Before I do that, I'd like to address the question of 'why lowsec?'. Many new players first travel into lowsec in search of profit - more expensive ores or higher-bounty NPCs. Let's be clear from the start; while there is good money to be made in lowsec, you're probably going to lose ships in the process and in all likelihood you'll turn less of a profit as a new player than you would in highsec. In fact, you may well make a loss to begin with. So why do it? For me, and for many others who enjoy the lowsec lifestyle, it's about the excitement and challenge of operating in lawless space; whether you're there for PVP or simply for the experience of living in the Eve equivalent of the wild west, day to day life in lowsec is never boring.
Getting to Know Your Neighbours
The biggest danger in lowsec is from other players. Not everyone will be out to get you - you'll encounter your fair share of mission runners, industrialists, and people simply passing through - however a large portion of the lowsec playerbase do get involved in PVP, and the likelihood of crossing paths with someone who wants to make your ship explode (often referred to as a pirate) is fairly high. Because of that, it's essential that you know who and what is around you at any given time.
Knowing who you're sharing your space with is actually quite easy; the local chat window gives you a list of everyone that's currently in your system, and updates immediately as people come and go. When you're operating in lowsec, I recommend splitting this channel off into its own window, and keeping it somewhere nice and visible.
You can find out more about pilots in local by right clicking their name and selecting 'show info'. This can be a good way to figure out who the PVPers are and who is likely to be a danger to you. Negative security status or membership of a corporation that describes itself as a PVP or piracy corp are both clear warning signs, however just because someone looks friendly doesn't necessarily mean that they really are; it's best to assume that any unknown pilot is a potential threat until you know otherwise. Here are a few examples that I encountered today:
|Negative sec status is a clear sign of a PVPer who is willing to shoot first in lowsec.|
A bounty doesn't necessarily mean they PVP, but it pays to be safe.
|Characters who've been in one of the NPC corps for a very long time are usually alts.|
While it's less likely that this is a PVPer, it could easily be a scout for someone who is.
|High sec status means that this character has done a lot of PvE, and doesn't have a|
history of shooting first in lowsec. They could be a mission runner, an alt, or just
someone who does their PVP elsewhere.
When you spot an obvious PVPer, it's a good idea to add them as a contact with low or terrible standing (right click their name and select 'add as contact', or even better - search for their corporation and then add the corp as a contact instead). This will give those pilots a red tag in local, helping you spot them quickly should you come across them again.
Think of local chat as an approximate measure of how dangerous a system is - the more unknown pilots or known PVPers that there are in local with you, the less of a good idea it is to hang around in that system looking like a juicy target. It also serves as an early warning system for new arrivals; when you see one or more new entries appear in the local list, you know that someone - potentially a hunting pirate or a gang of PVPers - has just come into system and they're likely to be active and looking around. Your next priority should be to figure out what they are.
Scanning for Activity
While monitoring local chat is incredibly useful in itself, you also have another tool at your disposal: the directional scanner, commonly known as 'd-scan'. You can open your scanner by clicking the button just to the left of your capacitor (the one that looks like a radar) while you're in space. There are a few tabs in this window, but the one you want is called, unsurprisingly, 'directional scanner'.
Your d-scan is an incredibly powerful tool, but for now we're going to stick to the basics. For advanced users, you can find my full guide here. What the d-scan does is ping the space around you, returning a list of all objects within a certain range of you in a particular direction. For our purposes, we just want to set it to the maximum range (fill the range box with a bunch of 9s, and it should default to the maximum range) and a 360 degree angle (drag the angle slider all the way to the right). This will return everything within about 14.3au of your ship, in any direction. Lastly, tick the box labelled 'use active overview settings'. Your scanner window should now look something like this:
|The directional scanner, set to maximum range.|
Try it out by hitting the 'scan' button, and you'll get a list of everything within range at that moment. Well, not quite everything; because you ticked that box above you'll only get the types of objects which would normally show up on your overview. This removes all the various detritus that usually litters a system, and makes it easier to spot the important things. What you're looking in particular are ships, specifically combat ships; when there's both an unknown pilot in local and one or more combat ships showing up on your d-scan, you should be very wary. Not every ship that appears on scan will necessarily be active - people often leave them unattended inside the forcefield of a player owned starbase (POS) - however when a ship appears on scan that wasn't there a moment ago, that's a reasonable indication that someone is out and about. D-scan doesn't update automatically, so keep hitting that 'scan' button as often as you can!
Unfortunately, you're not the only one with a d-scan - if a hostile ship is in range of your scanner, you're also going to be in range of theirs. A skilled operator can pinpoint your location relatively quickly purely using their d-scan, and could be in warp to your position (assuming you're at a publicly visible object like a planet or asteroid belt) within 30 seconds or less. In other words, you need to be on the ball and have an exit strategy ready the moment anyone new starts showing up on that scanner!
If you're not at a warpable location (that is, you're at a location which you can only warp to if you scan it down or have the bookmark, such as an NPC mission or at an exploration complex), you've got a little more time - while a hostile pilot might be able to locate you, they can't warp to you without the use of probes. Providing you have probes set to appear on your overview (you can find them under overview settings > filters), these should also appear on your directional scanner as 'combat scanner probe'*.
