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Origin of the Terms "Port" and "Starboard"

We are often asked- “What side of the boat is the port and which side is the starboard? What do these terms mean?”

The term “port”, or the left hand side of the boat when standing on board facing the bow, is a nautical term that comes from the Middle-English term ladeboard. When docking and mooring ships on the left side, this was shouted by the sailors in order to prevent the steering oar on the right from being crushed.

The starboard of a boat, or the right side, comes from the Old English term steorbord, which literally means the side on which the ship is steered. Before ships had rudders, they were steered with a steering oar located at the back of the ship and soon came to be known as the steer-board side. Since more sailors were right-handed than left-handed, it made more sense to have the oar fixed to the right side of the ship.

The term larboard was easily confused with steorbord when shouted in the wind and the word port came to replace it soon after.

If two vessels should approach each other, they should alter course to pass on the port side, much like the rules of the road, unless otherwise communicated.

A few other common boating terms to know are: