‘Sea of Thieves’ beginners guide to sailing and plundering

20 tips to help you pirate and plunder in 'Sea of Thieves'

Cooperative piracy simulator Sea of Thieves is a game that drops players right off the plank and into the deep end of the ocean as soon as they start it up. There is little or no explanation of how most things work in the game, from sailing to completing voyages. All of it is picked up through experience as you play, which is part of what makes Sea of Thieves interesting. There are tons of little nuances, best practices and skills, however, that you need to become an effective pirate.

If you want to win sea battles, escape plunderers, gather treasure and generally be the best pirate on the Sea of Thieves, there is a lot to learn. Luckily, these 20 tips will make you an effective sailor, a deft brawler and a smart privateer when you join up with a crew. Going it alone has its perks as well, so check out our tips for your lone pirate voyages.

If you’re not doing anything, work the sails

sea of thieves beginners guide work the sails

It’s handy to set jobs at the start of a voyage so everyone knows their role on your ship, but the reality of Sea of Thieves is that a lot of the time, you will be running from spot to spot, dealing with whatever is coming at you. You often find yourself scanning the horizon, grabbing the wheel for a second to make course corrections, and dropping below deck to make repairs or check your map all in the space of a couple of minutes.

One thing every member of a crew has to be on top of, though, is working the sails. Especially on the big ship, you constantly need to balance speed and maneuverability to be effective, and that means cutting sail to make tighter turns and adjusting your sail angles to pick up more wind. In a battle situation, controlling your sails becomes paramount as you work to avoid taking fire while angling to get a shot at enemies. If you have nothing to do at any moment, be sure to check the sails and communicate with your crew to work them.

Always post a lookout

sea of thieves beginners guide post a lookout

The pirate life includes a lot of other pirates who want to steal your stuff or just generally bother you. Being aware of the locations of other ships around you on the sea is essential to staying alive. The upshot of sailing is that it takes a long time for ships to get to you, so you often have time to react — but only if you see other people coming. When you leave your ship to pursue an objective, it’s best to leave a lookout if you can spare one. If you don’t, you risk finding yourself ambushed while people are off the ship or in the water, which can get you sunk, killed, and robbed. It’s not always the most glamorous job, but keeping watch is essential to staying alive.

Choose your weapons carefully

sea of thieves beginners guide choose your weapons

When you start Sea of Thieves, you pack a cutlass and a flintlock pistol, but you have some additional weapons options waiting for you in the hold of your ship. On the galleon, you’ll find the weapons locker on the mid-deck at the front of the ship, where you can restock on ammo and switch your weapon complement. There are three options for guns to carry into battle: The pistol, a decently strong, accurate mid-range weapon; the blunderbuss, a devastating close-range shotgun; and the “eye of reach” sniper rifle, which obviously packs a longer range. The pistol will get you by in most situations, but don’t be afraid to change things up, carry two guns, or diversify what your whole crew is carrying. Blunderbusses, for instance, are great for stopping boarders with a single close-up shot, and the eye of reach might help you kill gunners on a nearby ship. The pistol can drop skeletons in a single shot, keeping you from getting surrounded. Experiment with all the weapons to find out what you’re good with and what the situation demands. Having the right tool for the job can save your life — and your ship.

Dump your cannonballs and wood before leaving the ship

sea of theives single player guide always be stocking

Your ship is stocked with planks for repairs, bananas for health, and cannonballs for battle every time you start a game, but that stock can get depleted in a hurry when you’re on voyages and in battles. Make it a practice to search the barrels you find on every island for more resources. You can only carry a set number on your person (five planks, five bananas, and 10 cannonballs), though, so the best practice is to empty your pockets and store everything you have every time you leave your ship, to replenish your stocks on the island. Be sure to remember to dump everything before you leave, and you will quickly stockpile a ton of resources. Your forethought will pay off if you find yourself in a battle, when the difference between winning and losing can come down to having enough planks to patch holes and enough cannonballs to outlast the other ship.

