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How to Play Sea of Thieves: A Beginners Guide

Aaron Alford

Ahoy there! Welcome to the Sea of Thieves, a sea filled with pirates and minimally explained mechanics created by the same people that brought you Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 and Battletoads. Sea of Thieves combines PvE and PvP combat into a thrilling open-world high seas adventure filled with plenty of treasure hunting, skeleton killing, and thrilling capers. But before you cast off, there are a few things that you should know.

How to play Sea of Thieves Guide

Wondering how to play Sea of Thieves? Don't worry, we have all the basics covered so a beginner can hop right in and start plundering! (Image via Rare)

Here is a helpful beginner’s guide to Sea of Thieves, so you can get to pirating already.

Sea of Thieves Character Selection

The first thing is first, you have to pick your pirate! When you first launch the game you will automatically be taken to the pirate selection screen. Don’t be too precious about this selection since, for a small fee of real-world dollars, you can change it later if you don’t like the one you initially pick.

Pirates come in all shapes, sizes, races, and genders. They are all randomly generated in groups of eight pirates, but you can generate as many groups as you want until you find one that suits your fancy.

While selecting characters, one thing to keep in mind is that larger characters actually give you a slight disadvantage in PvP combat. Unlike a game like Fortnite where all the character models feature the same hitbox, the hitbox of your Sea of Thieves scoundrel will be determined by the actual character design. So a broader chested lad, lass, or enby could land you in some hot water.

on the dock pirates

(Image courtesy of Rare)

The Maiden Voyage

Once you have selected your character, you are going to go on the Maiden Voyage. This is basically the tutorial mission and will teach you all the basics you expect from a tutorial, like learning how to read a map, fire your weapons, cook food, etc. There is also a stash of booty on the tutorial island that will also make the Maiden Voyage worth doing, even if you already know the basics.

You can acquire around 30,000 gold by going to the shipwreck at the top of the tutorial island. Above that ship, you will find a small pool of water with a key just below the waterfall. If you acquire that key, you can take it to the right side of the ship when approaching from the beach. Inside the wrecked ship is a small trap door that you can unlock using the key, inside you will find your treasure!

The Sea of Thieves Gameplay Loop

The basic gameplay loop of Sea of Thieves involves completing tasks assigned to you by various trade companies that can be found at outposts and specialized bases around the map. Once tasks are complete, you will be rewarded with treasure that can be turned in for cash, assuming another band of pirates doesn’t sweep in and steal it from you. There are eight trading companies in total, but at the start, you will likely focus on the most convenient three: Gold Hoarders, Order of Souls, and Merchant Alliance.

To become a Pirate Legend, you will need to reach level 50 in three different trading companies. So progression in this game simply involves completing a variety of tasks. You won’t level up your weapons or become more powerful, everyone enters the Sea of Thieves equally powerful, but you will unlock new cosmetic items as your level up the various trading companies. 

There are also a number of random events that you can do around the map. These events range from small encounters with a Megalodon or Ghost Ship, to seeking out fights with some of the most fearsome pirate bosses in all of the land. While the small encounters will happen organically in the world, many of the more difficult endgame events must be sought out.

And of course, If you don’t want to quest, you can always set out steal from others too!

What are trading companies in Sea of Thieves?

trading companies Sea of Thieves

(Image courtesy of Rare)

Gold Hoarders are exactly what they sound like — they buy chests of gold and golden riches of various types. There are a number of quest types that you can unlock for Gold Hoarders as you play the game. In the beginning, most of your gold hoarders’ quests will consist of using treasure maps and riddles to find the location of buried pirate chests.

The Order of Souls primarily buys haunted and enchanted skulls. These skulls can be acquired by killing skeleton captains as well as sinking ghost ships. Most Order of Souls quests involve some type of combat mission, where you will battle skeletons and ghosts of some description.

Merchant Alliance is the final “starter” trading company. This company will have you delivering goods to other islands, finding lost shipments in sunken ships, and completing fetch quests on occasion. After your initial introduction to trading companies, you will eventually also meet Hunters Call, Reaper’s Bones, Sea Dogs, Athena’s Fortune, and Bilge Rats, all of whom serve more specialized functions on the Sea of Thieves!

How emissary flags work in Sea of Thieves

For those who are looking to up their rewards from trading companies, you can choose to fly the emissary flag of a trading company. While a company’s flag is equipped, you will receive bonus reputation and gold for any treasure turned into that company. These flags are unlocked at rank 15 for the main three trading companies and cost 20,000 gold. Though, you only need to buy them once.

While flying a flag, you and your crew will progress through up to five levels of the flag. With each level, your rewards for turning in treasure will increase. When you reach the highest level of your emissary, you will be able to do the emissary quest, which offers great rewards and is well worth doing if you are already level 5.

