... I'm currently playing this game on Gametap. ...
I really have no idea what that means other than a guess that you have not bought the game.
Perhaps you need to know a bit more since you do not have the manual for reference.
When you have ships to send to sea, there are several missions on which they can be sent:
- Cruise missions are the default orders ... unless another mission is assigned. Board, Harass & Pound are operational modes for cruises.
- When you set the mission order menu to 'Raid [a Settlement]', or issue a raid edict ..., a dialog gives you the option to choose the type of settlement to raid. ... your first few missions should probably be raids ...
- A ship assigned to 'Kidnap [a Skilled Worker]' will leave and grab one of a particular skilled captive you want. This costs 250 gold ...
- A ship assigned to 'Explore' returns with additional knowledge. A ship can explore with no weapons, but does need some rations.
- A ship assigned to 'Foster a War' goes to the area in the sea you assigned it. It will look for ships of one particular nation, raise false colors and then fire upon that ship. It will not press home the attack. The goal is to make one of the Great Powers angry with the other.
I hope that is helpful information about what to do with ships.