Sword-thrust into the water for a speed boost

sea of thieves beginners guide sword thrust

Getting on and off your ship quickly is an important skill to master in Sea of Thieves since you never know when a situation might arise when you need to be ready to fight. One handy little skill to master is using the sword thrust. The move, which is executed by holding down the attack button for a few seconds to charge it up, sends your character lunging forward to stab with his sword, dealing massive damage; in fact, the move can kill multiple regular-level skeletons in one hit. Do that move off the side of a ship or dock, though, and it will send you flying, propelling you through the water below at a crazy high rate of speed. If you need to get back to your ship in a hurry, it can be a great move to cut down on swim time. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Use gunpowder barrels to surprise your pursuers

sea of thieves beginners guide gunpowder barrel

As you explore islands, you will sometimes find red gunpowder barrels. You can shoot these to blow them up, but they’re also items you can pick up and take with you. Powder barrels are extremely volatile and dangerous, but also extremely useful. You can drop them off the back of your ship while being chased to create mines that will deal huge damage to enemy ships if they hit them, for instance. Another great use of gunpowder barrels is taking them with you when you board an enemy ship. Use a barrel as a bomb in an enemy hold and you will all but sink them in one blast, if you can manage to avoid detection long enough to execute the maneuver.

The trick with gunpowder is storing it. Barrels can explode from a stray shot while you’re fighting on your deck, or if they get hit by cannonballs, even when you store them in your hold. That makes them a pretty big danger to you, as well as to other people. Experiment with finding a good place to store them — you want them out of the way and in a place where they’re not likely to be found by boarders and hopefully, less likely to get nailed by a cannonball in the heat of battle. The longer a gunpowder barrel is on your ship, the more likely it is that it will hurt you instead of an opponent, so the best practice is to find a use for it sooner, rather than later.

Constantly scan the horizon

sea of thieves beginners guide scan the horizon

You don’t have to fight any pirates you find on the high seas, but you should always be ready for battle, since starting a fight isn’t always up to you. Once you have cargo in your hold, you become especially vulnerable, since you can lose it if your ship sinks or if someone manages to steal it. For that reason, the most important tool in your kit is the spyglass, and whenever you’re sailing, you should keep it handy. Always be on the lookout for ships in the distance, and be sure to clock their position and heading whenever you can. You can usually see ships coming from a long way off if you’re vigilant. Knowing where other people are, and keeping an eye on them, is the first step toward avoiding a watery grave.

The more stuff you have, the more vulnerable you are

sea of thieves single player guide drive by drop off

While it can be tempting to hit multiple islands and pick up a ton of treasure, especially as you progress through the game and voyages get more complex, resist the urge to pick up a whole bunch of stuff before turning it in. The more stuff you have on your ship, the harder it will be when you lose it — and you will definitely lose stuff from time to time, due to mishaps like storms or attacks from other players. How much you carry around spells the difference between whether being sunk is a minor inconvenience or a massive letdown.

For that reason, it’s always good to plan voyages ahead of time and to have a good sense of where the nearest outposts are. If you get into an emergency situation, you can head for an outpost and drop crew members off while you sail by, so they can swim onto shore and turn stuff in, even while the rest of you are fighting. Try to keep your voyages manageable and your routes clear so that if plunderers come, you won’t be cursing the developers at Rare for all your precious booty that wound up at the bottom of the sea.

Don’t skip shipwrecks

sea of thieves beginners guide shipwrecks

While you will constantly be getting new voyages from outpost islands all over the Sea of Thieves, especially in the early going, the rewards will be fairly minimal. There are a few ways to pick up additional rewards while you’re out on voyages, though, and the biggest one is stopping to investigate shipwrecks. You’ll know them by the flock of birds circling a spot in the water, which indicates a sunk ship just below the surface (and sometimes sticking out of it). Swim down and check the holds and captain’s quarters and you will often find high-level treasure chests and bounties, as well as saleable items like spices and tea. Shipwrecks will often yield better rewards than the things you find on the missions you’re trying to complete.

There are a few things you need to be cautious about when diving, though. Shipwrecks always attract sharks within a few moments of your arrival, so the best approach is to dive down with a few crew members to get everything they have quickly. Once sharks are in the water, you’re pretty much too vulnerable to continue your salvage, so go fast. Investigating shipwrecks also leave you highly vulnerable to attack because they have good rewards and leave you anchored in the middle of nowhere — so make sure you keep someone watching the horizon for anyone coming to steal your plunder.

