Sea of Thief: How to Sail for One
Converting PVP paranoia into near-endless wonder
Sigh. Every time I start up Rare’s Sea of Thieves, it’s not long before I arrive at this screen:
On one occasion, I didn’t go straight for the inevitable sloop; I actually tried sailing a galleon. Alone. It’s kind of like turning up to school on a public holiday; nobody else is there, and a feeling of uniquely awkward shame slowly creeps over you as you come to terms with your mistake.
Needless to say, I have been playing Sea of Thieves entirely by myself, with only a couple of attempts at matchmaking. In my not-so-humble-opinion, matchmaking is a complete dead end, both figuratively and literally. On one occasion, my crew of three spent a good fifteen minutes fighting over which direction to take our boat (despite having agreed to a voyage that required us to travel to a specific island, and thus, an obvious direction). Another time, one crew member tried to murder the rest of us before we left port, leaving two of my crewmates to scatter to the winds while I fell overboard and copped a lethal stabbing plunge attack from our cantankerous mutineer.
So, after choosing the trusty sloop, I inevitably opt to go it alone.
Everyone will tell you that Sea of Thieves is not a single-player experience.
“It’s not fun to sail alone. What’s wrong with you, why don’t you have any friends?”
Okay, I only imagined the last bit, but the point stands. I’m guessing that there have probably been people who were curious about the game but who were turned off due to dire warnings about the pathetically boring existence they would be embarking on if they went Slooping For One.
Well, I’m here to extol the virtues of the Single Sloop as a viable way to play Sea of Thieves. Not merely viable, mind you, but actually fun and exciting. Aside from explaining why I think Solo Slooping is fun, I’m going to throw in a few of my own tips to help you Sloop Yourself to Success.
The positives of a paranoid experience
In my experience, people don’t normally associate the feeling that everyone is out to get them with fun. Even in Sea of Thieves itself, I’ve noticed many players questioning the game’s ruthless absence of safe spaces: even the seemingly-peaceful outposts (populated islands that contain various merchants and quest-givers) can be highly dangerous — especially if another player wants to nab all of your hard-earned treasure just as you’re about to turn it in.
While I can empathise with that point of view, I often find myself wanting to grab these people, shake them firmly, and ask “You think that’s tough? How about returning to an outpost all alone, on a fully-laden sloop, without any comrades for defence — especially when there’s a four-crewed galleon docked nearby?”
Seriously though, playing Sea of Thieves solo definitely borders on suicidal; that’s why I enjoy it so much. I was going to say that almost every decision for the solo player is high-risk, high-reward, but that would be a lie: almost every decision is high-risk, average-reward-at-best. As your rank with the various factions increases, voyages become longer, contain more steps, and involve more and more traversal of the map. Every additional nautical mile you travel between outpost stops — especially as you’re accumulating ever-more treasure — represents a sharply escalating risk of danger. You might die, but even more importantly, you might lose a huge amount of progress.
This might sound unbearably painful to you. But I find it to be the most rewarding part of the game — the act of levelling up with various factions isn’t itself the thing that gives me a sense of satisfaction. Rather, surviving through a full voyage — and returning to safely deposit my treasure at the relevant outpost — is enormously satisfying. I’ve come to think of Sea of Thieves as less a game of exploration and more a pirate survival experience. Framing it this way — where survival itself is the goal — has really enhanced the game for me.
It makes the moment-to-moment gameplay incredibly tense. When I locate the island I need to travel to (in order to, say, dig up a treasure chest), I’ll find myself thinking very carefully about where I want to dock my sloop. Which angles can it be seen from? Can I obscure it if I dock it closely enough to shore without running aground and punching holes through the hull? Can I quickly and efficiently find the treasure and return to the sloop before I’m spotted? And, if I spend a long time on a single island, I’ll routinely pause, find a high outcrop, and scan the horizon with my looking glass to watch for any ships that might be a potential threat. If I spot said potential threat, I’ll raise anchor and dock in another location or I might even end up in a wild and unpredictable cat-and-mouse game that tests my strategy, cunning, and sailing abilities (or lack thereof).
On that latter point — the cat-and-mouse game — I experienced a thrilling incident recently where I had just loaded my sloop up with chests from an island, and I was preparing to travel to an outpost.
