Why do sailors say 'port' and 'starboard', for 'left' and 'right'?

Sitting at one of the starboard yardarms on board the Parma by Alan Vickers, 1932. The Parma was a 3091 ton steel four-masted barque built at Port Glasgow in 1902. Captain Ruben de Cloux and Villiers bought the vessel in 1931. Repro ID: N61670. Copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London At sea, an

emergency can happen at any time, and it is vital that everything aboard can be clearly identified and described. Where ‘left’ and ‘right’ could lead to confusion, ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ are perfectly clear and unambiguous to a seafarer.

Boats developed from simple dugout canoes. When the paddler steering a canoe is right handed (and the majority of people are right-handed), he or she naturally steers over the right-hand side (looking forward) of the boat. As canoes developed into larger vessels, the steering paddle grew larger and developed into a broad-bladed oar, held vertically in the water and permanently fixed to the side of the boat by a flexible lashing or a built-in moveable swivel. The seagoing ships of maritime Northern Europe all featured this side-hung rudder, always on the right hand side of the ship. This rudder (in Anglo-Saxon the steorbord) was further developed in medieval times into the more familiar apparatus fixed to the sternpost, but starboard remains in the language to describe anything to the right of a ship’s centreline when viewed from aft.


they were steered by use of a specialised oar. there were many more right-handed sailors than left-handed sailors.Chosen by Voters The origin of the term starbord comes from early boating practices. published in 1867. “having a hand in”) and borð meaning etymologically “board”. by Admiralty Order. according to Admiral Smyth’s The Sailor’s Word Book. However. descendant from the Old Norse words stýri meaning “rudder” (from the verb stýra. the left-hand side is port – at least. perhaps deriving from the loading port which was in the larboard side. perhaps because the helmsman at the steorbord had his back to the ship’s left-hand side. when larboard was used. looking forward from aft. Possibly this term is derived from laddebord. literally “being at the helm”. Even so. in preference to larboard. This did not survive into Medieval and later English. literally meaning the side on which the ship is steered. The word starboard comes from Old English steorbord. so early ships would have been loaded (‘laded’) with the side against the quay. as less mistakeable in sound for starboard’ Best Answer . it was only from the mid-19th century that. However. like most of the rest of society. ‘the left side of the ship is called port. from an early date port was sometimes used as the opposite for starboard when giving steering orders. This oar was held by an oarsman located in the stern (back) of the ship. This meant that the steering oar (which had been broadened to provide better control) used to be affixed to the right side of the ship. meaning ‘loading side’. the term was bæcbord (in modern German Backbord and French bâbord). Before ships had rudders on their centrelines. it is now! In Old English. In time laddebord became larboard as steorbord became starboard.If starboard is the right-hand side of the vessel. . then the “side of a ship”. the side rudder (steorbord) would be vulnerable to damage if it went alongside a quay.

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