Sailing is key to Viking history and Valheim is no exception. Vikings were the best shipbuilders to ever grace the earth and shipbuilding was ingrained in their very culture. The Viking longship is β€” even compared with modern ships β€” a highly-sophisticated vessel and during the medieval era, it was an absolute powerhouse.

In Valheim, you can command your very own longship, but first, you’ll need to learn how to sail. Sailing in Valheim is pretty true-to-life and requires you to manage shifting winds, sandbars, and rocks jutting from the sea.

How to Sail

To become a master helmsman you will need to understand how the ship moves by paddling and catching the wind. Once you are comfortable with the basics, practice maneuvering in tight spaces.

Study up and we’ll have you slipping through narrow fjords and raiding the heartland in no time.

How the Ship Moves

Ship states are changed on a track and each state determines how the ship will affect its current motion. Since an object in motion stays in motion, the ship can be paddling backward and still slam into that rock you didn’t see until it was too late.

Here’s the table of ship states:

Padding BackwardNeutralPaddling ForwardHalf-sailFull-sail

In-game, this is indicated by up-arrows and down-arrows that range from yellow to red. The color only represents how fast the ship could move, the color doesn’t change and doesn’t consider the angle of the wind.

States of the Ship

Quick physics refresher: Acceleration is how motion is changing. Velocity is the nature of that motion. A ship that is moving forward quickly has high velocity, if you are paddling backward in that same ship it has negative acceleration β€” positive velocity and a negative acceleration means the ship is moving forward, but slowing down πŸ™‚.

  1. Paddling backward: The ship will have backward acceleration. It’s always harder to go backward than forward because you cannot use sails.
  2. Neutral: The ship will mostly retain its velocity but will come to a stop eventually.
  3. Paddling forward: The ship will have low forward acceleration.
  4. Half-sail: The ship will have medium forward acceleration.
  5. Full-sail: The ship will have high forward acceleration.

Turning the Ship

Ships in Valheim also operate with a wheel system. You can turn the wheel left or right and it will hold its position even if you stand up. You also must turn the wheel in the opposite direction when going backward, just as you would when driving a car.


You control the ship with WASD which have the following effects:

  • W (forward): Step forward (to the right) on the track.
  • S (backward): Step backward (to the left) on the track.
  • A (left): Turn the wheel to the left.
  • D (right): Turn the wheel to the right.

The sail will automatically orient for you to catch the wind, but you may need to turn the ship to take advantage of the wind.

How to Catch the Wind

The wind gauge shows which direction the wind is blowing from and how it’s hitting your sails. The wind icon will be white when the wind is hitting your sails and greyed-out when it’s not. If the wind is not hitting your sails, you should raise them and paddle.

The wind gauge also shows the sweet spots where your ship will move fastest. You might think that wind from directly behind the ship is the best, but notice that the ring is golden on the sides and brown on the back.

Catching the wind in the golden parts of the wind gauge will move your ship faster than from directly behind.

Tips for Sailing

It’s difficult to reverse your direction and you should simply turn the ship whenever possible. This is why docking and departing are more challenging than maneuvering in open water.

You can always affect the ship with paddling, even without wind. The opposite is true for the sails. Sails are completely useless without wind.

Ships won’t capsize (fall over) even in the stormiest seas, but they will take damage falling over the back of huge swells.

Ships will randomly take damage and emit a chunking sound in open water. This is just a miscalculation of wave physics, it deals very little damage, and doesn’t mean you hit a sea creature or that you’ve had one-too-many tankards of mead. This is more common in multiplayer servers.

Types of Ships

There are three ships currently in the game:

Rafts are simple vessels that are barely sea-worthy. They’ll make it across open water but very slowly (slow enough that leeches can keep up). Friends don’t let friends use rafts.

Karve’s are respectable ships that are quite capable of long voyages. They’re much faster than rafts and have a small cargo space that can hold some ores or other heavy material.

Longships are the best vehicles in Valheim. Longships have massive cargo space, slice through the water with great speed, and are maneuverable enough to navigate tight waterways. Make one as soon as possible, you’ll love it.

Pro Tip: Longships turn from the back (all ships do, but with the longship, it’s noticeable), which means the back of the ship will swing first. It’s the opposite of driving a car and will take a little practice to get used to.

Updated on February 28, 2021

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