Outside of a few tooltips when you first start, Sea of Thieves doesn't have much of a tutorial. Many of the new players I've run into have been completely lost: What am I doing on this island? Where's my ship? What do I do now? The answers are: drinking grog, docked nearby, and whatever you want. There is a structure to Sea of Thieves, but you're free to completely ignore it.
It helps to know what that structure is before you decide whether or not to ignore it, though. This guide to Sea of Thieves voyages, factions, and kraken attacks will get you sailing in the right direction (we'll have more on skeleton forts soon, too). At the bottom, we've also included a bunch of tricks we've learned along the way.
Starting a voyage
To drop a crate, chest, or skull that you're carrying, press the X key. There's no tooltip for this, so many players are left bewildered at first.
Outposts are islands where you can buy voyages from merchants (as well as other items), and you always start on one. The guy in the blue tent represents the Gold Hoarders, and will sell you treasure hunts. The woman on the dock represents the Merchant Alliance, and sells you livestock trading jobs. The lady in the spooky shop represents the Order of Souls, and will sell you skeleton bounties. You'll find these NPCs at every outpost island.
Once you've purchased some voyages (the starting voyages cost 0 gold), head to your ship, which should be neatly docked nearby. In the captain's quarters, there's a desk where you can propose a voyage. If you're playing alone, propose one and vote on it, and it will begin. If you're in a group, the majority of your crew has to vote for a voyage before it begins. Once you start a voyage, you'll lose any maps it gives you if you log off before completing it.
Checking your maps
'Starting a voyage' simply gives you maps or instructions to follow. Hold down 'E' (or the right bumper on a controller) to look through your maps and take one out to examine it.
Gold Hoarders voyages
If you've taken on a Gold Hoarders voyage, you'll be given one or more treasure maps. If you have a map of an island with no name, you need to find it on your ship's world map by memorizing its shape and sail to it. Usually the island will be close to wherever you accepted the journey, so start looking nearby your ship.
Once you make it to the island, use your shovel to dig where the red X marks a treasure chest. This can get tricky, especially on multilevel islands. If you're stuck, use your compass to make sure you're on the right part of the island, and look for paths that can help you orient yourself.
Other Gold Hoarders voyages give you riddles that begin with the name of an island. Once on the named island, another part of the riddle will appear on the page. Eventually, you'll be led to a certain spot, and you'll have to take some number of paces in a direction before digging. Simply jogging forward will move you too quickly to properly gauge how many paces you've taken, but if you're looking at your compass, you'll take more obvious and deliberate steps. If you're using a controller and looking at your compass, you'll also feel a vibration every time you take a pace.
Merchant Alliance voyages
Once you've started a Merchant Alliance voyage, head back to the merchant to pick up animal crates. You'll have to find the requested animals and deliver them to the designated outpost within a certain amount of time. Just about any island with grass on it has chickens or pigs, and some have obvious names that indicate what you'll find. You may have to stop at a couple to find what you're looking for, though. When you do, chase down the animal you need while holding the crate and left mouse click to capture it. Deliver the crates to the Merchant Alliance agent at the designated destination. If you pick up the wrong animal in a crate, you can kill it (sorry) to empty the crate.
Order of Souls voyages
These are bounty hunts. The 'maps' you receive will include the names of one or more skeleton bosses, and the name of the island where you can find them. Pull up to the island and send at least one person ashore to draw out the boss skeletons. You'll have to fight a few waves of baddies before they spawn. They can be tough, but aren't so bad if you've got your ship aligned with the island so you can bombard them with cannonballs. After you kill one of your targets, grab their skull and stash it on your ship.
Selling your loot
Each voyage leaves you with something of value: a chest, livestock, or a skull. You'll lose any of this loot if you log off, so you've got to sell it. For Merchant Alliance voyages, deliver your livestock to the merchant agent at the requested outpost in time. For the others, it doesn't matter what outpost you go to or when. Carry chests to the Gold Hoarders agent and carry skulls to the Order of Souls agent. A prompt will appear that allows you to sell them for gold, which will be split among your crew. Watch out, though, as other players can steal your loot and sell it themselves.
How to sail
There isn't a lot of complexity to ship maneuvering, but it takes coordination, especially on galleons where the person at the helm often can't see past the sails. Here are the basics:
Use the rope nearest to the sails to raise them. Completely unfurl the sails to reach your top speed, and partially unfurl them for docking maneuvers, as you'll move more slowly and turn more sharply. With no sails, you can turn in place, which is useful for getting out of tight spots. The main sail on galleons seems to be the most effective one to change when managing your speed and turn radius.
