Note that this guide discusses the sailing capabilities of ships in terms of their speeds at different points relative their own maximum speed. For a guide on the actual default speed value for ships, see Ship Speeds.
The sailing capabilties of the ships of Naval Action can be expressed through a sailing profile displaying their relative speeds when sailing on different points of the wind. To the right is an illustration off a semi-circle representing the major points at which a ship can sail relative the wind. 0 at the top of the circle is where the wind is coming from and is when a ship is sailing straight into the wind (usually not a good idea). 180 is when the wind is directly behind the ship, and the other numbers are everything in between.
Fore-and-aft rigged vessels (the ones with triangular mainsails), usually with one or two masts and usually the smaller vessels, are typically fastest when sailing either close-hauled or on a beam reach, i.e. at 45 degrees or 90 degrees to the wind.
Square-rigged vessels (the ones with square mainsails), usually two or three masted and usually the larger vessels, are fastest when sailing either on a beam reach or on a broad reach, i.e. at 90 or 135 degrees to the wind.
By measuring the speed at which a ship sails at all the different points and by expressing this value as a fraction of the ship's maximum speed, a sailing profile can be created - an illustration of where the ship is fastest relative the wind. The points on the perimeter of the circle are the same points relative the wind as in the illustration above. The value between 0 and 1 where the line is plotted is the fraction of the maximum speed reachable by the ship at that point. Here on the left is an example; that of the Cerberus light frigate. The Cerberus is a three-masted square-rigged ship. As you can see, she is fastest when sailing on a broad reach while she struggles sailing on any point abaft a beam reach.
Another way of representing the speed of representing the speed of a ship is by plotting it as a graph instead of on a circle as above. This is the speed profile of the Cerberus instead plotted in such a graph. The x-axis is the point relative the wind, so 0 is sailing directly into the wind and 180 is with the wind directly in your back. The y-axis is now the fraction of the ship's maximum speed that can be reached sailing at the corresponding point on the x-axis. The same information is presented; the Cerberus is fastest around point 140.
Below will follow comparisons of the Sailing profiles of various ships. To view each ships' sailing profile individually, navigate to that ship's page here on the wiki.
Unrated Vessels - Overview
Here are the speed profiles of all the unrated vessels. As the chart is relatively cluttered with the ten ships, I have also presented the same information in a graph below. The unrated vessels of Naval Action can be usefully grouped according to their sail plans, as ships using the same sail plan share many characteristics. There are the two cutters; the Cutter and the Yacht; the topsail schooners; the Lynx, Pickle and Privateer; the Snow and the four brigs; the Brig, Navy Brig, Mercury and Niagara. So, below is the same information contained in the chart on the left, namely the relative sailing capabilities of these different ships at different points relative the wind. The cutters are fastest on a beam reach, the brigs and snow fastest on a broad reach and the topsail schooners are somewhat diverse.
Unrated Vessels - Cutters
There are two cutters currently available in Naval Action; the Cutter and the Yacht. The Cutter is that ship which all Captains will be acquainted with; their first command and a suitable one at that. She is very easy to sail and also very forgiving about sailing mistakes that new Captains are prone to making. Never really sailing much worse than 75% of her maximum speed, excepting when approaching the wind within 30 degrees, she is as comfortable sailing a broad as a beam reach but does less well sailing downwind. Often used by new Captains for hunting down AI shipping, it is ideally suited for closing down ships trapped to windward.
The Yacht is the other cutter available. It was given as a reward item to players who supported the game in its early development. Althought a "premium" ship, it is not more powerful or better than the other starting ship the Cutter. In terms of its sailing profile, it is slightly worse in fact. Comfortable on a beam reach, just like the Cutter, it suffers slightly more when sailing downwind, but is notably slower when sailing upwind. In particular, it is markedly slower than the Cutter when sailing close-hauled. Both of these ships are available to newly created Captains of the lowest rank and behave essentially the same.
Unrated Vessels - Topsail Schooners
There are three topsail schooners in Naval Action and they are slightly more varied in their sailing behaviour than the other groups of unrated vessels. The three ships in this group are the Lynx, Pickle and Privateer. The Lynx is a common first shipbuilding project for Captains looking to enter the economic side of the game as it is a free blueprint available to all players right from the start. Being a very fast vessel, albeit relatively unarmed, she is still an exciting prospect for new players to build and Captain. In terms of her sailing capabilities she is very easy to command.
The Lynx reaches her generous top speed sailing both close hauled and on a beam reach and is still relatively fast between these points. What's more, she retains much of that speed even when inching closer to the wind - maintaining 80% of her top speed as far as to within 30 degrees of the wind. The Privateer behaves in a similar fashion when sailing close hauled and near to the wind but lacks the Lynx's speed as it approaches a beam reach. The Privateer is thus a true upwind specialist. She makes up for this slightly poorer sailing profile by carrying more guns and more crew than the Lynx. Finally, the Pickle is a surprisingly excellent sailer. Although not at all comfortable sailing closer than 45 degrees to the wind, at and after this point, she will perform well sailing at essentially relative position to the wind. This makes her both a difficult ship to engage in combat, as she can frequently maintain high speeds and maneuverability even in close encounters, but also a difficult ship to chase as the Pickle will invariably be capable of performing better at at least one point than her pursuers. Combined with her more well-documented increase in structure compared to the other topsail schooners, the Pickle is thus a frequently underestimated and sadly overlooked ship available to players of the Ensign (or equivalent) rank.
