How to Remember Port and Starboard

How to Remember Port and Starboard

Have you ever been confused about which side of your boat is the port and which one is the starboard? Well, don’t worry as you are not alone in this. 

Many people, especially those cruising on large boats for the first time, get lost since they can’t differentiate port from starboard. I totally understand because I’ve been there too.

When I started boating with my parents so many years ago, I always wondered what port and starboard meant. 

Then I later learned that they were actually the sides of a boat or ship. However, there was still a big problem as I always forgot what side goes by which name until my parents taught me some tricks. 

My father told me that port is a red wine usually passed to the left when raising a toast at dinner parties. 

He said that if I could always keep this in mind, then I could automatically know the starboard side. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t familiar with wines when I started cruising, so this idea wasn’t really effective at the time. 

Luckily, my mom had a simpler trick. She said that the words port and left have four letters, and all I needed to do was remember this similarity. 

This trick made it much easier for me to remember the starboard and port side by just mastering one side. 

If you want to learn how to remember port and starboard easily, I’ll show you some best tips. 

Tips on How to Remember Port and Starboard

Tips on How to Remember Port and Starboard

Whether you are a new or experienced boater, these tips should help you remember the port and starboard sides effortlessly: 

Understand Where the Two Terms Originates from 

If you know where the word starboard and port comes from, it will be much easier for you to remember which is on which side. 

So, let’s talk about the origin of port and starboard!

Boaters used oars to navigate their vessels before center steering systems were introduced to boats. 

And since many boaters are right-handed, the steering oar remained on the right-hand side of the boat. 

So, starboard is simply a fusion of two old English words, including steor and bord. Steor means steer, while bord means the side of a boat. 

Now that the steering side was the right, sailors moored their boats on the left side, initially known as the larboard, meaning loading side. 

As you can see, starboard and larboard were even more confusing, and people often misheard the words. 

Sailors had to replace larboard with a different word, which would be less confusing. The left side was eventually named port since it always faced the port, where porters loaded the boat. 

But you might wonder, why don’t we simply use left and right to refer to the boat’s side? 

The truth is, it would be quite baffling. See, the direction could change, depending on your orientation. 

If you face the bow, which is the front of your boat, starboard will be on your right, and port will be on the left. 

However, this will change when facing the boat’s stern because then the starboard will be on the left while the port will be on the right side. 

Now, imagine cruising on a large ship, and the captain announces that there are huge dolphins on the port, but you aren’t sure which side is which. 

You might end up missing the stunning sight, right? But I’ve got you covered with some more tips. 

Count the Letters 

If learning the history of port and starboard is still confusing for you, there is an easy way to remember the sides. 

You just need to count how many letters each word has. Then match the ones with the same number or letters. 

The good thing with this trick is that you only need to master one side, and you’ll automatically know the opposite direction. 

The word port has four letters, and it goes with the direction that has four letters, which is left. 

P-O-R-T = Four letters 

L-E-F-T = Four letters

If you can remember that port and left have four letters, you won’t have to memorize how many letters starboard has as you automatically know, it means right. 

Learn the Starboard and Port Joke

Learn the Starboard and Port Joke

Another efficient tip on how to remember port and starboard sides is to memorize this hilarious joke. Here is how it goes. 

(A captain enters a pub and sits close to a beautiful lady.)

Captain: Do you love men in uniform? 

Lady: Yes, I love police officers and firemen, but captains are irritating. 

Captain: But why is that? 

Lady: They use nautical terms way too much, and that’s very annoying. 

Captain: Well, you must be starboard about that. My wife made the same statement before she port me. 

There are many other port and starboard jokes, but this is quite a funny one and easy to remember. 

If you find this tip to be a perfect way to remember port and starboard, here is another exciting joke.

“A long time ago, there lived a renowned and prosperous captain who guided ships in different parts of the world. 

Most sailors admired his fame and success. However, there was one thing special about this sailor as he had an unusual ritual every morning. 

He loved having some privacy in his quarter where he would open the safe to get an envelope with a piece of paper inside.

Then he would read the small paper for a few seconds before returning it to the envelope and locking it up again in the safe. Afterward, he would carry on with his daily duties. 

As time went by, his boating crew got curious and wanted to know what was written in the small envelope locked in the safe. Some members of the crew thought that it was a treasure map. 

Eventually, the captain passed on at sea, and the crew couldn’t wait to unveil the secret envelope. 

After burying the famous captain, the first mate led the crew into the late captain’s quarters to see the envelope. 

He quickly opened the safe, took the envelope and opened it, only to see a piece of paper with four words. These words were simply: Port Left, Starboard Right

It’s sad that the successful captain died, but isn’t the joke hilarious?” 

