While there are various nautical names for positions on a ship or boat, port and starboard, and probably the most important on a cruise ship, could affect your vacation experience.
Knowing which instinctively will help you get around the ship quickly and efficiently without getting lost and having to keep asking for directions, especially on large cruise ships.
If the cruise captain makes announcements about activities on the ship’s port side, you’ll want to know which so you don’t miss out.
For example, the captain might issue an announcement over the tannoy system:
“All passengers on the ship’s port side, if you look out now, there is a chance to see a pod of dolphins.”
What Side is the Port Side of a Cruise Ship?
The port side of a ship is the left side when you’re facing the front (bow) of the ship.
The ship’s port side will be the same regardless of which way the ship is facing.
The port side is indicated by red via the ship’s navigational lights.
What Side is the Starboard Side of a Cruise Ship?
The starboard side is the ship’s right side when you’re facing the front (bow) of the ship.
The starboard side of a ship will always be the same no matter what way the cruise ship is facing.
The starboard side is indicated as green via the hip’s navigational lights.
Why do Ships Use Port and Starboard and not Left and Right?
Port and Starboard is used rather than left or right because when you’re at sea, it’s easy to get disoriented, and left and right can be different based on which way you’re facing.
Origins of Port and Starboard
The term port is derived from the Latin word “portus”, which means a harbor or safe haven. Traditionally, this is the side that ships tie up to the dock when entering port.
Starboard derives from the old English word “steorbord”, which means the side on which the ship is steered.
Initially, the steering oar (rudder) was placed on the right-hand side of the ship because most people are right-handed, and the ship would be docked on the left side so as not to damage the oar.
With the advent of the rudder, placed in the center of the ship, the term starboard morphed to mean the right side when facing towards the bow (front) of a vessel.
How to Remember Port and Starboard
When it comes to remembering, different people’s brains work differently, so we have put together 15 tips to help you remember port and starboard so you can choose the one most resonates and will help you remember the easiest for your next cruise.
Remember, you only need to find one way to remember one side, and you’ll automatically know the other.
Just pick the one that most clicks for you.
1. Standard Way – Left and Right
When you face the bow of a ship: the port side is on the left, and the starboard side is on the right.
It’s important to highlight that it’s not just about which is left or right, you have to make sure you are facing the front (bow) of the ship.
2. Number of Letters in Each Word
Some people remember which is which from this simple rule:
Port has 4 letters P.O.R.T
Left has 4 letters L.E.FT
If you can remember the left side, you’ll automatically know that the Starboard side is on the right.
However, you must also remember to face the front of the boat (Bow).
3. Next Letter Alphabetical Order
If you think about the first letter for each of Left and Right and then work out the next closest first letter of Port and Starboard, this could help you remember.
It’s a little more obvious with Right being Starboard, so I’ll start with that one.
For Right, the first letter R is followed by S for Starboard in the alphabet.
Therefore Right is Starboard.
For Left, for the first letter L, is followed next by P for Port in the alphabet before S for Starboard.
Therefore Left is Port.
4. 2 Rs = Right
Another way to remember is to count the R’s in each word.
Starboard has 2 r’s, so for some people, it works if you can remember 2’sr = right.
5. Less Letters Left
Port has less letters than Starboard, so Port is on the Left.
Red (port) has less letters than Green, Red/Port is on the left.
Left has less letters than the right.
Everything less is on the left.
6. Same order as Left and Right
As everyone says “left and right“, just get used to saying “port and starboard” and remember it means exactly the same thing.
7. Rhymes to Remember Port and Starboard
Holy Cow, face the Bow
Stars come out at night; Starboard is the right
And that leaves Port on the left
Which is a rhyme I found in this video. It will help you remember to face the bow too.
Here’s another one that also helps you remember the front and back.
Lucy Left lives in the port. Suzy Starboard rows to the right.
Billy Bow is at the front. Stern Stan is at the back
8. Port Wine Reminder
This mnemonic might work for you if you like your port and wine.
“There’s no Red Port Left in the Bottle.”
Or you could think of yourself with a glass of Red Port in your left hand and steering the ship’s wheel with your right hand.
Another variation is “Port is always left at sea, but never left at dinner,” or you could change it to never left with cheese.
One final example is: We just left the port.
Pick whichever one works for you.
While on the subject of wine we have put together how much wine you can bring on a cruise along with corkage fees.
9. Port and Starboard Captain Joke
If you are good at remembering jokes, perhaps this well-known one might help.
There once was a world-famous cruise captain who, every morning, would go to his working quarters, open the safe, take out a piece of paper, and stare at it for about a minute before putting it back and getting on with the day.
Over time, different people witnessed this ritual and became more curious about what he was staring at. If he were seen, he would quickly put it back in his safe and lock it away until the next morning.
This went on for many years, with many different rumors about what the paper could be, until the day of his passing finally came.
On the day he was laid to rest, soon after, the first mate led his family to the captain’s quarters, opened the safe, and pulled out the piece of paper…
He unfolded it to read just four words…
Port Left, Starboard right.
(Do you get it? He had to remind himself of the bare basics every day even though he was the captain? I thought it was funny; if you tell the joke, try to build a bit of suspense as to what it could be, and humor people that forget that it’s no big deal, even one of the finest captains had to remind himself daily).
11. Wear Port and Starboard Socks
Another option is to buy some Port and Starboard socks. There are many different designs available, usually featuring the colors red for port and green for starboard.
You’ll need to make sure you put them on the correct foot every morning, so maybe you’ll want to have another way of remembering.
You’re sorted if you can find some with left and right on as well.
It can also be fun to show your socks off to other passengers if the subject comes up in conversation.
12. Bracelets and Earrings
You could use fun jewelry to remind you which side is port and starboard.
I’ve seen port and starboard earrings.
Also, you can make little bracelets that feature the wording Port and or starboard. Remember you only need to remember one side.
Or you could simply wear a red or green string-like bracelet on your wrist on the ankle.
13. Wedding Ring
Have you ever heard the saying “Wife in every Port”? Are there even songs of the same title?
Well, if you can remember that sailors have a wife in every port when you look at your wedding ring, it will remind you that the Port is on the Left.
14. Which Side Do You Wear Your Watch?
If like most people, you wear your watch on your left wrist, you could simply try to remember left is the Port side because in ports, you can shop for watches.
15. Get a Port and Starboard Tattoo
If you are into tattoos, you could get a small tattoo to remind you of your cruise vacations and incorporate Port and Starboard or the colors red and green somewhere on either side of the design.
This is an extreme measure we mention just for fun, and to highlight, we have tried to think of every way possible to help you remember port and starboard sides.
Of course, this is a permanent solution, and you must be absolutely sure that you will never want to remove the tattoo before going ahead.
If you prefer to learn from a visual video, this short one may help.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Cruise Ships Always Dock on the Port Side?
Some ports have two docking areas for cruise ships – one for the port and one for starboard – and the captain will choose which side to dock on based on the wind and other conditions.
Some ports have certain regulations about which side to dock.
Is Starboard Left or Right?
When facing the front of the ship (bow), the starboard is on your right.
What Color Are Port and Starboard?
Red indicates the port side of a ship, and green indicates the starboard side.
Hopefully, some of these tips and tricks will help you to remember which is port and which is starboard.
Ideally, just pick one or two that work for you and stick with those so that it becomes second nature.
Which is your favorite method?
If you have other methods for remembering port and starboard, please let us know in the comments, as we’d love to hear.