Unrated Vessels - Snows and Brigs
There are currently one snow and four brigs in Naval Action. These ships are square-rigged unrated vessels with very similar sail plans. They behave therefore rather similarly and for this reason are presented together here. The Snow is the only snow currently in the game, while the brigs are represented by the Brig, Navy Brig, Mercury and Niagara.
As can be seen in the sailing profile chart on the right here, the Snow behaves very much like the brigs. She is fastest around point 140, like all square-rigged vessels, but unlike the other square-rigged vessels, and indeed brigs, she retains much of her speed while sailing with the wind directly in her back. This is a not widely known attribute of the Snow and one which can be used very successfully to disengage from enemy vessels, as few ships can rival the Snow's speed at this point. Of course, her rather low default speed lessens the impact of this, but nevertheless she can frequently outrun other unrated vessels by running before the wind.
The brigs behave much like the larger square-rigged vessels; they are fastest at point 140 yet suffer when running with the wind too directly astern. Furthermore, they lose speed quickly when trying to sail on anything upwind. The Brig and Navy Brig behave similarly, although the Navy Brig actually sails a little more comfortably upwind. The Niagara is more comfortable still upwind, but behaves like the other brigs when sailing downwind. Finally, the Mercury is the most forgiving of all brigs and loses the least speed when sailing upwind. Furthermore, she is actually a decent sailer on a beam reach; a trait which the Snow shares incidentally.
Three of the frigates in Naval Action can be considered light frigates; the Cerberus, Renommee and Surprise. Another ship which can be usefully be grouped with these for the purposes of this analysis is the Gros Ventre, despite it being a trading ship - it's sail plan is still that of a frigate. Then there are the more standard fifth-rates frigate; the Frigate (and Pirate Frigate which is identical in terms of sailing), Belle Poule, Essex and Trincomalee. Finally there is the super heavy Constitution. Frigates are three-masted square-rigged with a sail plan referred to as ship-rigged.
Of the three light frigates, the Cerberus is the lightest of them all. It is relatively fast and handles much like the other square-rigged vessels; it is fastest at point 140, loses speed slowly as it turns from a broad reach to a beam reach and then loses speed quickly as it turns towards a close reach. It also suffers when sailing with the wind too directly astern. However, it is slightly more forgiving than than the Renommee at all points. Where the Cerberus is a light frigate in the sense of it being forgiving for sailing mistakes, the Renommee is a light frigate in the sense of it being built completely for speed. Its maximum speed is attained when sailing on a broad reach, obviously, but care should be taken to stray too far from this point as the Renommee is not as forgiving as some Captains tend to believe. However, it's extraordinarily high base speed allows her to excel even when sailing slightly below her maximum speed. A different ship entirely, the Surprise aims to achieve the opposite side of the same trade-off. Rather than having a high base speed, yet poor sailing capabilities when sailing on a beam reach or anywhere upwind, like the Renommee, the Surprise has a much more modest top speed yet sails extremely well at points where other square-rigged vessels struggle. In particular, she is almost as fast on a beam reach as a broad reach, and is comfortable sailing any point in between. What's more, her speed does not suffer at all as much as the other frigates, or indeed any square-rigged vessels, when sailing upwind. She can even sail as far as to within 60 degrees of the wind and still stay at around 75% of her maximum speed. The Gros Ventre is actually a trading vessel but in terms general size is similar to the light frigates. Of all the ship-rigged vessels, she is the all-round most forgiving and will sail comfortably on essentially any point with the wind abaft her beam. She is even a competent sailer on a somewhat close reach although pushing her past point 60 will see her speed drop quickly. Due to her being comfortable on so many points, she is frequently capable of outsailing putative pursuers on at least one course.
The Frigate (and in sailing terms identical Pirate Frigate) is a heavier frigate than those mentioned above. Although not a heavy frigate, she is still bulkier, slower and more difficult to manoeuver than the three frigates discussed above. Notably, she loses all way even when sailing 15 degrees from the wind and will be caught in irons a lot more often than the lighter frigates if care is not taken. Although her profile may look comparable to the Renommee and Cerberus, it is still important to remember her low speed, which means she will sail slower overall (bear in mind to consult the Ship Speed guide for a comparison of ships' speeds rather than sailing profiles). The Belle Poule, Essex and Trincomalee all sail in a similar fashion to the Frigate. They all struggle slightly more than the other lighter frigates mentioned so far sailing upwind and will rapidly lose speed sailing close-hauled. This is the chief difference between them and the other frigates, as they otherwise follow much the same pattern of being comfortable on a broad reach, yet losing speed with the wind too directly behind them, as the other frigates.
The Constitution is the heaviest frigate in the game and predictably she is also the most difficult to sail. She will punish you for sailing even on a beam reach and will rapidly lose speed as the wind passes your beam. Conversely, she is comfortable across a broader range of points when running before the wind and will even perform decently with the wind directly astern. Essentially the key to managing this bulky super frigate is to endeavour to at all times keep the wind well behind your beam and to only tack when absolutely necessary.