Ever since SoT’s steam debut, I’ve seen many new pirates out on the seas. These players tend to be overwhelmed by the variety of different cannonballs available to them and default to standard cannonballs during ship combat. Although my crew and I love winning ship fights, I want to take the time to educate more crews on what the different cannonballs do and the times it makes the most tactical sense to use them; this should make combat more exciting for everyone involved. This is a long guide, so pour yourself a grog and make yourselves comfortable.
Cannon ammunition can be broadly divided into 5 different categories:
1) STANDARD CANNON AMMO - Can only be fired out of cannons and don’t inflict friendly fire on your own crew.
Cannonball (Roles: Punch holes in enemy ships, fight off PVE threats)
Cannonballs kill players with a direct hit, inflict 1 unit of damage on the wheel/capstan/mast, and open a level 2 hole in the hull. Cannonballs are the most common ammo type and are quite versatile. You should primarily use cannonballs to break holes in the hull of enemy ships and fight off PVE threats (such as the Kraken or Megalodon), although you can also use them to cripple enemy ships or disrupt the crew (keep in mind that the more specialized ammo types are better suited for this). Cannonballs are also useful for taking down tough skeletons (such as skeleton lords).
When fighting enemy ships, you should aim for the lowest deck of a Galleon, the center of a Brig, or the front of a Sloop; hits to these areas will immediately let water in, whereas holes opened up in other areas won’t admit water until the ship has partially flooded.
Chainshot (Role: Cripple enemy ships)
Chainshot will instantly destroy a mast, wheel, or capstan if it hits them, but will only open a level 1 hole if it hits the hull. Chainshots are rarer than cannonballs, but more common than cursed cannonballs. Chainshots inflict reduced damage against players and PVE threats, so save them for fights against player ships. Chainshots have a shorter range than other ammo types so you’ll need to aim higher than normal.
Chainshots are incredibly useful in crippling an enemy ship, yet they’re criminally underused by the current player base. Use them at your first opportunity! Too often, my crew will board an enemy ship in the middle of a fight and find a large stash of chainshot sitting unused in the supply barrel. With few exceptions, you should open a fight by shooting chainshots at your enemy’s masts; ships can’t sail if all their masts are downed and they take a long time to repair, giving you a major tactical advantage.
2) GRENADES - Can be thrown in addition to being fired out of a cannon and can inflict friendly fire on crewmates
Blunderbomb (Role: Cause knockback)
Blunderbombs deal 15% damage (50% on a direct hit) and apply a strong knockback to any players caught in the blast. If shot out of a cannon, blunderbombs can knock a ship off course (like a megalodon bite, or gunpowder keg explosion), although they don’t cause any damage to ship itself. Like firebombs, blunderbombs appear to do increased damage to skeletons, although they are less suited to killing them compared to firebombs. They’re quite useful at detonating gunpowder from a safe distance if you’re not carrying a pistol or eye-of-reach.
Blunderbombs are more situational than other cannon ammo types, but they do have uses during ship battles. Aim for the top deck to try and knock enemy players overboard. If an enemy ship is trying to ram you, several direct blunderbomb hits (fired from a cannon, not thrown) will knock them off course. You can also use them to knock players off your ladders.
Firebomb (Roles: Kill skeletons, area denial)
Firebombs set all creatures in the impact radius on fire, dealing up to 33% damage to players and killing most skeletons unless the fire is extinguished early. If it hits a ship, firebombs also start a persistent fire that will spread unless put out with a bucket of water. Players can extinguish themselves by pouring a bucket of water on themselves (alt-fire with a full bucket), jumping into the sea, or exposing themselves to rain. If you extinguish a fire by dumping water on it, the water will evaporate. This means you can speed up your bailing if there’s a fire between you and the top deck; simply dump your water on the fire and go back for more.
Firebombs have multiple roles: use them to wipe out squads of skeletons (even those pesky metal skeletons), flush out players that have barricaded themselves in a chokepoint, or keep players from going where you don’t want them. If you’re shooting firebombs at an enemy ship, you should aim for the captain’s cabin/wheel of a Galleon, the anchor of a Brig, or the wheel/capstan of a Sloop; these areas are more difficult to extinguish and deny enemy players the ability to interact with those ship components (without taking damage).
