Texas Maritime Museum

Ever Wonder Where the Terms Port and Starboard Come From?

Maritime History, Navigation

Port And Starboard

Ever Wonder Where the Terms Port and Starboard Come From?

Ever wonder where the terms Port and Starboard came from?

Port and starboard are distinct terms denoting the two halves of a vessel, with port on the left side when facing forward and starboard on the right. Let’s explore the roots of these nautical terms…

In early boating, steering oars were employed at the stern, predominantly on the right side to accommodate right-handed sailors. This positioning facilitated comfortable forward-facing navigation. The right side earned the moniker “steering side,” later evolving into “starboard” through the fusion of the old English words ‘steor’ (steer) and ‘bord’ (side of a boat).

As boats grew larger, the steering oar, and subsequently the side opposite it for docking, became known as the “larboard” or loading side.

An alternative theory links the term “starboard” to Viking ships, where the right side, from which they steered, was the “board with the star.” Meanwhile, Northern European seagoing ships featured a side-hung rudder on the right, referred to as ‘steorbord’ in Anglo-Saxon, evolving into “starboard” over time.

For smaller crafts, loading goods from the right side posed challenges, leading to docking with the left side against port wharves. The term “larboard” was eventually replaced by “port” due to confusion with “starboard” during navigation.

These nautical terms gained prominence as English trading ships traversed various countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During the colonization era, sailors worldwide adopted the terms. As regulatory bodies developed a standardized maritime code, they acknowledged the widespread usage of “port” and “starboard” across diverse regions.

Navigation lights have their roots in the traditional lanterns used on ships. Red glass, readily available and commonly employed in lanterns, became a practical choice for marking port entrances and harbor boundaries. The use of red markers, aided by the accessibility of red glass, helped ships identify and safely navigate the port side when approaching or departing from a harbor. This practice led to the convention of using red lights specifically on the port side. Green is used to denote starboard, green is opposite from red on the color wheel, the distinct difference making it easier to identify the orientation and direction of vessels.

Information sourced from Marine Insight, Saltwater Journal

Navigation Lights featured in the image on this article are on display at our museum.

Post Tags :

Lighthouse, Port, Port And Starboard, Starboard

Share :

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Us

Since 1989, the Texas Maritime Museum has been your portal to the treasures of Texas maritime history, preserving and sharing the seafaring stories that define our coastal heritage.


Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Contact Us

Get in touch with us for questions, inquiries, or to plan your visit. Our team is here to assist you with all your museum-related needs.

Skip to content