One final warning on the directional scanner: just because there are no ships on d-scan doesn't mean there aren't any ships there. Ships with a cloaking device activated will not appear on your d-scan, and some advanced ships can even warp around while cloaked. It's best to be vigilant whenever there is an unknown pilot in local, even if you can't see them on your scan.
* Deep space probes can also be used to find ships, but are much less common. Core probes will only locate sites, not ships, however if you're at an exploration site these could be used to locate the site that you're running and warp to that.
Getting Out of Dodge
If you wait until someone actually attacks you before attempting to escape, you're very unlikely to get away. In fact, even waiting for the potential hostile to appear in space beside you is probably leaving it too late - to have a good chance of survival, you need to be making your preparations the moment you start to suspect a threat, or ideally earlier!
There are a few general things that you can do to increase your likelihood of escape. The first is simply thinking carefully about what you do and where. Mining in a lowsec asteroid belt for example is particularly dangerous - it involves sitting stationary, close to the warp-in point of a publicly viewable location in a ship that has minimal defences. Mining in a site that you need to probe down is significantly safer, and running combat missions for an agent is safer again (since the sites are neither publicly available nor can they be scanned down without combat probes, and you're in a ship with some defensive capability).
While a tough combat ship might put off some hunters, most PVP-fit ships will be able to take on your mission running ship without too much difficulty. Even battleships are just a juicy target if they're not set up to fight other players. Rather than hoping to fight off your attackers, the best defence is simply not being there when they arrive. Flying a small, agile ship like a frigate will increase your chances of warping out before you get caught, as will fitting modules to increase your agility (such as nanofiber internal structures, aka 'nanos'). If you want to, you can also fit some warp core stabilizers (commonly referred to as 'stabs') - a low slot module which increases your resistance to warp scrambling at the expense of weakening your ship's targeting ability. The Venture mining frigate actually comes with the equivalent of two stabs built in to the hull, which makes it especially popular for lowsec use.
Simple things like the positioning your ship in space can make a big difference. Don't just sit where you landed when you warped in - incoming pirates will probably land there too. The further away from that spot you are, the more time you're likely to have to escape before they can get you scrambled. If possible, keep your ship aligned to an object that you can warp out to if the need arises (aligning means moving at full speed directly towards the object, and means that when you hit the warp button your ship will enter warp immediately rather than having to speed up first). Some activities, particularly mining, can be difficult to do while aligned due to the risk of flying out of range of the rock that you're trying to mine. In this situation, make sure you've decided which object you're going to warp out to in advance, and start aligning to it any time you see something suspicious on your scanner. Good objects to align to are stations (since you can dock), stargates which lead to highsec (since you can jump to safety), or objects which are clustered in a group to make it more difficult for your pursuer to see which one you warped to. Remember that just because you managed to escape doesn't mean you're safe - as soon as you come out of warp in your new location, you should warp again to throw off pursuit (unless you warped to a station or gate, in which case you should jump through or dock). If there's no station on hand, the next best option is to create something called a safe spot.
A safe spot is a point in empty space, ideally as far away as possible from any warpable objects (planets, belts, etc). Safe spots need to be created in advance, however once you're there it will be very difficult to locate you without scanner probes. The process for creating a safe spot is simple: open your people & places window, and warp to a distant object. Part way through the warp, click the 'add bookmark' button and quickly press 'ok' - this will save the location you were at when you clicked the button, allowing you to warp back to it (you'll find it in your normal right click menu, as well as saved in the people & places window).
This kind of safe spot (known as a 'mid safe') isn't very secure - due to the way that Eve processes warps, someone warping between the same objects and placing a bookmark in roughly the same place could end up with an almost identical spot. You can make your safe spot much safer by warping to it and then repeating the process by warping to another location from there. Looking at the solar system map and picking objects which keep you as far away from everything else as possible will make it safer still.
Despite the name, safe spots aren't completely safe - a determined hunter can find your approximate location and then bring in someone with combat probes to scan you down. Keep an eye on your d-scan while you're at your safe spot, and try to stay aligned to something just in case anybody turns up. If you see combat scanner probes appear on your d-scan, it's time to move! It's a good idea to set up multiple safe spots in advance in any system that you frequent, allowing you to warp between them rather than always returning to the same one.
One of the most notorious dangers of lowsec is the dreaded gate camp. True gate camps (rather than a bunch of pirates who simply happen to be on a gate when they catch you) involve coordinated gangs of ships set up to ambush targets coming through a stargate. Most gate camps will feature fast-locking ships to catch you before you can warp, and they will generally use a scout (possibly a cloaked one) on the other side of the gate to let them know when a potential target will be coming through.
While you will encounter gate camps like this from time to time, they're usually in fairly predictable locations where the campers can guarantee plenty of traffic: entry systems from busy highsec areas, direct lowsec routes between major trade hubs, or choke points between busy regions of lowsec are all popular spots. If you can avoid these areas, then the likelihood of you encountering a genuine gate camp will actually be fairly low. That doesn't mean gates are safe of course - gates are the most likely place that you'll encounter other people, including player pirates. In fact often when people think they've encountered a gate camp, they've just happened to arrive at a gate at the same time as somebody else (who may or may not be hostile).
