How To Remember Port and Starboard


Boats are a fun way to move on the water. With great fun also comes great risk, however, and water traffic has rules and regulations to keep its users safe. The boat is divided into two main parts, the port and the starboard, essentially meaning the right and the left respectively.

These nautical terms should be at the fingertips of all boaters and others on the water. Sadly, many find it difficult to remember which side of their watercraft is the port and which side is the starboard.

This can lead to accidents as this misunderstanding can make you think you have the right of way when you don’t and result in collisions. Knowing the difference between both sides is also crucial because sailors speak in those terms and mixing them up could lead to miscommunication.

Just as you should always wear a life jacket and obey boat safety practices, you should also know the difference between the port and starboard sides of your watercraft. Read on to achieve this mastery.

What Side Is The Port?

Sailing a boat is a great way to experience the open water, but it can be confusing which side of the boat is the port. Which side of the boat is the port? Unless you’re on a sailboat, chances are you don’t know.

Port refers to the left-hand side of a boat when looking from the bow. The bow is at the front of the boat, so should divide the vessel in two with the bow facing forward, the part on your left is the port.

Sailboats have their masts on the right-hand side, so the port is on the left when looking forward. A boat’s engines are usually located in the center of the vessel, so the port side is typically free from them.

The port is also the side of a boat facing the shore. The term derives from old maritime usage where the port side was that which faced the shore when the boat was docked. Today, most boats have one or more ports on their starboard (right) side.

When docking, it is customary for the boat’s captain to indicate which port is being used by ordering everyone off of the port side and onto the starboard side.

What Side Is Starboard?

The starboard is on the right side of the boat when standing at the bow. The bow is the front of the watercraft and is usually the side facing the water. The starboard is the opposite and is adjacent to the port side.

The starboard side is usually the side of a boat that has larger, more powerful engines. This is because it is on this side that the boat’s captain wants to sail to make the most progress. The starboard side of a boat is traditionally the side on which the captain and other crew members stand.

The other side of the boat called the port side, is where most of the passengers and cargo are stored. The word “starboard” comes from the English word “starboard,” meaning “the right side of a ship.

How To Remember Port and Starboard

If you’re ever lost at sea and need to find your way back to shore, knowing which direction is “port” and “starboard” can be the key to getting you home.

You might not be so desperate but still want to know the difference between these two sides for one reason or the other; you are in the right place. Here are the simple port-starboard directions:

  • The Port is towards the left when facing forward on a boat.
  • The starboard is towards the right when facing forward on a boat.

While the above are true, they do little to help you remember port and starboard. Some ways to easily remember port and starboard are given below.

1. You Can Differentiate Between Port And Starboard Based On The Number Of ‘R’ In Each Of Them.

The number of r in each word is the key to telling them apart: port is spelled with a single r, while starboard has two.

The rule here is simple; you know that the terms represent right and left, so the word with the most rs represents the right side of the watercraft while the other represents the left. Should you ever forget at sea, all you have to do is move to the bow and spell ‘port’ and ‘starboard.’

Doing so and using the number of r in each word would easily help you tell them apart. This method is simple, efficient, easy to remember, and can be used on the go. So, if you see something like “port engine” or “starboard canoe,” you’ll know which side it’s on!

2. You Can Differentiate Between Port And Starboard Based On The East And The West.

The east and west are two different directions on a map. But what about when it comes to boats?
Can you tell the difference between port and starboard based on your knowledge of direction? The answer is yes, and you don’t need a map for this.

The Port is on the left side of the boat when you’re facing forward, and the starboard is on the right side; that much is known. It is also common knowledge that the east is on the right of a compass when held with the north facing forward.

The east can be represented by your right hand and the west by your left hand. The West goes with the left, which represents the port side, so the east automatically represents the starboard side.

3. You Can Differentiate Between Port And Starboard Based On The Colors Green And Red.

Another way to distinguish between these two key sides of a boat is with the colors green and red. This is easy as in navigation, red tells you to go left while green sends you towards the right.

Keeping these things in mind allows you to quickly associate the color green with starboard (right) and the color red with port (left), enabling you to easily tell them apart.

4. You Can Differentiate Between Port And Starboard Based On The Number Of Letters In Each Of Them.

Yet another easy way to tell port and starboard apart comes down to the way they are spelled. Port is made up of four letters the same as left, so they go together. The irregular ones that are starboard and right also go together. This is a quick way to tell the two sides apart with little stress.

5. You Can Differentiate Between Port And Starboard Based On The Position Of Their Beginning Letters In The Alphabet.

The alphabet holds the next key to distinguishing between these two boat sides. This is somewhat trickier and less straightforward than the other letter-related methods, though.

This method relies on the proximity of the beginning letters of port and starboard to match them to the left and right respectively.

  • Port = Left
  • Starboard = Right

Alphabetically, the letters P and L are close to each other, matching them together in the words port and left. The same rule holds for the letters S and R in the words starboard and right, matching them together.

This method is tricky in that you have to quickly remember your alphabet if you want to make use of it. The beauty of all these methods, however, is that once a side (either port or starboard) is identified, you automatically know what the other side is.

6. Remember Your Wedding Ring.

Another good way to remember which side is port and starboard is with the use of a wedding ring or if you lack one, the ring hand (left hand). Most of the time, sailors usually have a wife, girlfriend, or significant other in most, if not all, of the ports they travel to.