I spotted another sloop on the horizon; it was far away, but I kept my eye on it all the same. As I raised anchor and began to turn towards my planned destination, I noticed the sloop coming straight for me. It ended up tailing right behind me — so close, that I could hear the two crew members onboard chatting and laughing as they hunted their solo victim. They fired cannons (to little avail — I made sure to stay right in front of them, putting me out of their canon radius), and then they resorted to sniping at me from their deck.
It was tense!
I was hit a few times, and they did manage to land one cannonball on my stern, but I quickly repaired the damage. I didn’t know how long I was going to be able to hold out. But as I neared the outpost, I saw a galleon docked — a blessed galleon! I began to wonder if I could kite my gleeful marauders within range of the mighty vessel, with the hope of triggering a larger conflict that I just might be able to escape from. It worked! As we drew closer to the fully-crewed galleon, I veered off sharply to avoid the outpost. The stalking sloop behind me almost crashed into the galleon, which began firing on it — the two ships were side-by-side, cannonballs were flying, and I have no doubt that my former pursuers were wondering how the tide had so rapidly turned against them. Meanwhile, I was soon far away, over the horizon, out of their sight and free to cash in my valuable loot.
This, ladies and gentlement, is when Sea of Thieves is at its very best.
True, I didn’t have a crew to share the emotional rollercoaster with (that definitely would have been the proverbial cherry on top). I felt a bit like Tom Hanks in Cast Away; cackling to myself, my deranged laughter echoing across an empty sea.
Now, if all this craziness sounds fun to you — if you’re even a little bit tempted to dive head-first into the Solo Slooping maelstrom — you may still be reluctant if you’re worried about the high risk of constantly losing your progress. Well, folks, I’m here to help. Yes, I’ve drowned at the hands of enemy crews. And yes, I’ve occasionally lost loot or had it stolen. But I’ve survived — and prevailed — many more times than I’ve failed.
Before I start throwing the tips around though, I should probably issue this caveat about how I approach the game: I’m not an entirely benevolent Solo Slooper.
It’s fair to say that my tactics are largely defensive (so, for example, I haven’t actively hunted other players to steal their stuff — not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course). If I’m set upon by another crew, I’ll utilise any and all tactics at my disposal to survive and — even more importantly — to deliver my loot to its target destination.
However, in the event that another crew steals my stuff (or sinks my sloop, or kills me), I will actively work to punish that crew. I figure this is only fair. It’s also satisfying for me — and gives me some recourse — especially if I’ve lost a lot of progress. When this happens, I tell myself that, okay, I’ve lost some loot that took me a while to accumulate. When I respawn, I have nothing to lose, because my loot is gone and I’m not pursuing an active voyage. This gives me both the motivation and opportunity to retaliate; retaliation in a player-versus-player context is itself a fun thing to do, but it can also confer tangible rewards in some cases (including, if I’m lucky enough, winning back my own stolen loot).
Seeking vengeance isn’t the most noble of traits in the real world, of course, but in Sea of Thieves — a world that encourages both cooperative play and aggressive competition — retaliation feels like a viable and entertaining option, at least on some occasions.
With that out of the way, I’m going to share my top tips for Solo Sailor Slooping with you.
Rig your sloop with a gunpowder barrel
I’m bursting right out of the gate with a tip that is probably better-suited as a retaliatory tactic, especially when you aren’t concerned about losing your own vessel. However, there’s also an element of “if I’m going down, I’m going to take you with me” to this, which some players may find appealing. Allow me to explain.
You’ll find gunpowder barrels dotted throughout the world. If these items are hit with sufficient force (with, for example, a gunshot), they will explode and do significant damage to anyone within the blast radius — they can kill players in one shot if said players are standing close enough to the barrel when it explodes.
As well as damaging or killing players, gunpowder barrels will damage any nearby ships, too. What’s interesting here is that so long as the ship is anywhere within the blast radius, a single gunpowder barrel will always punch four holes in its hull.
This means that gunpowder barrels are a volitile — but useful — tool for evening up the odds in Sea of Thieves, especially if you are retaliating against another crew or if you want to add a layer of deterrence to your own sloop.
There are so many ways to use these things. But here are a few ideas to get you started:
Place a gunpowder barrel on at the tip of your bow:
You can actually drop a gunpowder barrel right on the tip of your bow. Doing this makes the barrel highly visible to other vessels. It also turns your sloop into a weapon; you can either ram an enemy vessel, causing the barrel to explode, or you can sail close to another ship and fire at the barrel yourself to trigger the explosion. Of course, the barrel will damage your sloop, and quick-witted enemies can shoot the barrel from a distance without succumbing to damage from it themselves. So, this is a high-risk tactic, but it can be a fun way to tackle enemies — especially larger galleons with bigger crews.