3) GREEN CURSED CANNONBALLS – These cursed cannonballs affect players (even crewmembers) but can only be fired out of cannons.
Grogball (Role: Prevent repairs, Hinder bailing)
Grogballs make all players/skeletons caught in the blast radius extremely drunk (stumbling around, vomiting) for roughly 8 seconds. Unlike the wearyball/jigball, these effects persist even if you take damage. Grogballs are curious in that they tend to be more effective when used against larger crews. Here’s why: affected players will vomit once or twice on their own, but if their vomit hits another player, that player will vomit shortly after (and have they screen covered with green bile), potentially causing a chain-reaction of constant back-and-forth vomiting among the crew unless they space themselves out.
Affected players will find it nearly impossible to repair holes (they’re stumbling around too much) or bail water (vomit fills an empty bucket, takes longer to stumble topside). Shoot a grogball at the enemy ship once they’ve sent players to start repairs (you can estimate this to be approximately 10 seconds after you inflict damage, or if your cannon shots to the hull are giving you a hit marker). Grogballs are less useful against players on the top deck, as those tasks (using cannons, steering, adjusting sails, etc) can still be accomplished while severely drunk.
Jigball/Wearyball (Role: Halt enemy activity)
Although they have different visual effects (wearyballs put players to sleep, jigballs force all affected to dance), wearyballs/jigballs are practically identical; they fully paralyze all players/skeletons in the blast radius for 5 seconds (technically, wearyballs are considered slightly worse than jigballs because affected players move close to the ground where they are less exposed). This effect is broken if the victim takes damage.
Many players consider these cannonballs to be the most devastating green cursed cannonballs, although they’ve become less effective from their introduction following several nerfs. These cursed cannonballs can cause plenty of consternation among the enemy crew regardless of when you use them, but they are most effective when used immediately after the enemy crew experiences a catastrophe (such as getting hit by a ballastball or powder keg) since it prevents them from taking action to reverse the damage.
Limpball (Role: Take up storage space)
These cannonballs cause affected players to move slower and be unable to run/jump for 15 seconds, as though they dropped from a large height.
These are among the least effective cursed cannonballs. They have some utility in preventing players from jumping off their ship (although they can still use the ladders/cannons to leave) and can slow a Galleon crew’s ability to bail. If the enemy ship is coming in to ram you, hit them with a limpball to prevent enemies from boarding you. They’re otherwise less useful than most other cursed cannonballs.
Venomballs (Role: Damage/Blind enemy players)
These cannonballs slowly inflict 30 points of damage to affected players over 15 seconds. They also reduce visibility. These effects mimic what happens when you get bitten by a snake.
Players typically don’t bother to heal when they go below to make repairs, so shoot one of these over if you suspect the enemy crew to be busy bailing. These cannonballs pair very well with firebombs, as the effects of fire and venom stack. Venomballs become much more useful at night, as the reduced visibility coupled with darkness makes affected players practically blind.
4) PURPLE CURSED CANNONBALLS – These cannonballs affect ships, not players, although they don’t inflict any actual damage upon impact.
Anchorball (Role: Halt enemy ship)
As their name implies, these cannonballs will drop a ship’s anchor. Well, it would be more accurate to say it “activates” the anchor; anchorballs won’t prevent players with quick reactions from catching the anchor before it fully drops. Additionally, an anchorball will raise a ship’s anchor if it’s fully dropped (and no players are trying to raise it).
Anchorballs can prevent an enemy from fleeing or give you time to catch your breath, but they’re very hit or miss. If the ship’s anchor is successfully dropped, the crew must raise it before the ship can move again. However, if a player grabs the anchor, then nothing will happen. You can increase your chance of success if you wait until most of the enemy crew is occupied with something else (such as managing sails or repairing damage) so they don’t have time to grab the anchor before it drops.
Ballastball (Role: Killing blow)
These cannonballs force the affected ship to sink low in the water for 7 seconds, causing all holes to admit water, regardless of their location. Although the effects wear off after 7 seconds, the ship may not rise back up if too much water has poured in.
