When playing Sea of Thieves, you will spend most of your time sailing, an activity that requires teamwork and coordination. Sailing the ships of Sea of Thieves is a job unto itself, requiring an understanding of how the ships work, and can be dangerous if you mess it up. It’s not especially complicated, but the game doesn’t take any time to teach you, either.
It’s important to know the workings of a ship inside and out: Getting good at sailing will allow you to become the best pirate and plunderer you can. Whether alone or as part of a team, sailing well can help you catch other players’ ships, evade incoming attacks, and avoid dashing yourself upon the rocks and islands of the sea. We’ve got a few essential tips for sailing well in Sea of Thieves, alone or with a crew. When you’re done here, you might also want to check out our guide to sailing solo, as well as our guide to winning your Sea of Thieves ship battles, to make sure you know everything there is to know about sailing the high seas.
Unfurl the main sail!
The wind propels your ship, and you use the sails to harness that power. Adjusting how much of each sail is unfurled controls your ship’s speed and turning radius. You can raise and lower the sails using the pointed metal cleat to which each set of sails’ rope is tied.
Lowering your sails all the way down gives your ship the best speed, but the worst turning ability. You can balance your speed/turning ratio by raising, or “cutting,” your sails shorter — bringing them up to half- or quarter-mast will give your ship the ability to make tighter turns. If you completely raise your sails with your anchor up, your ship will turn without moving forward at all, which is very handy when you need to reposition yourself when leaving an island.
It’s worth knowing that, like many things on your ship, raising your sails is slow when you do it alone, but two sailors can adjust the same sail, using the cleats on each side of the ship, to raise it more quickly.
The size of your sails controls your speed, but you won’t get the most out of them without paying attention to their angle. You can adjust them by accessing the pulley for each set of sails. Above each sail is a flag that billows in the wind, showing you which direction the wind is blowing, and the point of angling your sails is to catch as much wind as you can by making sure the sails are turned so the wind hits them full-on. Angling your sails can be a full-time job, but it’s a necessary one because, even when you’re at full sail, you’re not getting all the speed you could be if your sail angles aren’t set correctly.
When you aren’t doing anything, work the sails
If you’re on a galleon with a larger crew, keeping track of the sails is the most important thing you can do. It’s everybody’s job to work the sails, and in an ideal situation, nobody should even really need to be told to keep track of them. Whenever your ship is turning, the first thing to do is adjust the sail angle. When you’re approaching an island or somewhere else you mean to stop, the whole crew should be raising sails early in order to give the ship less speed and more maneuverability to avoid rocks.
Constantly adjusting your ship’s speed to make sure you don’t hit anything or tack too far off course is key to staying alive in Sea of Thieves, especially in a fight. If you want to take down another ship, navigate treacherous waters, or evade enemy cannons, working the sails as a team is the only way to make it through. The galleon is too big and unwieldy to get by on steering alone — simply put, this is the game’s most important aspect of teamwork.
Learn how to turn
The most important procedure you’ll need to perform as a sailor is executing a turn. The galleon is unwieldy: It turns slowly, and in very wide arcs when its sails are fully deployed. That can make battles or dodging rocks especially fraught, because it takes the big ship a long time to correct course. Cutting your sails to half- or a quarter-mast greatly improves your cornering, however, allowing you to make turns more quickly to adjust your course. When out on voyages where you’re not under threat of other ships, it’s worth it to spend some time as a crew messing with your sails to see how fast your ship can turn at different speeds. That way, when someone attacks you, you’ll be ready.
The unwritten key to controlling most sea battles lies in keeping the other ship on your broadside so you can hit it with cannons, or picking up enough speed to ram the other guys, which can do massive damage. To do that effectively, you’ll need good maneuverability. As a crew, knowing when to cut your speed and raise your sails for a turn can save your ship, your lives, and your cargo, and it’s key if you want to be a good pirate in Sea of Thieves.
Designate a captain — or have someone watching the big picture
Sailing a galleon can be tough because the ship is so big — you can’t see everything at once. If you’re a crew member on the deck, you might not have a sense of the wind, or where enemies are located on your sides or at your back. Having someone to coordinate the crew to work the sails can be very helpful in these circumstances, so when heading out on a voyage, it’s usually good to set one person as your helmsman or captain, who can dictate sail lengths.
