By Jerry MonaPublished On: August 3, 2023463 words
Ever wonder why boaters use terms like port and starboard instead of left vs. right? In this short article, I will explain where these terms originated, why they are important for marine navigation, and how to easily remember which is which.
Which is the Port side?
The left side of the boat while facing the bow is referred to as the “port” side whereas the right is referred to as the “starboard” side. These terms have been used for hundreds of years to minimize confusion on board a vessel. This is because they are unambiguous references that do not change regardless of the direction in which one is facing on board a vessel.
Where did the terms Port & Starboard originate?
Long ago, ships had rudders that were controlled by a steering oar. And since most people are right handed, the steering oar was located on the right side of the vessel near the stern. The term starboard is derived from “stéor” (meaning “steer”) and bord (meaning “side of boat”).
Because the right side had the steering oar, ships would dock or “port” on the left side to offload passengers and cargo. Hence the term “port”.
International boating standards stipulate that a green light (in the bow) be used on the starboard side, whereas red is used to on the port side. This helps to minimize collisions while boating at night or in low light conditions. If you see a boat ahead and the red light is on the left, then you know it is traveling in the same direction. On the other hand, if the light on the left is green you might need to take evasive actions to avoid a collision.
Why Does It Matter?
Knowing what is the port side of boat vs. the starboard side is important for marine navigational rules. Specifically, if the paths of two vessels might intersect, the boat on the port side is the “give-way” vessel meaning it is responsible to reduce its speed or change direction to avoid a collision. The vessel on the starboard side is the “stand-on” vessel and has the right to maintain its course. In other words, the vessel on the right has the right-of-way.
How to Remember Port vs. Starboard
Decades ago, my Dad taught me a little mnemonic trick that boaters sometimes use. “There is some RED PORT LEFT in the bottle”. Even though I was not a wine drinker at that time, this phrase has stuck with me ever since.
So now you know and easy way to remember what side of a boat is port and why that matters for marine navigation. And as an added bonus, you now know where these terms originated to impress (or annoy) your friends at your next cocktail party 😉.
what our members are saying about their boats
“This boat gives you a fast, dry, and smooth ride.” (Overall Rating: 10)
Milton K., 2015 Skeeter ZX225
“Wide beam and large cockpit. Love the open feel.” (Overall Rating: 9)
Rich G., 1998 Tiara Yachts 3500 Open
“The Formula brand is a well-built boat that uses high end components and has things such as fume detection for the bilge and other items like that are not seen on other brands. The seats are very comfortable and both interior and exterior are holding up extremely well. The boat handles great and has a very solid ride.” (Overall Rating: 10)
Capt Stubbing, 2005 Formula 37 PC
“Not many people are very familiar with Bryant but they build a quality boat that is a bit more affordable than some of the other premium names. I have had this boat 5 years now and it looks great and rides well.” (Overall Rating: 9)
Jerry M., 2013 Bryant 210
“It’s the best all-weather boat I’ve owned for lakes. Handles just about anything that’s marginal to get back to the ramp safely. And plenty of storage room, actually it could be too much room at times.” (Overall Rating: 10)
Howard B., 2015 Nitro Z7
“When I bought it , it was probably the best deal one could find for a fiberglass bass boat with absolutely no wood in it. The boat and Yamaha 70 have performed flawlessly for 12 years.” (Overall Rating: 10)
Jerome K., 2008 Stratos 176XT
“This model falls into the category that most salt water fishermen refer to as “Bay Boat”. It has a center console which provides tremendous stability and a deeper hull than a “flats” boat for smoother ride on choppy water. The boat is made for fishing and has very few comfort features for cruising. It is not my favorite hull because it draws a little more water than some of the other shallow water bay boats such as Pathfinder.” (Overall Rating: 9)
Ken L., 2005 Key West 196 Bay/Reef
“Great boat, solid ride… great bay boat for fishing. Fast with Yamaha 300!!” (Overall Rating: 10)
Rich N., 2023 Robalo Cayman 246 SD
“Excellent high-end Pontoon Boat with a 400hp R Mercury outboard Racing motor. Too nice to be a Pontoon Boat. Rear twin electric recliners.” (Overall Rating: 9)
Don M., 2019 Avalon Excaliber
“We had a lot of fun using this boat the past summer. it can accommodate nine persons, has comfortable seating for all passengers, is easy to board for both passengers and water skiers, handles well in rough water, is easy to launch and dock, looks great on the water and drew lots of compliments from all who saw it on the water.” (Overall Rating: 10)
John S., 2022 Tahoe T18
“Great boat and a great price point. Carolina flare and deadrise makes for an exceptionally dry boat which I would expect from any Carolina boat builder that builds primarily for the Atlantic. This is not a shallow draft boat for its size, however….I would say it drafts in 12″ +.” (Overall Rating: 8)
Rich N., 2020 Kencraft 218 Bay Rider
Join Our Community
Sign up for our newsletter and get access to the most recent content, as well as opportunities to participate in community surveys.
Help us grow our knowledge base
If you are looking to purchase a boat, be sure to check out the boating reviews left by other boat owners.
If you already own a boat, be sure to share your experiences by submitting a review so others will benefit from it.