Store gunpowder barrels onboard to “welcome” enemy crews:
One issue with Solo Slooping is that if an enemy crew gets close enough to you, they might board your ship and quickly overrun it. You can be killed, and the enemy can commandeer (or sink) your vessel. You can scuttle your sloop if you like, but this won’t necessarily kill enemy crew members, and for this reason, your onboard treasures are still vulnerable to theft. But if your back is against a wall and there’s no way out, firing at a gunpowder barrel stored onboard is likely to clear out any people on your sloop — this is especially true if you daisy chain several of them (as they will trigger each other to explode, even after you’re dead).
In this situation, you might have lost your treasure and your sloop, but you’ve also made the cost of boarding extremely high for the enemy crew. Even if you take half their crew out, you’re also making their vessel more vulnerable to any other approaching ships. Delicious. ;-P
Plant gunpowder barrels on the enemy’s ship:
This is probably the highest-risk strategy, in the sense that it actually requires you to be both lucky and good at the game. Given that you’re a Solo Slooper, you’re at an immediate disadvantage in any confrontation with a larger crew. If you are confident (and skilled) enough — and you’re being pursued or attacked by another vessel — you can keep a gunpowder barrel on hand to take with you when you board the enemy ship. You can put the barrel anywhere on their ship and fire at it to make it explode. The resulting damage won’t immediately sink them, but it will be severe enough to force at least one of their crew members to focus entirely on repairing the damage. This may buy you some space to escape (or, if you’re mega-skilled, to pick off their crew members one by one in a direct confrontation).
Learn advanced docking strategies
I hinted at this earlier in the article, but it’s worth expanding on here. You may be thinking “I just drop anchor when I’m near an island I want to visit — what’s the big deal?”
I’d say docking strategy is a huge deal, especially when it comes to Solo Slooping. Before discussing the individual tips, I feel that I should start by articulating why docking strategies matter.
While it’s true that you’re always vulnerable in Sea of Thieves, I’d argue that you’re most vulnerable the moment your ship is anchored and you’re not on board. If you happen to be visiting a larger island — especially where you sloop is no longer within your line of sight — the vulnerability increases. This is especially important to consider if you’ve already done some voyaging and you’ve got some loot on board. So long as you aren’t physically present on your ship and you can’t see it, that loot is effectively anyone’s for the taking.
So, I’d argue there are degrees of vulnerability that you should at least consider as part of any decision you make, but especially when you dock your sloop and venture out onto an island.
It is worth thinking about your docking strategy well before you reach your destination island, too. Think about where the island is relative to your sloop, and which angle you plan to approach it from. Before physically dropping anchor, you’ll want to consider where to dock, as well.
Use geographical features as cover:
Each island has been individually designed, and as a result, different islands confer varying levels of risk. Rum Runner Isle, for example, contains several tiny islands connected by large sandbars. Wherever you dock nearby, your ship is going to be highly visible. And if you try to dock between the islands, you’re going to run aground on the sandbars and risk high damage to your sloop. On the other hand, Marauder’s Arch contains a large rocky archway with deep water directly underneath; you can dock right under the arch, so that your ship is effectively invisible to anyone approaching from the north or south.
Remember, although there’s a limit to how far away players can see each others’ ships, it’s still possible to spot vessels from a pretty long distance, especially if people are perched on their crow’s nest with a looking glass. The goal here is to avoid making yourself an obvious visual target.
So, in short, use geographical features of islands and archipelagos to obscure — and in some cases, completely hide — your sloop from view.
Dock as close to land as possible:
This is a pretty obvious tip, but it’s worth articulating why this is so important. The further away your sloop is from land, the further you’ll have to swim to either board or disembark. When you are carrying items, you can’t run and you can’t swim fast. For this reason, you want to do everything possible to reduce the distance you’re travelling while ferrying items to or from your ship.
So long as you aren’t making yourself too vulnerable (given the first point about using geographical features as cover), I think you’ll also want to dock as close to the target location on an island as possible. When you’re hunting for treasure, at least, this is usually fairly straightforward (especially earlier on, when you always have explicit “X marks the spot” indicators on your voyage maps). This is also true when fighting skeleton captains, although you may have to circle larger islands to locate the exact spot where the skeletons are spawning.