Check for damage during storms

sea of thieves beginners guide storm repairs

Storms can mess you up pretty good in Sea of Thieves. They can knock out your compass and kill your visibility, making navigation all but impossible, and the rougher the seas get, the more damage your ship will take just from sailing. In a storm situation, keep an eye on the integrity of your hull below deck. You’ll likely spring leaks, and if you’re not paying attention, you can take on a lot of water in a hurry. Storms also have a tendency to damage your ship in places you might not normally spot, like on the mid-deck of the galleon, or behind the navigation map of the sloop. Those holes won’t leak as fast, but they can still be deadly if they go unrepaired.

Your life (and your ship) are kind of expendable

sea of thieves single player guide losing

It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but if you die or lose your ship in Sea of Thieves, it’s only a few moments before you’re back in the game and at full strength. The only thing that is a pain to replace if you lose it is your cargo — once you sell treasure chests, bounty skulls or merchant items, the money is yours to keep and nobody can take it from you. For that reason, you shouldn’t always be afraid to sacrifice your life for the good of your crew, or your ship for the good of ruining someone else’s day. If you’re not carrying any cargo, the worst you will suffer is a minor inconvenience. That doesn’t mean you should be reckless, but it does mean that if sending one person as a boarder to slow down an enemy ship could be useful, go for it. Even if they fail or die, they will respawn on your ship within a few moments.

Ramming speed!

sea of thieves beginners guide ram things

For all the time you spend repairing your ship, it can be counterintuitive to use it as a weapon. Ramming enemies, though, is a highly effective way to wreck them and win the day. It seems the ships in Sea of Thieves are pretty tough in the front, and if you can ram an enemy, you’ll do massive damage while taking relatively little yourself. Especially when sailing a sloop against a galleon, consider turning your agile little ship into a weapon. Ramming enemies is also a good way to make it possible to quickly and easily board them, so keep it in mind as a part of your arsenal in a sticky situation.

A fight will never end until you sink their ship (or someone escapes)

sea of theives single player guide battles

Battles in Sea of Thieves can be long, arduous and difficult. It’s tough to keep up with an enemy ship on the high seas, and getting into firing position often takes some strategic thinking of moves and counter-moves. The good news is that you can respawn if you die in the middle of battle, allowing you to rejoin your crew and help them out. The bad news is, the other crew can do the same thing — which mean if you’re trying to get rid of someone who just won’t leave you alone, you have to take more drastic measures. That specifically means sinking enemy ships, or finding a way to outpace them so as to no longer be worth the pursuit. If you sink a ship, its crew is forced to respawn with it on an island. That means the only way to really get rid of anyone, at least for a time, is to send them to the inky depths.

In our time playing Sea of Thieves, we found ourselves coming up against the same ships and groups of sailors again and again. If you tend to hang around in a specific area of the map, expect to see the same people over and over again. Keep that in mind before getting into a battle, because being harassed by the same angry crew of pirates while you’re trying to dig up treasure can get frustrating.

Practice dropping anchor for hard turns

sea of thieves single player guide always be ready to go

The anchor is a specifically useful tool when sailing. Obviously, it’s handy to keep your ship from drifting when you’re not aboard, but really, you don’t need it for that very often, since Sea of Thieves doesn’t include much in the way of drift for your ships. The anchor is much more useful for stopping your ship quickly, or when in battle situations, making extremely hard to turn almost instantly — kind of like using the emergency brake on a car. This is actually a real-world sailing maneuver called “clubhauling.”

To make an anchor turn, you need to spin the wheel of your ship all the way one way, then drop anchor. The ship will basically stop dead while spinning hard on the axis of the anchor chain, effectively giving you a giant turn in the direction the wheel is turned. The trick to making the anchor turn effective is coordination with your crew. If you’re on a galleon, raising the anchor can take a lot of time and effort, so you need everyone to start raising the anchor basically as soon as it hits. You also need to quickly get on the wheel to keep from turning too far in one direction or the other as soon as the anchor is raised back up, and you need the rest of your crew adjusting your sails to take advantage of your new bearing.

