April 8, 2024

2 min

Skills & Seamanship

How to Remember Port and Starboard

yacht showing port and starboard

A Comprehensive Guide to Port and Starboard

The importance of understanding port and starboard sides cannot be overestimated – it is crucial for anyone involved in sailing. Sailors use the words port and starboard to make sure they know which direction is being talked about. These terms relate to the left and right sides of a boat. When facing the front of the vessel, port refers to the left side and starboard the right side, when facing the bow (forward direction). This orientation remains constant regardless of the observer’s position on the vessel, ensuring clarity and consistency in communication. You need to learn these or you risk potential accidents and port and starboard terminology will be used in emergency situations. It’s also essential to know them before starting an RYA Competent Crew or RYA Day Skipper course.

yacht showing port and starboard

Origins of Port and Starboard

The necessity for unique terms like port and starboard arises from the potential confusion when using left and right, which can change based on one’s orientation. If you know why port is called port and why starboard is called starboard, it will help you to remember which is which. The term “starboard” can be traced back to the early days of sailing. Before ships had rudders on their centerlines, ships were controlled with a steering paddle. Most of the sailors were right-handed, so the steering oars were placed on the right side of the stern. That’s why sailors started calling the right side the steering side, which soon became “starboard” by combining two Old English words: steor (which means “to steer”) and bord (which means “the side of a boat”). This setup dictated that ships could only dock on their left-hand side, hence the term “port” side, which facilitated docking without damaging the steering oar on the opposite side.

Why Red for Port and Green for Starboard?

The use of red lights for port and green lights for starboard, respectively, is also steeped in maritime tradition. Red, a color historically associated with port markers and readily available, signifies the port side. Green, being distinct and opposite to red on the color wheel, denotes the starboard side. This convention aids in nighttime navigation, allowing sailors to identify the direction of other vessels and prevent collisions, a practice codified in international maritime regulations.

Arc of visibility navigation ights

Memorization Tips

Memorizing port and starboard can be made easier with a few creative tricks:

  • The same number of letters
  • “Port” and “left” each have four letters, linking the direction and side.
  • Color Association: The phrase “there is no red port left in the bottle” helps associate red with the left (port) side, while green naturally falls to starboard.
  • Mnemonic Devices: Phrases like “The ship’s LEFT PORT” or “StaRboaRd is RIGHT” or “RED PORT wine”. Another one is the saying ‘Sailors use stars to point them in the right direction after they have left port”.
  • Historical Context: Remembering the origin of the terms port and starboard can also provide a logical basis for their association with left and right.
  • Practical reminders: labelling the sides of a boat or wearing specially marked socks. Just make sure you have a red sock on your left foot and a green or starboard sock on your right foot!
navigation lights at night

In conclusion

In conclusion, the distinction between the nautical terms port and starboard is a fundamental aspect of maritime knowledge, vital for safe and efficient sea navigation. How to remember port and starboard? By understanding their origins, utilizing memorization tricks, and consistently applying these terms in practice and you’ll quickly master this essential nautical language.

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