Raise your sails:
This is probably a more controversial suggestion, because if you need to suddenly raise anchor and sail away from danger, it does take precious time — however minimal — to lower your sails again.
Still, I do think raising your sails completely when you dock makes you slightly less visible from a distance, especially if you have the default white sails — these are quite stark and bright, and I think they make sloops a lot easier to spot especially from a distance and at night.
Quick pivoting while dropping anchor:
When you trigger the anchor drop, it takes a couple of seconds for the anchor to land on the sea floor — during this time, your sloop will continue moving. It’s really important to understand the timing of this, especially if you want to dock very close to shore (that is, you want to begin understanding the ideal timing of the anchor drop given your speed and position).
One cool little trick though is that, just before you drop the anchor, you can steer the sloop hard (all the way) port or starboard. As the anchor drops, your ship will rapidly pivot in the steered direction. This is incredibly useful if, for example, you want to dock close to shore but have the bow of your ship facing out to the ocean (to enable a quicker getaway). It’s also handy if you want to position your ship in specific orientations toward the shore, depending on where you’re disembarking.
Keep your eyes peeled
This is definitely the most obvious tip, but it’s easy to underrate the importance of maintaining constant attention on your entire surroundings. Of course, you should be watching for any landmasses when you’re out sailing, because you don’t want to crash your ship. But it’s easy to become so absorbed in the mechanics of sailing (and the beauty of the water and clouds) that you forget to constantly check the horizon in all directions.
Using your naked eye to do this is fine, but you’ll want to always have your looking glass at the ready. I use the crow’s nest on some occasions (especially if my view is obscured by a nearby landmass, bad weather, or my own sails); but quite often I’ll simply be pausing very briefly to check each direction with my looking glass.
Notice other players early:
The reason for doing this continually is because you can generally spot other vessels from a pretty far distance. The trick, always, is to notice other players as early as possible. Initially, it doesn’t matter that you’re a Solo Slooper and they’re a Galleon Gang — if you notice them early enough (especially if they haven’t yet seen you), then you’re at the advantage. You have more options available to you.
You might be surprised how easy it is to think you’re all alone on the ocean, only to have another vessel appear out of nowhere, bearing down on you and your precious cargo. It’s happened to me a couple of times, and I’m pretty damn vigilant.
Once you’ve noticed another ship, track its movement:
Okay, so, you’ve noticed another ship. Great. What do you do now? Well, it really depends. Is the ship sailing away from you? Is it sailing directly towards you? Or, is it sailing in roughly the same direction, with its port or starboard side facing you? Maybe its sails are raised and it’s right near an island, indicating that it’s probably docked.
These are important questions, because once you’ve noticed another ship (or ships), it’s critical to pay close attention to its/their behaviour. One factor that matters even more than an enemy vessel’s initial position is its expected trajectory. A ship’s trajectory usually betrays the crew’s intentions, and this matters greatly for Solo Sloopers, because it will govern how you, in turn, respond.
I feel like I could write a whole article about this one topic — there’s a lot you can discern just from paying attention to a ship in the distance, in terms of whether or not it has seen you, where it might be headed, and why (and, most importantly, whether or not it’s likely to be hostile to you). Regardless, never take your eyes off the horizon, and make sure to closely follow any spotted ships — you should be trying to do this even when you’re walking around an island (noting, of course, that your ability to check on the ship’s whereabouts might be limited or impossible).
Use the environment to your advantage while sailing
I’ve already discussed how important the environment is when thinking about docking your sloop. But it’s just as important — and potentially useful — when you’re out sailing on the high seas, especially if you find yourself encountering another vessel.
Learn to navigate tricky tight spots:
I’ve found this technique to be really useful, especially if I’m being pursued and I’m finding it difficult to outrun my enemy. There are several places in the world that contain large rocky outcrops which are not necessarily explorable islands, but which are clustered together and can fit a ship (at least, a sloop) in between them. In some cases, these outcrops can be as tall — or taller — than your ship’s mast.
Such locations are valuable as both a hiding place and a place to dock (as mentioned in the docking strategies section)— if you can do so without crashing — to protect yourself from an enemy ship. More intrepid crews might follow you into dangerous waters, but some will prefer to give up and move along, rather than risk serious damage to their ship. Knowing where these outcrops are — and learning to navigate through them — can be invaluable.
