The Story Behind Port and Starboard

Ever wondered why the terms “Port” and “Starboard” are used to indicate the left and right sides of the vessel? Let’s look back in time to when these names were originated.

When boating began before ships had rudders on their centerlines, boats were controlled using a steering oar.

A steering oar was an alteration of an oar usually attached in a vertical direction to one side of the vessel.

During this timeframe, the majority of the sailers were right-handed so the steering oar that once controlled the ship was placed over or through the right side of the stern.


Most sailors previously called the right side of the boat the “Steering side,” which soon became “starboard.”

The word “starboard is formed by combining two old English words, stéor (meaning “steer”) and bord (meaning “the side of the boat”).

As the boats grew in size, so did the steering oar, making it much easier to dock on the side opposite the steering oar. This meant the boats used to dock with the left side of the boat facing the dock.


The original name of the left side of the ship was not “port” but rather the old English word “Baecbord”. After “Baecbord” came “Ladderbord” meaning “Ladden” (meaning to load) and Bord meaning (ship side). This gave rise to the starboard rhyming word “larboard.”

Over time, larboard, which was too easily confused with starboard, was replaced with Port as this was the side that faced the port or the dock, allowing cargo to be loaded or released. This is how the terms “Port” and “Starboard” existed. Since “Port” and “Starboard” never changed sailers prefer to use these nautical terms instead of left and right.

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