fleet rolls into the system and you haven't been involved in PvP in the past 15 minutes, feel free to log off and your ship will disappear within a minute.
Ratting in nullsec is a great way to make ISK that a lot of people write off as too dangerous. With the right equipment, strategies and safety advice, it can be a relatively safe endeavour that will produce a significant stream of ISK. Hopefully this guide has given you the tools to launch a ratting expedition into nullsec and explore some empty systems. Who knows, maybe you'll find an officer and hit the jackpot!
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at massively.com. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you want to message him, send him an e-mail at brendan.drain AT weblogsinc DOT com.
Special thanks again go to reader "Benicio" for suggesting the topic for this guide!