These are without a doubt the most devastating out of anything in this list (especially against Galleons) and you should base your strategy around them if you have any. They are most affective if used after you’ve peppered the enemy ship with cannonballs. The reason for their effectiveness is that most crews don’t repair holes that aren’t currently leaking water (such as the mid-deck of a Galleon) during the heat of battle. A popular strategy employed by sloops to kill larger ships is to cause a lot of harmless damage that doesn’t admit water (which most crews will ignore), before hitting the ship with a ballastball; all those “harmless” holes suddenly begin flooding the ship at an alarming rate.
Barrelball (Role: Take up storage space, kill skeleton galleons?)
These cannonballs prevent players from accessing their food, plank, and cannonball supply barrels for 15 seconds. I’ve heard that these cannonballs also prevent the crew of skeleton ships from repairing anything for the duration, but I haven’t tested this myself.
These cannonballs are not very effective against players; they don’t prevent you from using supplies you already have in your pockets, nor do they prevent players from accessing mobile storage chests (or rowboat chests). If it’s true that these prevent skeletons from repairing their ship, then save them for fights against skeleton ships and don’t bother using them against players.
Helmball (Role: Take up storage space)
These cannonballs prevent players from being able to manipulate the ship’s wheel for 15 seconds.
These cannonballs only have niche uses. Use them near islands/rocks to possibly cause the enemy ship to crash. They can also force a ship in a turn to continue along the turn, giving your ship the opportunity to reposition (or flee). Ultimately, though, they will most likely remain in storage, as most other cannonballs are more effective.
Peaceball (Role: Prevent return fire)
These cannonballs force all cannons on the affected ship to point fully upward for 5 seconds. Crews must then manually move them back into position (taking 1-2 seconds) before they can resume fire.
Peaceballs are primarily used reactively; if you find your ship entering the enemy’s line of fire, you can prevent multiple broadsides if you can hit them with a peaceball first. This will give you several seconds to get out of the way or continue pelting the enemy with impunity.
Riggingball (Role: Slow/stop enemy ship)
These cannonballs forcibly raise all the sails of affected ships for 8 seconds, causing the ship to slow to a stop. If the sails are already up, then riggingballs will instead drop all sails. Players can easily lower the sails again once the effect ends. Many players consider the riggingball to be an inferior version of the anchorball, since dropping the anchor immediately brings a ship to a halt (preventing it from rotating) and forces the enemy crew to stop what they’re doing to raise the anchor, whereas it’s easy for a crew to drop the sails again. However, rigginballs are guaranteed to slow the enemy ship, whereas anchorballs can be countered by grabbing the anchor.
I consider riggingballs to be a safer, yet less effective anchorball. Like an anchorball, use riggingballs when you need to slow the enemy ship (either to make them an easier target, stop them from fleeing, or make your own escape). Be aware that ships with all sails raised (and raised anchor) can still rotate in place, so a competent crew will keep your ship in their firing zone while their sails are up.
5) GHOSTLY CANNONBALLS – These cannonballs can (currently) only be acquired by completing a ghost ship fleet and collecting the ghostly cannonball crate from the loot.
Phantom cannonballs and phantom flame cannonballs are merely re-skins of standard cannonballs and firebombs, respectively (although you can’t throw phantom flame cannonballs), so consult those sections for information and advice.
Wraith cannonball (Role: Shock and awe)
These cannonballs break multiple holes upon impact with a hull (one level 2 hole and several adjacent level 1 holes), knock the ship off course (like a blunderbomb), and make a loud scream as they fly through the air (no effect to the player characters, but it probably startles the person holding the controller).
Wraithballs are essentially superior versions of standard cannonballs, so you should use them anytime you have a clear shot and it's not optimal to use a more specialized cannonball (like a chainshot).
Closing comments and credits
Most of the tactical tips presented here are my own, but I consulted the Sea of Thieves wiki and ToejahM's video on the subject matter to fill in any gaps in my knowledge. I plan on reposting an updated version in a few months, so if you have something you want to add, let me know.