Port and Starboard: Useful Difference between Port vs. Starboard

Navigating the vast waters of the ocean requires a specialized language to ensure clear communication among crew members. In this maritime tradition, port and starboard are essential terms that denote the left and right sides of a vessel respectively when a person onboard faces forward toward the bow. These directional terms remain constant, no matter which way the navigator is facing, which helps to avoid confusion during navigation, maneuvering, and docking.

Port and Starboard: The Basics

Key Takeaways

  • Port is the term used to describe the left side, if you are facing the bow.
  • In contrast, Starboard is, if you are facing the bow, the right side.

Port and Starboard

Port vs. Starboard: Definition and Origin

Knowing some history can be helpful to remember which term is used for which side. In the past, because ships had their rudder mechanisms on the right side, they would enter the port from the left side: this is exactly why left is synonymous with port in navigation. In a sentence, it can be used as an adjective, just as you would use the word left. For instance, you would hear the captain of the ship yelling that the pirates are coming from the port side. So,  “port” refers to the left side of a ship or boat when you are facing forward towards the bow (the front end).

Starboard comes from two Old English words, one meaning “steer” and the other “the side of the boat”. So, literally, it means “the steering side of the boat”. This definition also makes a lot of sense because in the past, when ships were a lot smaller, they were steered with a hand-operated rudder. Its handle was located closer to the right side of the ship because, as the US National Ocean Service suggests, the majority of sailors was right-handed. An example of a sentence using this term would be, “The Titanic sunk due to hitting an iceberg on its starboard side“. Today, “Starboard” is used to refer to the right-hand side of a ship or boat when you are facing forward towards the bow (the front end).

How to Spot Port and Starboard

Apart from remembering the historical explanation of the terminology, there are two more trick that might help you solve the Port vs Starboard dilemma. Firstly, you might notice that the word left is shorter than the word right, just like the word port is shorter than starboard; therefore, the shorter and the longer words go together. Secondly, if you place the words in alphabetical order, left would go before right. Similarly, port, which means left, when facing the bow, would go before starboard, which means right. So, as long as you remember how the letters go in the alphabet, you won’t have any trouble remembering the difference between port and starboard.

Port and Starboard Examples in Sentences

Port Examples

  • When navigating the boat, remember that port refers to the left side as you face forward.
  • The captain instructed the crew to secure the lines on the port side of the ship.
  • The red navigation light is located on the port side of the vessel.
  • During the storm, the waves battered against the port side, rocking the boat violently.
  • The sailors painted the port side of the old fishing boat to give it a fresh look.
  • As we entered the harbor, the lighthouse was visible on the port side.
  • The first mate reported damage to the port side hull that needed immediate attention.

Starboard Examples

  • The crew prepared to dock by tying off the lines on the starboard side.
  • The green navigation light is traditionally located on the starboard side of a boat.
  • As the ship turned, the lighthouse came into view on the starboard side.
  • The captain ordered the passengers to lifeboats on the starboard side after the collision.
  • The fishing nets were cast over the starboard side early in the morning.
  • The whale surfaced briefly on the starboard side, delighting the onlookers.
  • Damage to the starboard engine required the crew to return to port for repairs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between port side and starboard side on a ship?

The port side refers to the left side of a ship when facing the bow, or front, while the starboard side is the right side when facing the bow.

How can you easily remember which side is port and which is starboard?

One simple method is to remember that both “port” and “left” have four letters, so they correspond to each other. Also, “starboard” has two “r”s, which can remind you of “right.”

Why are the port side lights red and starboard side lights green on a vessel?

Red and green lights are used for navigation after dark. Red on the port side and green on the starboard side help vessels determine each other’s direction and avoid collisions.

What are the historical reasons behind the terms ‘port’ and ‘starboard’?

Historically, ships were steered using a steering oar on the right side, which was called “steorbord” in Old English, meaning the side on which the ship is steered. Eventually, the opposite side became known as the port side since ships would dock on that side to leave the steering side free.

How are port and starboard used in the popular ‘Port and Starboard game’?

In the game, commands are called out to participants, who must quickly move to the side of the room or designated area that corresponds to ‘port’ (left) or ‘starboard’ (right). It’s a fun way to teach or remember the terms.

What do the terms bow, stern, port, and starboard refer to on a ship?

The bow is the front of the ship, the stern is the rear, port is the left side and starboard is the right side, all relative to a person standing on the vessel facing the bow. These terms ensure clarity and prevent confusion on the open sea.