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Port vs Starboard

Port and Starboard

When you’re on a ship, you’ll often hear sailors refer to the “port” and “starboard” sides rather than “left” and “right.” But why is that? There are a few key reasons ships use these nautical terms:

The Meaning and Origin of Port and Starboard

The Meaning and Origin of Port and Starboard
  • The word “port” comes from the Latin word “portus” meaning “harbor.” It refers to the left side of the ship, which would face the harbor when docking.
  • “Starboard” derives from the Old English “steorbord” which meant the side of the ship that faced away from the dock, the right side.
  • Before rudders, ships were steered with a steering oar on the right side at the back of the ship, reinforcing why “starboard” refers to the right side.

Why Ships Avoid Left/Right

  • Unlike left and right, port and starboard are fixed locations on a ship and don’t change based on a sailor’s orientation.
  • This avoids confusion – “left” could mean different things to crew members facing different directions.
  • Port and starboard are unambiguous, independent of orientation, so they’re used for clear communication.

Remembering Port and Starboard

  • An easy way is “port and left” have 4 letters, “starboard and right” have more.
  • Or remember “port wine is red like the port side light.” Green is starboard.
  • For port, think of unloading cargo at a port on the left side.
  • Starboard was the steering side, most sailors were right handed.

Other Key Nautical Terms

Here are some other key nautical terms sailors use:

  • Bow – front of the ship
  • Stern – back of the ship
  • Galley – kitchen area
  • Head – bathroom
  • Deck – floor
  • Bridge – where navigation is controlled
  • Bulkhead – wall
  • Cabin – room, quarters

Using this specialized nautical vocabulary improves safety, communication and seamanship. So next time you’re aboard a ship, you’ll fit right in if you refer to the “port” side rather than the “left!”

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Steve Momot

Steve is an accomplished professional photographer and marketer who specializes in the Fishing, Yacht, and Boating industry. With a strong presence as an influencer and marketing expert in the Marine Industry, he has made a significant impact in the field. Additionally, Steve is the original creator and co-founder of Sportfishtrader. Prior to his career as a marine photographer, he gained extensive experience as a licensed boat and car dealer in South Florida.

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