Just be aware that as your emissary value increases, anyone flying the Reaper’s Bones emissary flag will be able to see your grade increase. Reaper’s Bones is the pirate-focused group and they can see any ship flying an emissary flag. If they see your crew completing high-level emissary quests, they very well may come for your ship. Other players can take your flag and turn it at various locations around the map. 

When you are done with your emissary questing, don’t forget to lower your flag. When your crew votes to lower the flag, you will all receive bonus gold. The higher the emissary level you are, the more gold your crew will receive both when turning in booty and when lowering the flag.

If your primary goal in a session is to make the most money, the best thing to do is to fly an emissary flag, level it up, and then complete the emissary quest.

How does the sailing work in Sea of Thieves?

A lot of your time in Sea of Thieves will be spent getting from one island to another. There is no fast travel in this world, so you are going to have to do the hard work of sailing your ship yourself. 

Types of Ships in Sea of Thieves 

There are three types of vessels you can use: the Sloop, the Brigantine, and the Galleon.  

Ships in Sea of Thieves

The Sloop is designed for 1-2 players and is the easiest to use, but also the slowest and easiest to sink. The Sloop breaks physics by being the fastest ship when you are sailing directly into the wind. 

The Brigantine is designed for 2-3 players and features two masts and four cannons. For the Brig, tasks like adjusting the sails and raising the anchor take a lot longer than with the Sloops. However, the Brigantine is also the fastest in most situations and can take on a lot more water before sinking.

The Galleon is designed for 4 players and features three masts, eight canons, and three stories of decks. On the Galleon, all the tasks take long enough that your crew will need to work together to keep it running smoothly. The Galleon is a huge, dangerous beast that can take a lot of damage before sinking.

With all of these ships, the fastest option is to angle your sails to get the most billow when the wind is at your back. But, if you are heading straight into the wind it is fastest to straighten your sails completely. With the bigger ships, think twice before anchoring, since it takes a hot second to get that anchor back up for the Brig and the Galleon. 

The Basics of Ship Combat

Ship combat is a complex skill that deserves its own full guide, but the basics are actually pretty straightforward. Keep your ship afloat while trying to sink their ship. When your ship gets hit with cannonballs they will leave holes and other damage that you will have to fix using wood. Some of the damage will cause water to come into your ship, which needs to be bailed out, or eventually you will sink.


Your cannons will usually be your first tool when starting a fight with another ship. You will want to maneuver your boat so you have the angle to strike, which is easier said than done. 

Once in position, there are a few different types of cannonballs that you can use. There is the base cannonball, which is trusty and reliable, the chain shot balls that you can use to disable an enemy mast, and there are a number of cursed cannonballs types that have various special effects. 

Boarding Enemy Ships

If you are looking to make it more personal, you can also board enemy ships by either firing yourself out of a cannon or jumping in the water when the time is right. If you manage to board another crew’s ship, drop the anchor first. This will make them sitting ducks for your fire, and really throw a wrench in their plans. After that, you can either attack their crew with firebombs, steels, and guns, or you can run below their deck and look for treasure to steal.

Be Careful

Remember that eliminated players will return after a short duration to their ship if it hasn’t sunk.

Consider using explosive barrels in ship-to-ship combat. While it can be risky to bring a bomb onto your own ship, the risk can be minimized by keeping the bomb inside the crow’s nest. If you are being chased by an enemy boat, you can drop that explosive barrel in the water. Should the enemy boat hit it, the explosion will deal devastating damage to their hull.

What Should I do with All This Gold?

There are three types of currency in Sea of Thieves: Gold, Doubloons, and Ancient Coins. 

Gold is the primary currency you will be paid in, and you are going to have oodles of it.

Doubloons are used by the Bilge rats and are rarer. These coins can be used to buy black market goods.

Ancient coins are the premium currency and can be used at the Pirate Emporium online store. You will primarily get these through killing rare Ancient Skeletons or through buying them with real money. 

In the beginning, gold can feel like a rare and precious resource, but as you start to get better at the game and progress through the quest levels, you are going to start stacking your riches. Gold can be used to buy supplies for your ship and quests, but the primary use for gold is to buy cosmetics for your pirate and your ship. 


When you first start, it might be wise to stack up gold so you can afford your initial emissary flag investments and stock up on cannonballs and fruit for your journeys, but once you have a decent chunk of it don’t hesitate to drop it on cool cloths or cannons. After only a few hours of play, you will find that you are swimming in gold, so don’t be shy about using it!

There is a lot more to learn and discover on the Sea of Thieves, but this guide is a pretty good place to start! Good luck and happy pirating!

Aaron Alford

Aaron Alford

Aaron is a 25 year old esports journalist who has worked with,,, among others. Aaron completed a Master's degree in Communication from the University of Dayton in 2018 (Go Flyers). Aaron has also worked as a national circuit debate coach and communication manager for emerging technology companies.

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