Leave your sails up and anchor raised for quick getaways

sea of thieves beginners guide raise sails and anchor

As noted, you don’t usually need your anchor to keep your boat rooted when you stop at islands. In fact, it’s a better policy no matter the size of your ship to raise your sails and your anchor every time you stop at an island. Your ship won’t move except for some slight drifting with your sails up (unless you’re in a storm) and raised sails make your ship tougher to distinguish at a distance. Better still, raising your anchor takes a long time on big ships especially — if you preemptively raise it, you can more easily make a quick escape in an emergency, since all you have to do is drop your sails and you’re off. Whether on a galleon or a sloop, make a policy of raising anchor before you leave your ship for when you need to make a quick getaway.

Store your treasure in sneaky places

sea of thieves beginners guide hide your stuff

Eventually, you will be boarded and maybe even robbed. Clandestine pirates can quietly swim up to your ship, especially when you’re away, and check your hold for anything valuable. It may be tough to avoid a determined burglar, but in most situations, you can confound those pirates at least a little by hiding your treasure in tough-to-spot places. Some of our favorites include behind the captain’s table (or the navigation table on sloops), where they’re less obvious. On big ships, try putting your chests behind the staircases down to the holds, on the balcony behind the captain’s quarters, or near the clothing, equipment and vanity chests on the mid-deck, where they might blend in. Glowing skulls are a bit more obvious, but if you don’t mind them being hard to retrieve for your crew, you can stash them in the crow’s nest as well. Think about where you don’t go very often on your ship, and don’t put things in obvious spots. Sea of Thieves also currently lets you pile chests and skulls on top of each other to occupy the same space, which can help hide multiple items so they look like just one. That might be a bug that gets patched, but for now, take advantage.

Fire yourself from the cannon to save time when you land

sea of thieves beginners guide launch yourself from a cannon

A trick that sometimes gets overlooked is the fact that you can shoot yourself out of a cannon as well as cannonballs. To do that, make sure the cannon is empty, then look at the end of the barrel while standing on the deck to get the option to climb in. If you’re alone, you have to aim the cannon first, since you can’t do it from inside, but if you have a crew, they can do the shooting for you. Firing yourself from the cannon is a quick way to get onto islands you need to search, and is also handy in a fight, allowing you to attempt to board a distant ship. You need to practice to get the hang of the distance and arc of how you fly through the air, though, so don’t sleep on trying the cannon out until you absolutely need it.

Be friendly to mix things up (or to get in close for the kill)

sea of thieves beginners guide be friendly

Sea of Thieves is a social game, and when you near other players who aren’t on your crew, they can hear you talking through your microphone thanks to proximity voice chat. You will often meet hostile players, but not everybody is mean — and sometimes, even people who sink you or kill you will want to chat. Making friends is likely to be vital for certain activities, like taking down the big forts marked by skull clouds as you sail around. Relatedly, you can also use your silver tongue to talk your way close to pirates you mean to murder. Don’t discount the fact that Sea of Thieves is built around player interaction, and that your voice is a tool (and a weapon) in your kit.

Try sailing solo to master the mechanics

sea of thieves beginners guide solo sailing

It’s likely that lots of Sea of Thieves players will discount the solo pirate life when playing the game. After all, Rare has designed the game to be heavy on social interaction, and big ships require lots of people to run them well. There is definitely fun to be had all on your own, though — playing alone in Sea of Thieves turns the game into a somewhat paranoid exercise in careful planning, stealth, and quick reactions. It also teaches you some useful skills when you have to handle your ship’s helm, sails, anchor, and guns all on your own. It’s worth spending some time alone on a sloop to get a handle on all of Sea of Thieves‘ mechanics and jobs, and to really get the hang of sailing well by adjusting your sails and heading for maximum speed and maneuverability. Playing alone will give you skills that make you a more effective member of your crew.

Keep an eye out for shinies on the beach (bottles, relics, etc)

sea of thieves beginners guide shinies

When you visit islands, you occasionally see items sitting on beaches. You can find several loose items out in the world that are worth picking up, including gold and silver artifacts, random treasure chests, boxes of spices and tea, gunpowder barrels, and messages in bottles. Most of the stuff can be sold to the proper quest-givers for reputation and money, and messages in bottles generally send you on higher-level quests that appear to dish out better rewards than most of the early and mid-game voyages. Always be on the lookout for handy extra things you can pick up, and keep in mind that if you quit the game, any such stuff you’ve picked up but not turned in or completed — like maps from bottles — will be lost when you log back in.


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