Storms can be your friend:
By their very nature, storms in Sea of Thieves are generally something to be avoided. They cause your compass — and your ship’s wheel — to spin in a wild frenzy, making it both tricky to navigate and physically control your direction. The wild darkness of storms also mean that visibility can be almost zero, and your ship can take damage from lightning strikes and/or may take on water due to heavy rain. Certainly, storms are themselves a kind of challenge.
However, if you’re being followed —and it’s looking like your pursuer is aggressively seeking your loot — heading straight into a nearby storm can be surprisingly helpful. All of the above challenges still apply, but there’s a chance you can lose the enemy crew, especially if they end up busily bailing out water or fixing damage caused by lightning strikes. Of course, finding your target with cannons or guns is also quite a bit more difficult in a heavy storm, so you can use this to your advantage.
Sailing under the cover of darkness:
Sea of Thieves operates on realistic day/night cycle with realistic weather conditions. This means, during any given voyage — especially longer, multi-stage voyages — you’ll find that several days might pass. I tend to prefer exploring islands during the day; it’s more cumbersome to swap between my lantern and other items at night, and it’s a lot easier to map out the potential location of a treasure in daylight where you can clearly see the geographical features around you. It’s also easier to spot other ships on the horizon during the day.
Conversley, sailing at night does seem to add the slightest element of stealth, especially if you turn off all the lanterns on your sloop (for the record, I never have my lanterns lit…even during the day, they make you extra-noticeable). If you happen to have custom sails that are coloured or darker than the standard white versions, you’ll be at an added advantage when sailing at night.
Striking from a distance
My final Solo Slooping Suggestion kind of caps everything off and folds in some of the previous strategies I’ve discussed here. If you’re keeping an eye out for enemies, navigating effectively, docking strategically, and so on, you’ve definitely got all the major tools required to go it alone. This final piece of advice is useful for player-versus-player, but I’ve primarily employed the tactic for fighting skeleton captains.
Killing skeletons with the Eye of Reach:
When I first played Sea of Thieves, I didn’t really look at the weapon options. I just kept using the cutlass and the pistol. At first, I didn’t even know there was a blunderbuss or a sniper rifle (in Eye of Reach form). It’s definitely true that each of these weapons have their own situational applications, but I’ve found the Eye of Reach to be especially helpful when taking out skeleton captains.
When you hunt skeleton captains, the formula is usually pretty similar. You go to the location where the captain is expected to be, and a couple of waves of skeletons spawn. Kill them, then kill the captain who spawns at the end…rinse and repeat.
At first, I was disembarking from my sloop and fighting the scurvy skeletons up close. But I soon realised that it’s more effective to dock myself right near the spawn location, and to fire at the skeletons from the deck of my sloop (the Sloop Deck, if you will…). There are a few obvious advantages:
- Only skeletons with ranged weapons can attack you, but you can use the sloop’s walls for defence;
- You can continually reload due to the ammunition box on board your sloop;
- If you need to make a quick getaway (another ship goes after you while you’re mid-fight), this is very easy to do. Simply raise the anchor and sail off.
Better still, combat with the Eye of Reach is, in my humble opinion, more fun than any of the other options. The cutlass feels like it doesn’t really connect with anything, and the other two guns feel gutless and imprecise. It’s a lot more satisfying to pop skeletons with the Eye of Reach.
Of course, the Eye of Reach is also useful for fighting other players — but only if you’re shooting at them while they are on another ship (or on land, with you on a ship). If you’re up close and personal, the Eye of Reach will go from fluid to cumbersome pretty quickly.
There you have it! My semi-comprehensive, Slooper-Duper-Single-Sloop-Sailing-Summary. Okay, I’ll stop now; I just think sloop is a hilarious word. What can I say? I’m a simple creature.
Despite Sea of Thieves being a fairly simple game at heart, there are a ton more tactics that I could recommend. And I’m sure that if you play with a full crew of four people, it would be possible to write an entire strategy guide on how best to operate as an effective crew.
You may prefer to play cooperatively; I completely understand that. I’m sure I’ll love it when I try it, too. I may want to leave solo-play behind entirely once I try an online cooperative session.
But, for now, I’m enjoying the unique challenge and tension of the single player experience. If you’ve been discouraged from trying out Sea of Thieves for this reason, I urge you to re-consider, especially if you have Xbox Game Pass (which means you have access to this game right now anyway). And if you enjoy harsh survival games in particular, Sea of Thieves may actually be right up your alley.