Use the other rope to adjust the sail angle. When heading into the wind, turn them as far left or right as you can. With the wind behind you, turn them so that they're catching the wind if you want to go faster.
Drop anchor before you think you need to. You'll keep moving for a bit after you let the anchor loose.
On the sloop, you can see the map from the upper deck. Walk to the back of the upper deck to peer down into the map room to check your bearing—saves a lot of time.
On a galleon, pick players who are responsible for checking the map and pointing out dangers. Otherwise the player steering will have to constantly ask, "Am I going the right way? Is there a rock in front of us?"
Use wooden planks to repair holes below deck, and use your bucket to bail water. But also know that your hull can also become filled with water from heavy rain or large waves, too. If you've gone through a storm or rough seas, it doesn't hurt to take a peek downstairs to see if you've taken on water even if your hull is intact.
Jam the 'hand brake' for sharp turns. If you turn the steering wheel all the way right or left and then drop the anchor, you'll suddenly turn 90 degrees. If you time it right, you can very quickly go from facing another vessel head on to facing them with your broadside, in the sights of your cannons. Of course, you're now a sitting duck, so you have to be ready to bombard them and raise anchor if you need to escape.
Turn off your lanterns at night. Your ship's lanterns can be seen from a very long way away—on the darkest nights it can be the only thing giving your position away. If you want to avoid other ships, or sneak up without them seeing you, turn off the lanterns, not just on the top deck but below decks as well.
Don't sail off the map. Or do, because it's funny. But don't do it with any loot on board, just in case.
How to defeat the kraken
If you're surprised by a sudden kraken attack, don't dive in to try to hurt it underwater: it appears to just be tentacles, and the water surrounding it is pitch black. Check out the video below for a complete guide to taking it down:
What else can you do?
You don't have to take on voyages if you don't want to. Other players are busy doing that for you, and if you want to truly embrace your profession as a pirate, you can steal their loot before they're able to turn it in. Look for ships parked outside of islands (they're probably on the island completing a voyage, meaning they'll be returning to their ship with something valuable) or headed to outposts, where they may be going to sell their haul.
The line between 'playing the game' and 'griefing' is blurry in Sea of Thieves. As a group of four, it OK to gang up on a single player on a sloop? Yeah, I'd say so. Being pirates and stealing each other's stuff is what the game is about. And if they don't have any loot, is it OK to repeatedly kill them just to mess with them? Maybe not so much. If they're having fun screwing around, then sure, but hounding solo players just to make their lives difficult probably won't be fun for them. I try to steer my teams away from it, though it's bound to happen—everyone wants something to happen when they spot another ship.
If you prefer to play solo but are tired of getting picked on like this, I'm afraid the truth is that Sea of Thieves just isn't meant to be played solo. The seas are much more fun when they're stocked with four-player galleons and two-player sloops. I prefer a fair fight if I can find one, and I think most players do.
Solo or not, aside from doing whatever pirating your moral code will allow for, you can also go after skeleton forts, which are marked by giant skull clouds in the sky (you can't miss them). And if you just want to putt around between islands, you can find treasure and treasure maps (or bounties) laying around on them. Freeform exploration can pay off, then, though taking specific voyages guarantees a haul.
More tips and tricks
Hide your loot. We've found that the crow's nest is the best place to put chests while traveling. If you're raided, there's a decent chance your opponents won't bother to climb the ladder to see if you've stashed anything up there. And even if they do, it'll delay them a bit—hopefully long enough for you to respawn. This isn't a great idea with bounty skulls, though, as they glow bright green. Putting one in your crow's nest broadcasts that you have loot to the entire vicinity.
Watch out for lightning strikes. You can survive a bolt of lightning—Chris was struck by one and only lost about a third of his health—but if you have a powder keg on the deck of your ship and it's struck by lightning it will explode.
Check out shipwrecks. They can contain valuable items!
Get to shore quickly by shooting yourself out of a cannon or using the sword's power attack. For the latter technique, point yourself as close to the shore as possible and charge up your sword's lunge. It'll send you flying through the water.
Barf can be useful. If you drink too much grog, your pirate will barf. But barf is worth holding onto. Throw up into your bucket, and it'll stay full of barf until you empty it. If you throw your pail of barf at a player, it'll obscure their vision. Gross, but useful if you need a quick getaway.
Collect animal crates and animals. Grab some pigs and chickens and you can sell them to the Merchant Alliance, even without a contract.
Snakes can be subdued by playing them music.