Captain. 3 Klingons have beamed onto the ship. It is illogical, the laws of physics should not allow for teleportation.

So how do you board a spaceship that is able to defend itself without teleportation?

I am aware of this question How can a pirate board a spaceship without teleportation? but it only seems to answer what would happen boarding a defenseless ship. In this case the accepted answer involves space harpoons, which would likely be broken off by shots from the spaceship being boarded if it had any kind of defenses.

So my question is would there be any way to board a spaceship given that:

  • Any process that is easily disrupted by enemy fire is out.

  • Any process that takes excessive time is out of the equation as it would likely provide time for your ship to be destroyed.

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    $\begingroup$ standard operating procedure suggests you hack into the energy shield generator to find out its harmonic frequency which is unique to each and every ship, thereafter disable the shield and threaten them with photon torpedoes also you may prepare a boarding crews to negotiate their surrender. In reality it is usually the other way around! in which case the cunning captain would voluntarily become their prisoner somehow and disable their weapon and defense system from the inside. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Sep 6 '17 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ Surely it's just a matter of heavy armour/shields on the boarding ship? You started with a Star Trek reference, so assuming the Star Trek world, shuttles can already withstand several phaser hits before being destroyed. Sending a bunch of heavily armoured ones would surely address the problem. $\endgroup$ – colmde Sep 6 '17 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ Boarding a hostile ship is one of the most dangerous activities undertaken by naval and maritime police. Very good question. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Mar 11 at 3:39

Ramship. piledriver ramship

from https://forum.keenswh.com/threads/comprehensive-weapons-thread.6617764/

  1. Ram spike into enemy ship.
  2. Extend barbs so ships remain attached by spike.
  3. Send space marines in through fenestrated spike.
  4. Rinse. Repeat.

This strategy is taken from the mating strategy of male bedbugs: traumatic insemination. Bedbug penises are sharp needles and rather than scout out some purpose-developed route for sex, they inseminate the female (or another male!) by making a hole anyplace available and injecting the sperm.

from http://www.bedbugblog.ca/bed-bug-intercourse-traumatic-insemination/ traumatic insemination bedbug closeup



Lampreys are ancient fish with a feeding tactic well suited to a boarding party. The lamprey latches on to its victim with circles of teeth and hangs on. Once attached a rasping tongue carves a hole. lamprey jaws lamprey attached to fish

The nice thing for the lamprey is that the tight seal made by the circle of teeth means that whatever flows out of the prey flows into the lamprey. For a boarding party with a lamprey ship a tight seal means a reasonable chance that atmosphere might be maintained inside the ship boarded despite the new hole in the bulkhead.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems very unrealistic, as any non perfect collision risks destroying both ships. $\endgroup$ – Braydon Sep 6 '17 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Braydon: true also for the ramships of old. But the ancients did not get all the simulator time our pilots do. $\endgroup$ – Willk Sep 6 '17 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ I guess with a sufficiently powerful computer calculating you trajectory this might work. Talking about bedbug penises doesn't make it better though. $\endgroup$ – Braydon Sep 7 '17 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Braydon: It never does. But I keep trying. $\endgroup$ – Willk Sep 7 '17 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ Ram spike into enemy ship and flood it with bedbug sperm. The enemy crew will jump ship and their vessel will be yours for the taking. $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 11 at 3:49

Adapt strategies used by terrestrial navies and police. Boarding a hostile ship is one of the most dangerous activities that individual sailors undertake.

  1. Stealth - this is one of the strategies used by Somali pirates. Make contact with the target in the still of night, quietly place your armed crew around the ship, then round up the ships crew and lock them up.

  2. Overwhelming firepower - the odds of survival are less bad if the ships crew surrenders than if they fight.

  3. Shock - hit the ship with something hard enough to send the crew into physical shock (bombs), then board while the crew and/or ship is incapacitated.

  4. Swarming - this is the strategy the Iranian navy claims to be practicing. Attack a ship with many smaller speed boats, expecting heavy losses, get in too close for them to bring weapons to bear, then board. The more people are involved with repelling boarders, the less they are attacking your swarm.

  • $\begingroup$ With option three is the idea to also incapacitate the ship somehow? If not it doesn't really ask the question, as fighting on board is not the issue, but rather how to safely get on board. $\endgroup$ – Braydon Sep 6 '17 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ The idea is to make the ships defences and defenders ineffective for enough time for your crew to get aboard. On terrestrial ships, the defenders will begin anti-personnell operations as soon as the attackers are to close to bring the shop to ship armaments to bear. In a space battle where boarding is expected, you would expect to face the same sort of defence strategy. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Sep 6 '17 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ As stated, it's incredibly dangerous. I'd say that unless you can get on board by stealth or deception, then there's no way you'd try and board a vessel that is defending itself - there's a very good reason why boarding hasn't been part of naval combat for centuries. If you want to board an enemy ship, get them to surrender first. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Sep 6 '17 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ @MattBowyer , I beg to differ - boarding is still an area of active naval training (youtube.com/watch?v=3No6Sl1nFZs) and tactical research (tactdb.blogspot.com/2014/03/modern-naval-boarding-tactics.html) . However, the objective must be worth the risk. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Sep 6 '17 at 15:01

Given the extreme speeds of orbital and interplanetary travel, the biggest problem of all for boarding actions is the amount of kinetic energy that a boarding craft or even a single armoured Space Marine would deliver if they crash into the enemy ship.

