Difference between port & starboard

Written by shawn lehrke
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Difference between port & starboard
Each side of a boat has a special name. (Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

On a boat, there's a nautical name for all parts. For instance, there's port, starboard, bow and stern. These terms refer to the left, right, front and back of the boat when facing the bow. When at sea, every second counts in an emergency and these words help sailors determine without a doubt what part of the boat is in question.


The nautical term "port" refers to the left side of a boat when facing the front, or bow. Another version of the term "port" is larboard, which dates back to the 16th century and was used up until the 1800s to describe the left side of the boat. The port side of a boat is marked with a red light in the front.


Starboard, or the right side of a boat, originated from early boating practices. Before rudders, ships were steered by oars managed by oarsmen in the back of the boat. The steering oar was attached over the right side of the ship. Starboard comes from steorbord, an old English term meaning side on which a boat is steered. The starboard side of the boat is marked with a green light at the front.

Remember Which is Which

Sometimes it is difficult to remember which side of the boat is which. An easy way to do so is to remember that "port" is a short word containing only four letters, as does the word "left." The word "red" is short as well. Therefore, the port side is the left side, marked by a red light. And if this is the case, it only stands to reason that all the longer words go together, too. The right side of the boat is called "starboard" and is marked by a green light at the front.

Other Ways to Remember

There are a couple of sayings that can also help you differentiate between port and starboard. Remember that a ship that is out on the ocean has "left port." Learn the following rhyme to help you remember starboard: "Star light, star bright. starboard is to the right."

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