Port Vs Starboard


In the sport of sailing, instead of using the terms right and left, we use Port and Starboard. Port is synonymous with left; Starboard with right. Port is also depicted with the color red and Starboard with green. If you’re into wine, Port is a type of wine and wine is red. If you’re not into wine, an easy way to remember which color is which is to think about which word is shorter and which is longer. Port is shorter than Starboard; Port has 4 letters, Starboard has 9. Red is shorter than green; red has 3 letters, green has 5. Port is short, red is short. Starboard is long, green is long. Left is short, Port is Short. Right is long, Starboard is long. Port, red, left. Starboard, green, right.

Got it? Great!

In sailing, there are many terms that you never hear anywhere else. Port and Starboard are two of the most common terms you’ll hear. Why did sailors centuries ago pick Port and Starboard instead of left and right?

Starboard most likely has its original from Old English term steorbord. Steorbord means the side of the ship which is steered. Steor means steer and bord means the side of the boat. Many boats back then did not have a rudder to steer with. Instead the skipper used an oar. Since most people were right-handed, the skipper would generally place the oar off the side of the boat to their right. Over time, Steorbord morphed into the term we now use for the right side of the sailboat, Starboard.

Port, on the other hand was not commonly used until the 1840s. The term larboard was used. Larboard is a combination of the word lade meaning to load and bord ;meaning the side of the boat. Ladebord meant the side of the boat on which to load which morphed into larboard. In the 1840s, the English’s Royal Navy started using the word Port to refer to the left side of the boat as Larboard was easily confused with Starboard. Since the side of the boat most often used to load stuff on and off when in port was the left side, Port became the obvious choice. Porters would load supplies on the Port side and steering would be done on the Starboard side.

Today, Port and Starboard are synonymous with left and right and used by sailors all over the world.


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