How to Remember Port and Starboard on a Cruise Ship?

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Remembering which side is which can become necessary during your cruise.

For example, on our last trip to Alaska, the captain announced whales on the ship’s port side. If I hadn’t remembered which side was port, I might have missed an incredible opportunity to spot whales.

With many modern cruise ships measuring over 1,000 feet in length, it is easy to get lost on board.

How to Remember Port and Starboard on a Cruise Ship

Like other maritime vessels, cruise ships use the navigational terms port and starboard to describe a vessel’s left and right sides.

If you’re unfamiliar with sailing, you might have difficulty remembering which side is which.

How to remember port and starboard?

Port and starboard are fixed positions on any boat or ship. They are used by sailing vessels because they aren’t dependent on the observer’s orientation.

One easy way to remember port and starboard is that when you face the bow, the port side is on the left-hand side of the ship, and the starboard side is on the right-hand side of the vessel.

If you turn 180 degrees to face the back (stern) of the boat, they switch sides. The port side will now be on your right, and the starboard side on your left.

Origin of the Terms

Viking ship showing the steering oar at the back on the right-hand side (starboard side)
Viking ship showing the steering oar at the back on the right-hand side (starboard side)

Before ships had engines, propellers, and rudders, they were traditionally steered using an oar. Since most people are right-handed, sailors commonly placed the oars on the right side of the boat.

The origin of the term Starboard comes from a combination of two old English words; ‘stéor,’ meaning steer, and ‘bord,’ meaning the side of a boat. It was, after all, the steering side of the ship.

With the steering oar located on the right side of the ship, people learned to moor their boats on the left-hand side of the boat. This vessel’s side became known as the “larboard” or “loading side.” Because of its similar-sounding name, it was easily confused with starboard. Over time, that side of the boat became known as the port side. After all, it always faced the port.

Why do Ships use Port and Starboard Instead of Left and Right?

As we’ve previously stated, port and starboard are fixed locations on a ship and are independent of a person’s orientation.

It is easy to understand the confusion of using right and left. For example, if you face the front of the boat, starboard would be on your right. But if you turn 180 degrees to face the back, port side will now be on your right. Using the terms right and left would refer to different directions depending on which way you are facing.

Ships use the nautical terminology port and starboard instead of right and left to avoid confusion.

If you aren’t used to using these terms, it might cause some confusion when you are on a cruise. Luckily, using some of the tricks below, you will never forget which side is which.

7 Fun Tips on How to Remember Port vs Starboard?

It’s easy to determine the difference between port and starboard by using the following tips.

Your Orientation on the Boat

As we previously explained, the port and starboard sides are on opposite sides of the vessel. To quickly determine which side is which, orient yourself to face the front of the ship. From this orientation, the starboard will be on your right, and the port on your left.

Light Colors

Red and green boat navigation lights indicating port (red) and starboard (green)
Red and green boat navigation lights indicate port (red) and starboard (green)

Every vessel has lights on the ship’s sides that tell onlookers whether you are facing the ship’s port or starboard side. The lights help prevent confusion and allow other boats to quickly determine the ship’s direction to avoid collisions and accidents.

When you see the green light on the starboard side, your vessel has the right of way. On the other hand, if you see the red navigation light on the port side, your boat must stop and give way to the oncoming vessel.

Buy a Pair of Port and Starboard Socks

A cheeky way to remember the port and starboard sides of the cruise ship is to buy a pair of port and starboard socks. A quick peek at your socks is all you need to get your bearings whenever you get stuck.

Port and Starboard socks. Gift for cruise lovers 1
Port and Starboard Socks. A fun gift for cruise lovers!

Just make sure you wear the socks on the correct foot!

Remember the Number of Letters in Each Word

If you are facing the ship’s bow and can’t remember which side is port and which is starboard, this trick will help you quickly identify the port side. Once you know which side is port, you know the opposite side must be starboard.

Both PORT and LEFT have four letters in them.

When facing the front of the ship, you now know port and left are the same because both words have four letters. By default, you know that the starboard is on your right.

Remember that this trick only works if you face the front of a ship when port is on your left.

Think About Port Wine

Pouring red wine into the glass against wooden background

As we previously said, navigation lights are red for port and green for starboard. The cruise ship may have red and green signs around the ship to help passengers figure out quickly determine which side is port or starboard while on the cruise.

If you want to remember that port is red and starboard is green, you can use the mnemonic below about port wine.

Is there any RED PORT LEFT in the bottle?

Suppose you create a mental image of red port wine poured into a glass. This mental image will help you easily remember port is red. By default, you also know that the starboard side is green.

Another phrase to remember is:

PORT is always LEFT at sea but never left at dinner.

The phrase means that guests at dinner parties love to finish the red port wine, and there’s never any left.

The following joke can also be a helpful reminder of nautical terms.

Captain: Do you like men in uniform?

Girl: I like firefighters and police officers, but sailors are not my type.

Captain: How come?

Girl: They use nautical terms too often, and it annoys me.

Captain: I think you’re starboarding about that as my wife said the same thing when she ports me.

Think About the Letters in the Alphabet

The position in the alphabet is another trick some people use to remember port and starboard.

L for Left is close to P for PORT

R for Right is close to S for Starboard

Remembering the Bow and Stern

The bow and stern on a ship are known as forward and aft. Together, port, starboard, bow, and stern make up the four reference locations on a boat.

The bow is termed “forward” because it’s located at the front of the ship. Stern is situated in the back of the vessel, also called aft.

Tips for Remembering the Bow

  • When you release a bow and arrow, the bow goes forward, just like the location of the bow at the front of a boat.
  • When you bow to someone, you also move forward.

Tips for Remembering the Stern

  • Here is a rhyme to remember the stern: “Stern Stan stands and the back.”
  • Aft sounds like after, which is behind the front. So aft is at the back.

Rhymes to Remember Starboard, Port, Bow, and Stern

If the previous tips don’t help, here is a list of fun rhymes to remember port and starboard, bow and stern:

  • Starboard: Suzie Starboard rows to the right
  • Port: Lucy Left lives in port
  • Bow: Billy Bow is at the front
  • Stern: Stern Stan stands at the back


Remembering port and starboard is easy once you know a few tricks.

The easiest way to remember the navigational terms is to simply practice. So pick out your favorite method and think about it next time you are on a cruise ship.

And don’t worry if you can’t remember which is which. You can definitely enjoy a cruise without ever knowing the difference.

The most challenging part of navigating the ship is usually figuring out if you are facing the front or back of the vessel. Modern cruise ships are so big that it’s easy to get lost, even after a week on board!

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Marcello De Lio

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.

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