Consider the Number of Letter Rs in Each Word

The word starboard has two Rs, and that’s why it goes with the word that starts with R (right). 

If you can remember that starboard is right because it has two Rs, then you would never forget that port is left. You won’t even have to think about it. 

Think About Their Alphabetical Order

Another easy way to remember port and starboard is by thinking about their alphabetical order. 

The left side goes by the word port since the letter L is closer to P when following the alphabetical order. 

Then right goes by the name starboard as letter R is next to letter S alphabetically. With such a simple trick, there is really no need to overthink about the sides. 

Buy Port and Starboard Socks

Another interesting way to remember port and starboard directions is by purchasing a pair of socks marked with these nautical terms. 

This is also a great way to teach your kids as they can easily check their legs and see what red color is for the port on the left-hand side and green color for starboard on the right-hand side. 

The only problem with this trick is that you’ll get the port and starboard directions wrong if you wear the socks on the wrong feet. 

So, you must remember the navigational terms for the right-hand and left-hand sides when wearing the socks. 

Think About Port Wine 

Now that we have been talking about directions, it’s also essential to know which side has which color. And there is a great tactic for that too. 

You just have to remember that port wine has a strong red color. Then imagine asking someone whether there is any red port wine left in the bottle. 

Some people also say that port wine is usually left at the ocean but rarely left for dinner parties. This means guests usually drink the port wine at dinner parties. 

For easy recalling, I’d suggest you always start thinking about the port as it’s a lot easier to remember. 

Then you won’t have to think about starboard as it’s definitely the opposite direction with green light.


FAQs 5

Q: How Do You Memorize Port and Starboard Sides?

A: There are so many ways to memorize port and starboard sides, and some of them are much easier to remember than others. 

If you want something simple, you can always think about port wine, which is a strong deep red wine, and ask this: Is there any port left on the bottle? 

This automatically leaves starboard as the word used to refer to the right side. 

For little children on board, you can have them wear some red bands on their left hand to remember the port side. 

Alternatively, you can give them some cute little rhymes like Suzie starboard rows to the right. 

Another easier way to remember port and starboard is by thinking about the number of letters in each word. 

Both port and left are made of four letters. So, the remaining word is for the opposite side, which is starboard for the right side. And you don’t have to count how many letters it contains. 

If you love jokes and want some interesting stories to remember port and starboard, feel free to memorize the two jokes explained above.

Q: Why is Port Left and Starboard Right?

A: To know why the port side is left and the starboard side is right, you need to learn where the navigational terms originate from. 

Before the introduction of central steering systems, sailors used steering oars to cruise boats. Captains were mainly right-handed, so each boat had a steering oar on the right side near the bow. 

The word starboard comes from two old English words, steor and bord, which means steer and the side of the boat, respectively. In other words, starboard means steering side. 

Since steering oars were on the right, the deck men had to moor the boat on the left side. The left side was initially called larboard, but it was pretty hard to differentiate it from starboard. 

Boating enthusiasts later named it the port side, which is the side on which porters loaded the boat.

So, the port is on the left since it was mainly the boarding side, while starboard is on the right as it was the steering side where sailors kept their steering oars.  

Q: How Do I Remember the Starboard Side and Port Side Colors? 

A: All boats use two navigation lights, which are red and green. The colour red is found on the port side, which is simply left, while the green light is located on the starboard side, which means the right side of the boat. 

An easy way to remember the differences is to keep in mind that port is a red wine. Then say something like there is no red port left in the bottle or anything you can easily remember. 

Such a phrase will help you to recall that the port is always on the left and uses red light in every boat. 

All of the information you need is in the short phrase, as you don’t even need to remember the right side. You will freely know that it’s the right side, using the green light.  

Along with the short phrase, you can also think about the port tradition. The red port wine is usually passed to the left at dinner parties when raising a toast. 

Q: Do Pilots Use Port and Starboard?

A: No, pilots don’t use port and starboard. Instead, they use left and right sides since the pilot and co-pilot sit on fixed locations facing forward. 

They don’t confuse the sides, so there really is no need to use the terms port and starboard. 

Port means left while starboard means right, and sailors mainly use them to cruise ships. They use these terms to avoid confusing directions. 

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

While it’s crucial to remember port and starboard, many people, especially new boaters, usually confuse the two navigational terms. 

We use the words starboard and port because the right and left sides would change depending on the direction one faces. 

When facing forward to the bow, the port is on the left side while the starboard is on the right side. But when facing backward to the stern, port means the right-hand side while starboard means the left-hand side. 

If you just boat your first ship and want to remember both port and starboard sides, all you have to do is choose a trick that works for you and memorize it. 

Whichever trick you prefer from our list, it will only stick in your brain when you keep practicing. You might need to learn the red port wine traditions or even buy a pair of port and starboard socks. 

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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