With someone in charge of how your ship is maneuvering, you’ll have a person in charge to dictate your sail lengths quickly and efficiently, provided everyone listens. Let your helmsman make calls about avoiding rocks or making quick turns in order to stay with enemy ships in battle. This way, nobody on the crew is left guessing at what they should be doing, and nobody is working against the other sailors by making their own calls about how long or short the sails should be. When you’re not adjusting sail length in a battle situation, keep working on adjusting sail angles to get the most wind you can, until you get your next order.
You also need someone to watch where you’re going
When you’re at full sail on a galleon, the “captain” steering the ship has no clear line of sight to what’s directly in front of it. The main sail blocks a lot of the captain’s vision, so it’s possible to sail right up on rocks and islands without noticing until it’s too late. So, in addition to keeping an eye on the sails, someone on your crew has to keep an eye on what’s ahead and give ample warning so the helm can turn. This is also another good job to designate, but really, the whole crew should be keeping an eye out at all times — both for dangers ahead and ships on the horizon.
Raise your mainsail on normal voyages
One way to mitigate the helmsman’s vision issue is to raise the mainsail slightly when you aren’t in imminent danger. It’ll slow you down a bit, but when you don’t need to move extremely quickly, it’s worth the trade-off. With the mainsail raised high enough — see above — your helmsman can see what’s ahead much more easily and make turns without needing someone else to talk them through it. That takes some stress off, but don’t forget that when a battle or other emergency does crop up, your helmsman will lose visibility and the crew will have to step in to help.
Don’t forget to practice your anchor turns
The anchor is basically your emergency brake: When you drop it, your ship sails for about two seconds, and then you come to a complete stop. Most players will likely use the anchor just to make hard stops at islands when they want to get off the boat, but it has many more uses than simply keeping your boat in place when you park at an island. A good crew will also use the anchor on the high seas to increase the maneuverability of their ship.
First off, learn to make tight “e-brake” turns as a crew using your anchor. The galleon can rapidly stop and change direction if you crank the wheel hard one way or the other, then drop anchor. The turned rudder will cause the ship to lurch in the direction the wheel is facing, but without the ship actually moving forward. This turn can be very useful for quick course corrections, provided you can get the anchor raised quickly. To do that, you’ll need pretty much your whole crew standing by at the anchor to raise it, since one, two, or even three crew members turn the anchor wheel pretty slowly. If you need to quickly change course to chase or evade another ship, consider trying the anchor turn, but know that it requires fast action by your crew and a lot of coordination.
Also note that stopping your boat suddenly can be a very useful move in battle. If you’re being chased or another ship is trying to come about on you, you can mess with their navigational plans with a sudden stop (and you can seriously screw someone up if you board their ship and drop their anchor in the middle of a fight). Again, though, remember that your anchor being down can be a massive liability, so be ready with your full strength to raise it again and get yourself moving.
Raise your sails and raise your anchor when stopped
You never know when you’ll be caught off guard by another crew, so it pays to take steps to avoid and/or escape enemies at all times. Fully raise your sails as you approach an island, using momentum to glide in rather than your anchor. If you do drop anchor, wait for the ship to stop moving with the sails up, then raise the anchor before you leave the ship. That’ll leave your ship ready to go when you want to leave the island — especially when someone shows up wanting to start firing their cannons at you. It’s much faster to drop sails than raise anchor, so you can quickly get moving when you need to.
One more quick note: When your anchor is down, make sure the wheel of your ship is straight. Otherwise, the ship will immediately turn as soon as you raise the anchor, and if you’re not ready for it, that can lead to crashes. You can also get your ship ready for a big turn before you even start moving by taking advantage of being stopped by your anchor.
If you’re going into the wind, try adjusting your course
Sailing into the wind is one of the more frustrating things about Sea of Thieves. It doesn’t stop your ship like it would in reality, but it does slow you down significantly. To circumvent that issue, try doing what real sailors do: Zigzag through the wind instead of heading straight into it. Adjust your course and sails so that the wind is coming from one side of the ship to pick up some speed, and then when you get a little off course, turn back the other way and pick up the wind from the other side of your ship. The maneuver requires you to adjust your sails continually, but it’ll give you more speed as you go — and that can leave you a lot less vulnerable if another ship shows up.
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