Port and starboard are the words used to describe the left and right of a boat or ship when you’re facing the front.
With many cruise ships being over 1,000 feet long, it’s easy to get lost on board, and remembering the names for port and starboard can help you to find your way around.
Port Vs Starboard explained
Is starboard left or right?
When looking forward towards the bow (front) of a ship, the port side will be on your left and the starboard side will be on your right. Port and starboard are fixed locations on any boat or ship, so if you turn around 180 degrees, the port side of the ship will now be on your right-hand side.
If you’re looking for an easy way to remember which side is starboard and which side is port on boat, there are several to choose from. Read them all and one of them should stick in your mind.
1. Know where the names port and starboard come from
If you know why port is called port and why starboard is called starboard, it will help you to remember which is which.
Before ships had rudders on their centrelines, they were steered using a steering oar. Because most people are right-handed, this was on the right-hand side of the ship. ‘Starboard’ is a combination of two Old English words ‘stéor’ (meaning steer) and ‘bord’ (meaning the side of a boat}.
As the steering oar was on the right, boats would be moored on the other side. That’s why the left side is called ‘port’.
If you can remember that the starboard means ‘steering side’ and that most people are right-handed, this should help you to know that starboard is on the right.
2. Learn a port and starboard joke
Another way to remember that port is left and starboard is right is to remember one of these funny port left, starboard right jokes…
The chat-up line
A cruise ship captain walks into a bar and sits down next to an attractive woman.
Captain: Do you like men in uniform?
Woman: I like policemen and firemen but sailors annoy me.
Captain: Why’s that?
Woman: They use nautical terminology too much and I find that irritating.
Captain: I guess you’re starboard about that. My wife said the same thing when she port me.
The captain’s envelope
Once-upon-a-time, there was a famous and successful sea captain. For years he guided ships all over the world. He was admired by his crew and fellow captains.
However, there was one thing that was unusual about this captain – every morning he went through a strange ritual. He would lock himself in his captain’s quarters and open a small safe.
In the safe was an envelope with a piece of paper inside. He would stare at the paper for a minute, then lock it back up. Afterwards, he would go about his daily duties.
For years this went on, and his crew became very curious. Was it a treasure map? Was it a letter from a long-lost love? Everyone speculated about the contents of the strange envelope.
One day, the captain died at sea. After laying his body to rest, the first mate led the entire crew into the captain’s quarters. He opened the safe, got the envelope, opened it and… The first mate turned pale and showed the paper to the others.
Four words were on the paper…
Port Left, Starboard Right.
More cruise jokes: 17 hilarious cruise jokes to make you laugh
3. Think how many letters are in each word
When remembering which is port and which is starboard, you only have to know one of them, as you will then know the other by default.
PORT and LEFT both have four letters in them
If you can remember that ‘port’ and ‘left’ are the same because they have the same number of letters, then by default you can work out that ‘starboard’ means ‘right’.
4. Count the letter Rs
STARBOARD is RIGHT – it has two letter Rs in it.
If this trick helps you to remeber that starboard is right, then you’ll know by default that port is left.
5. Think about port wine
Port and starboard have the colours red and green assigned to them. These colours are used for the ship’s navigational lights and may also be used in signage inside the ship.
If you also wish to know that port is red and starboard is green, you can use and that’s to use this mnemonic about port wine:
Is there any RED PORT LEFT in the bottle?
If you imagine a glass of port wine (which is red in colour) being poured until the bottle is empty, this should help the phrase to stick in your mind.
Another phrase that’s similar to this is:
PORT is always LEFT at sea, but never left at dinner
This means that dinner party guests always finish the bottle of port.
6. Get a pair of port and starboard socks
A fun way to teach your loved one about port and starboard is to buy them a pair of port and starboard socks. Then, they’ll always know which is which, provided that they put them on the correct feet to begin with!
I also have a post about gifts for cruise lovers which have more quirky gift ideas for people who love to cruise.
7. Think about the alphabet
Thinking about the position of each letter alphabetically can be the best way to remember port and starboard for some people.
L for LEFT, is close to P for PORT
R for RIGHT, is close to S for STARBOARD
Learning to remember which is port and which is starboard is easy once you have a trick to do it. As with learning anything, it will stick in your brain if you practice.
So pick out your favourite method and think about it on separate occasions so that you’re less likely to forget.
Don’t worry if you struggle to remember, you can certainly take a cruise without knowing which are the port and starboard sides. What’s trickier to know on a ship is which way is the front and which is the back, and that’s something which you’ll need to know several times each day!