While encountering a priate (or gang of pirates) on a gate is still a real danger, it's much less so than if you'd run into a properly coordinated gate camp; the travelling pirate is unlikely to have their ship set up for fast locking, nor will they necessarily be flying something that's suitable for fighting on a gate. Light ships like frigates will often be unable to attack you safely on a gate, due to the defensive sentry guns which will open fire on them if they do so. Finally, the roaming pirate is less likely to have a scout on the far side of the gate, and will not necessarily know who you are or what you're flying until you attempt to warp away. In fact if they've just arrived, they might not even have seen the gate flash when you came in and could be completely unaware of your presence. These factors work in your favour - you have a full 60 seconds before your ship will become visible (as long as you don't do anything after jumping into the system), so take your time to think through your options and give the other pilot a chance to move on. Check out their information, and see whether they do indeed appear to be a pirate or simply another passing traveller.
If your opponent isn't going anywhere (or if you've been unlucky enough to jump into a coordinated gate camp) then you have two options - you can try to warp off, or try to get back to the gate. If you're in a fast ship like a frigate, there's a good chance that you will be able to warp off before anybody can get you scrambled. As before, try to warp to a station, a stargate, or an object which is bunched up with other celestials to throw off pursuit. Ships set up with sensor boosters for fast locking might cause you a problem - if you look closely, you can tell whether someone is running one of these modules by the visual effect it creates:
|This ship is running a sensor booster, and will probably|
be able to lock more quickly than normal.
If you're not confident that you can get into warp before they can catch you, your remaining option is to try and reach the gate again and jump back through. Since your opponents should get a weapons flag from attacking you, they won't be able to follow you for 60 seconds. For this to work, you really need to have a microwarpdrive (MWD) fitted or at the very least an afterburner (AB). Simply hit 'jump' on the gate that you came through, activate your MWD or AB, and pray.
The most important thing to remember is not to panic - take your time, assess the situation, and then make the best decision that you can.
Dealing With Loss
No matter how careful you are, you're probably going to lose a ship eventually. In all likelihood, you will lose ships fairly regularly as you get used to lowsec life. It's important that those losses don't bankrupt you, which is where the golden rule of Eve comes in:
Don't fly what you can't afford to lose.
This is true no matter what you're doing, but it's especially true when you're living in lowsec since the chance of losing your ship is higher. If you can afford to replace ten frigates but only one cruiser, fly frigates until you can afford more cruisers. If you can't afford to lose anything, go and make a little more money in highsec before venturing into low. Whatever you do, don't go loading up your most expensive ship with all of your possessions and fly that in - yes, I've seen people do it. A good rule of thumb is to treat any ship that you take into lowsec as already lost - you just get to keep using it for a while before giving it up.
Just because someone blew up your ship doesn't make them an asshole - PVP in Eve is a lot of fun, and while there are exceptions it's my experience that most lowsec pirates are actually really nice guys (or gals). As weird as it may sound, the people who eventually catch you are arguably the best people to look to for advice - they know exactly how they caught you, and will have a good idea of what you could have done to escape from them. With that in mind, rather than getting mad when someone destroys your ship - which hopefully you were already prepared for anyway, if you've been following my advice - I recommend dropping a courteous 'gf' (standing for 'good fight') in local chat and asking your killer(s) what you should have done differently. Not everyone will respond, but most pirates will react very well to a new player who seems eager to learn and it's not unusual for them to go well out of their way dispensing advice, local knowledge, and occasionally reasonable sums of isk to someone who shows the right attitude.
While staying around and chatting is a good idea, safety should still be your main priority. In particular, you want to make sure you don't lose your pod. There's a trick to this - as soon as you know that your ship is going down, select any distant celestial object (a planet, belt, gate, etc) and start spamming the warp button over and over. Don't stop hitting that button until your pod has safely warped out of the fight. If you do this right, you should find that your pod enters warp the instant your ship is destroyed, leaving no time for your attacker to catch it. Again, you could be followed so don't just sit where you come out of warp - get yourself to a safe spot or docked in a station before you consider letting your guard down.
Occasionally, a pirate might decide to offer to let you pay a ransom instead of destroying your ship or pod. Whether you accept this or not is up to you, but bear in mind that not all pirates will honour the terms of their ransom agreement. Some pirate corporations (such as my own corp, The Tuskers) are well known for always honouring ransoms, however others are not and there's a chance that even after paying the ransom they might still destroy your ship. When making your decision it might help to look at your captor's corporation details and ask any friends that you have whether they know if the corp is likely to honour ransoms. If you accept a ransom and it is honoured, I recommend leaving the system and operating elsewhere for a while - an honoured ransom will usually mean letting you leave, but doesn't make you safe if the same person catches you again later.
Above all else, don't be put off by your losses; survival in lowsec is a skill that takes practice, and everyone loses some ships in the process. In the end, it's worth it - trust me.