June 4, 2024

1 min

Skills & Seamanship

Understand port & starboard

port & starboard

It is essential to know which side of the boat you are referring to. If you use left or right, this will mean different things to different people, depending on which way they are facing. Therein lies significant risk. This is why mariners refer to port and starboard – never change and they are unambiguous references independent of anyone’s orientation

What are Port & Starboard?

When you stand on a ship and face its bow, the right hand is its starboard side and the left hand is its port side. This never changes whichever way you look at vessel.

What are the origins of port and starboard?

In centuries gone by, ships did not have a rudder, and nor was the boats controlled on the center line. Instead, they had a steering oar mounted on the side, near the stern. Since most sailors were right handed, it made sense to mount this on the right hand side of the vessel. This then in time became known as the steering side, which in turn developed into “starboard” when two old English words were combined: stéor (meaning “steer”) and bord (meaning “the side of a boat”).

As. the vessels got larger and larger, so did the steering oar needed to control them, and this meant that in order to prevent damage, only the other side of the boat could be brought alongside the dock once in port. Via a time when it was known as larboard, or “the loading side’, it ultimately came to be known simply as port.

Want handy ways to remember which are port and starboard. Read our guide here.

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