Associating your left hand with the word port enables you to quickly know that the side of the boat on your left hand when you stand facing forward at the bow is the port side, while that on your right is the starboard side. 

Easy peasy, you will henceforth be able to easily distinguish between these two infamous sides.

7. Remember Your Watch Hand.

Still, another method that relies on the link between your left hand and the port side is to think of your watch. 

Watches are customarily worn on the left wrist, found on the left hand, which also faces the port side while at the bow of the watercraft.

This method is similar to the last in that once you remember the link between left and port, you immediately know which side is starboard too.

8. Get Yourself A Pair Of Port And Starboard Socks.

Learning should be fun, and telling port and starboard apart is no exception. A fun way for you or your loved ones to learn which side is which is to get these socks. Wearing the socks appropriately lets you easily identify the port and starboard sides of a boat.

This method is a throwback to the color method as the port sock has red markings and should be worn on the left foot, while the starboard sock has green markings and should be worn on the right foot.

9. Know The Origin Of The Words Port And Starboard.

A good way to remember which side of your boat is the port side and which side is the starboard side is to know where those terms came from.

This method is a tested one as studies have shown that knowing the origins or basis of a thing makes it easier to remember that thing.

In the early days of sailing, long before boats had rudders on their center lines, they were steered with a steering oar. As most people are right-handed, they naturally steered with this oar on the right, eventually leading to that side being called the starboard side.

‘Starboard’ is the combination of two old English words ‘stéor’ (meaning steer) and ‘bord’ (meaning the side of a boat), so starboard stands for the right side of the watercraft.

As people steered on the right, they naturally tended to moor their boats on the left side, eventually giving that boat side the name port.

This method is a good, knowledgeable approach to identifying the port and starboard sides of watercraft and is really handy, particularly if you are right-handed.

10. Learn A Port And Starboard Joke.

Another good way to easily remember the port and starboard sides of a boat is to learn a port and starboard joke or story. Many such jokes and stories exist, so surf the net, make your pick, and become able to tell port and starboard aside.

Always keep in mind that the port is left while the starboard is right while facing forward at the bow (the front) of your boat. It is crucial to keep in mind that the port and starboard sides of a boat are fixed. The starboard is on the right while the port is on the left while facing forward at the front of the boat.

If you were to make a 180-degree turn or face off the boat at its stern (the back), then your right would be the port while your left would be the starboard. To avoid mixing them up, just know to always face off the boat at its bow and that to your right is starboard while to your left is port.

Being able to remember which side of a boat is the port and which is the starboard on the go is easy once you have a trick for it. There are several ways to tell them apart, so you need just pick the method that suits you best and you are good to go.

Remember that port means left side while starboard means the right side of a boat when standing at its bow. Port is also associated with the color red, while starboard is associated with the color green.

Keep in mind that knowing the origin of things gives you a deeper understanding of them and that starboard got its name as most people steered early boats on the right and moored them on the left (port).

The left hand is also associated with the port side, so you can use that to tell them apart. These infamous boat sides can also be distinguished based on the proximity of the beginning letters, the number of ‘r’ in each of them, and the number of letters they each have.

Keeping these tips at your fingertips will help you identify port and starboard any day, any time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do ships always dock on the port side?

Most ships, including cargo vessels and cruise ships, dock on the port side. But is this always the case?

According to some maritime experts, there are exceptions to this rule. Docked ships can indeed be found on either side of the ship, depending on the ship’s configuration and how it is handled.

There are several instances where ships have docked on the starboard side. One reason for this is that, in some cases, docking ports are on one side of a ship more than the other.

Additionally, many ships have two docks, one on each side. In those cases, the ship docks on whichever side is better suited to the docking process. The reasons why a ship might dock on the starboard side are varied, but they often have to do with wind and current.

There has been much debate on whether ships always dock on the port side. The prevailing belief is that they should, and a good number do. Some believe, however, that ships should dock on the starboard side to reduce the amount of energy expended docking.

The debate over which side of the ship to dock on has been going on for centuries, and there is no definitive answer. It is acceptable to dock on whichever side is safest for you and those around you. If your watercraft can be docked from both sides, the easier docking will be.

When Do You Use Port And Starboard?

When it comes to nautical terms, port and starboard are two of the most commonly used. Port is the left side of a ship when facing forward, while starboard is the right side. When in port, vessels typically berth on their starboard side.

When sailing, it’s important to keep track of which way you’re sailing to stay on course and steer appropriately. If you want to know when to use port and starboard, here are some general tips: 

  • When sailing close to the shore, use the port to avoid hitting rocks and reefs. 
  • When sailing offshore, use starboard to reach deeper waters. 
  • When turning, use the port side to go around objects in your path and starboard to go past them. 
  • If you are docking, use the port side. 
  • If you are underway and want to change course, use port to go left and starboard to go right.
  • When trying to get out of the way of a large ship, use port and starboard alternately based on what is safest in those circumstances.
  • If you are sailing in a strong wind, use the port. This will allow you to sail with the wind rather than against it. 
  • When under the control of a crew, have the helmsman steer with the starboard hand on the wheel and the helmsman’s left hand on the tiller. 

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