Ke=1/2Mv^2, and in Earth orbit "v" is just over 7*kilometres* per second. At that speed, flecks of paint which peeled off boosters become astoundingly dangerous:

enter image description here

Now imagine if this was an astronaut hitting the window....

A landing or boarding craft will be moving at high relative speeds in order to quickly close the gap, and will probably be making very hard "jinking" manoeuvres in an attempt to avoid missiles, kinetic energy rounds and laser fire. In any "realistic" scenario, this is a doomed quest, since real space warships may have megawatt to gigawatts of energy at their disposal and be capable of firing a Ravening Beam of Death (RBoD) laser capable of vapourizing steel, ceramic or carbon fibre in milliseconds at a range of one light second, just under the distance from the Earth to the Moon. In contrast, the New Horizons spaceship, one of the fastest ones ever launched, took 9 hours to go from the Earth to the Moon. That gives the RBoD 32400 seconds to slice the boarding craft into fine shavings.

enter image description here

RBoD as outlined by Luke Campbell. If you are in orbit around the Moon when this thing fires in Earth orbit you are in real trouble....

Assuming you have handwaved the setting so no one has weapons of that calibre, then designing your boarding craft should be relatively straight forward. You need to accelerate and decelerate quickly, plus have the manoeuvrability to jink and avoid enemy fire, as well as crashing into exposed radiators and structures at 7Km/sec. The crew will be in a well armoured sphere in the core of the structure, and I picture it being in the centre of a ring of fuel and reaction mass tanks to provide protection from radiation and enemy fire. A ring of powerful rocket thrusters surround the equator to provide the manoeuvrability.

In order to actually get aboard, there will be a series of grapples at the "front" to latch onto the enemy craft. One or more guns will be mounted in this area as well to deal with close in defence of the landing craft. The surprise is the "Corvus", an extendable tunnel with a large diameter cutting head to carve a hole in the enemy ship so the marines can enter.

The Corvus is named after the ancient Roman boarding system, which essentially threw a gangplank onto the enemy ship and held it there with spikes so Roman Legionaries could rush across and board.

enter image description here

Corvus mounted on a Roman warship

enter image description here

This image of a 60's era "space tug" gives you a bit of an idea. Note the boarding craft will be quite large in of itself

enter image description here

1980's era MOVERS OTV. If you wrap the fuel tanks around the central cylinder you get a more compact and better protected spaceship to visualize as the boarding spacecraft

So in real terms, boarding a non cooperative spacecraft isn't going to be a thing in any hot (shooting) war, and even with handwaves you will need a rather large spacecraft to carry out boarding missions (even recovery of damaged spaceships will require something on this size and scope).

As always YMMV.

  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't the Beam of Death laser be deflected by means similar to those used inside the beam? It seems like by having a material capable of reflecting X-rays well, and using a V shaped elongated bow would allow you to deflect it, as it would always hit at an angle if you were headed toward it. I'm actually kind of surprised not to see heavily armored ships given as examples. $\endgroup$ – Braydon Sep 6 '17 at 6:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Braydon I don't think it works like that. The trick here is that the mirrors in the weapon are much larger, which massively decreases the amount of energy that hits each area unit of the mirror. Since there is no such thing as 100% reflectivity, if the power of said rbod is concentrated on a small enough area, you will fail at dissipating the heat fast enough to not have a problem. You would also need to have a mirror specific to the beams wave lengths to achieve maximum reflectivity. Not a physicist though, so take it with a grain ;) $\endgroup$ – Doomed Mind Sep 6 '17 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ RBOD sounds like a legitimate target worth the risk of a boarding operation $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Sep 6 '17 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ Doomed Mind is quite correct, the aiming mirrors of a laser weapon are much larger than the spot on the target. RBoD's are pumping energy at a rate of Gigawatts per second, which explains why they are carving through structural beams and other parts of your spacecraft in milliseconds, dissipation of energy is virtually impossible at that rate. As for boarding a RBoD, first you have to get to it, and a beam which can cut steel at 300,000km is still dangerous one light minute or even a light hour away... $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 6 '17 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DoomedMind It seems though that such a weapon would be incapable of targeting precisely enough to continuously hit a single spot on a rapidly moving boarding ship. Even so I suppose it could probably cut through any mirror. I still think there would be a way around it though if you used a mostly transparent material that can diffract and disperse the light before it hits the mirror, while not absorbing enough light to liquefy itself. $\endgroup$ – Braydon Sep 8 '17 at 0:09

The distance between ships is going to be a big problem. So is the impact speed. Shuttling a boarding party over would take to long and so would cutting through the hull. Plus the cost of life support for the hours or even days of travel.

Solution: Boarding torpedoes full of murder bots. Murder bots don't need life support and should not be sentient enough to care about how dangerous the action is. They also don't care about decompressive hull breaches. Making holds in the enemy ship could even be their focus.

The torpedoes simply smash into the enemy ship, maybe plasma cut their way in and make murder happen. They have the added bonus of being completely expendable.


real world examples with caveatI would assume, it works similar to what current anti-pirate operations are doing, or the german submarine commerce raiders did before convoys and unrestricted warfare was a thing.

You get in range, and try to intimidate using escalating means, like from machine-gun to recoilless rifle to whatever is the next in line, and destroy the morale of the target until he is unwilling to defend himself, force him to power down drive and weapons, then board them with a sciff if possible, or with a breaching pod if necessary.

If just intimidating is not successful, you can hit it with something just powerful enough to disable critical systems like CIWS, Drive System, Life Support or Sensors to decrease the likelihood of surviving alone in the future if they don't surrender.

Afterwards, the boarding is more or less a securing op rather than an actual boarding.

But, with this you could argue that this isn't really boarding during combat, albeit technically the fight is not over until the target is secured.

The only way I see combat boarding as a tactic in battle feasible it's by using non-people as boarding parties, like robots/androids, perhaps purpose built.

Either use breaching pods to deliver them or just release a large cloud of them driven by Inertia, decelerating only precisely timed before impact, so their hardware still works, then beach the hull at wherever the target vessels structure is weakest.

This would work very well when those boarding robots are simple and cheap.

Let them disable the defences, then board them with people using sciffs


You actually have a lot of options:

  • Stealth boarding craft might be a good option. They can't shoot at you if they can't see you coming.
  • Hijacked shuttle might work too. If it is a carrier of some sort and is expecting some sort of shuttle craft or even fighters to board, they could be hijacked craft full of pirates.
  • Full scale assault could be a more exciting method as well. Say a single or even a few military ships are ambushed by a pirate squadron that simply keeps the major guns occupied with heavy fire while the boarding craft jump the gap.

It really all depends on what the situation requires, and that was just a few ways I thought of off the top of my head. Maybe provide a few more details for a more precise answer.

  • $\begingroup$ Re: the shuttle - a properly run ship would use quality identification, which might be visual. You'd need a way to counter that. $\endgroup$ – Tim Sep 6 '17 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ There is no stealth in space. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/23313/… $\endgroup$ – katzenhut Sep 6 '17 at 8:36

Boarding can only be successful on an unaware or unresisting ship. There are just too many ways to defend against boarders (including maneuvering).

After that boarding methods depend on whether you want the crew/passengers of the target vesicle alive. If not, go in with full suits and use breacher rounds. If you want to take them alive, you have to bring an airlock with you.


There is always stealth.

You are not using the mark one eyeball to do detecting in space. Takes to long to enter data. Therefore you must be using some sort of electronic detection system. Any electronic detecting system can be spoofed. The smaller the ship the better. Radar jamming system and optical jamming systems are already being used.

All ships have have a way of entering them built into them these are the fastest way to enter any ship. The tricky part is forcing the ship you want to board into your boarding party. Whom you have placed before you drive the ship you wish into them. They can not use any energy until they are ready to actively board because that energy can be detected.

Some form of netting that can be placed in space and left there for a day or longer this holds your boarding party and brings them into contact with the ship to be boarded. Once they are in contact with the ship all they have to do is enter the ship with breaching charges, if you only want the ship and not its crew, if you want the crew blow the ship apart then retrieve the crew as they enter life pods. This means that you must use your ship or ships in such a way as to force the ship to be boarded to go were you want it to go, not easy but doable. They either chase you or you chase them into the net.

The net has to be able to go from a relative dead stop to the ships speed with contact with the ship. The boarding party has to be able to reach the ships speed but need not do so as quickly if the net can stretch. (This is they way aircraft land on carriers at sea. It is also they way air drops are made from air craft today.) Is such a material around today I don't know.

The boarders must be packaged for the forces they will encounter but we air drop the most delicate equipment today so it is possible. There you have a boarding plan with about a 99.9%+ fail rate.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site dragon, please take the tour and read up in our help centre about how we work: How to Ask Good first answer, I've edited the format to make it a little less a wall of text. $\endgroup$ – Confounded by beige fish. Mar 11 at 3:57

Zap the enemy ship's engines with powerful lasers.

The only real defense against lasers is not being on their path. You can only see them when they hit your sensors because physics is a cruel mistress.

Once a ship has lost engines during interplanetary travel, they will ask to be boarded. With a white flag. The reason being that their alternatives are:

  • Give up and keep trajectory, which causes them to either impact against their destination or flyby around it. In both cases they would do so at bat out of hell speeds. For example, supposing they are headed towards Earth, they will be passing by eleven point two kilometers per second relative to the planet at the slowest. Coming from outside the solar system, the slowest speed of a crash or flyby would be closer to eighteen kilometers per second. Flybies are more probable, but any rescue missions from then on will be prohibitively expensive.

  • Pray that help comes before you can blow up whatever is left of them.

  • Crew suicide.


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