Port Vs. Starboard on a Cruise Ship: And Which Side to Book

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How to Remember Port and Starboard on a Cruise Ship

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KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Port refers to the left side, and starboard refers to the right side of a ship when facing forward.
  • These nautical terms emerged in the 16th century and are preferred over “left” and “right.”
  • On round-trip cruises, both port and starboard sides offer comparable experiences.

Port and starboard are two essential cruise ship terms you need to know before you sail.

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

Port and starboard refer to the left and right sides of a ship, respectively, when facing forward. These nautical terms emerged around the 16th century and are still widely used today to avoid confusion on board. You’ll have a similar experience whether you book a port or starboard cabin.

With many modern cruise ships measuring over 1,000 feet in length, it is easy to get lost on board. Read on to learn how to remember port vs. starboard on a cruise ship.

Port vs. Starboard: Which is Which?

Port and starboard are fixed positions on any boat or ship. Vessels like cruise ships use port and starboard instead of left and right because their locations aren’t dependent on the observer’s orientation.

When you face toward the front (bow) of the cruise ship, the port is on the left-hand side of the vessel, and the starboard is on the right.

If you turn 180 degrees to face the back (aft or stern) of the boat, they switch sides. The port side is on your right, and the starboard side is 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)

The origin of the term “port” is linked to how the ships were designed in the past. Before rudders were developed, steering was often accomplished with an oar or a paddle, especially on smaller vessels.

The word “starboard” is derived from the Old English term “steorbord,” which literally means “the side on which the ship is steered.” Over time, “steorbord” transformed into “starboard.”

The origin of 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.

As a result, the left side became known as the “port” side because that was the side facing the port when moored. The term “port” replaced the older term “larboard,” which initially meant “load-board” or the side where the cargo was loaded onto the ship.

“Larboard” sounded too similar to “starboard,” creating confusion among sailors, so the switch to “port” was a practical decision to avoid errors.

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. Vessels would approach harbor docks “left side first” to prevent damage to the steer-board or rudder.

As a result, the left side became known as the “port” side because that was the side facing the port when docking. vessel’s side became known as the “larboard” or “loading side.” It’s the side of the ship where cargo is loaded. “Larboard” sounded too similar to “starboard,” creating confusion among sailors, so the switch to “port” as it’s the port-facing side when a ship is docked.

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

A front view of a vessel with the labes for the port and starboard on a cruise ship

Cruise ships, like other vessels, use the terms “port” and “starboard” instead of “left” and “right” for a very practical reason: to avoid confusion. When looking forward towards the bow of a ship, “port” refers to the left-hand side, and “starboard” refers to the right-hand side.

These nautical terms are consistent, unambiguous, and independent of a person’s orientation on the cruise ship.

Using “left” and “right” can be misleading and lead to misunderstandings, as their meanings depend on a person’s facing direction. For instance, the left side of a passenger facing forward is different from the left side of someone facing aft (the back of the ship).

Using “port” and “starboard,” mariners can ensure clear and accurate communication regardless of their position or orientation onboard.

Using “port” and “starboard” on cruise ships not only maintains consistency with other vessels but also contributes to the safety of the passengers and crew members. Clear communication is essential, especially during navigation and emergencies.

6 Fun Tips on How to Remember Port Vs. Starboard on a Cruise Ship

The following six tips make it easy to remember port vs. starboard on a cruise ship.

Your Orientation on the Ship

First, familiarize yourself with your ship’s layout. When facing the front (bow) of the boat, the port side is on your left, and the starboard side is on your right. Your ship orientation is crucial in remembering port and starboard, as it helps you instinctively know which side is which.

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.

It’s law that ships have lights on their hull indicating port and starboard sides. The lights help prevent confusion and allow other boats to quickly determine the ship’s direction to avoid collisions and accidents.

The port side uses a red light, while the starboard side has a green light. An easy way to remember this is the phrase, ‘Red = Left for port, Green = Right for starboard.’

Buy a Pair of Port and Starboard Socks

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

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.

If you can’t find port and starboard socks, pick a red sock for the left (port) foot and a green sock for the right (starboard) foot.

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

Remember the Number of Letters in Each Word

Another method of remembering port and starboard on a cruise ship involves the number of letters in each word.

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 the 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 the starboard. If you want to remember that the 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 way to remember it is that port wine is red and served on the left side of the table during formal dinners. Since you’re serving port wine to the left, remember that the port side of a ship must also be on the left.

Think About the Letters in the Alphabet

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

L for Left is close to P for PORT

R for Right is close to S for Starboard

Which Side of the Cruise Ship is Best?

When planning a cruise vacation, one of the most critical decisions is choosing the right cabin on the ship. Are starboard or port-side cabins better? Will choosing a cabin on the port or starboard side of the vessel impact your vacation?

There are several factors to consider when making this decision, such as the view from your cabin, the type of stateroom, and your preferences. But overall, cruise ships are built very symmetrically. Choosing one side of the vessel over the other won’t make much difference on your cruise vacation.

But there are two reasons you may want to choose one side over the other:

  1. The view: One of the main reasons guests might choose one side over the other is the view from their cabin. While the views from both the port and starboard sides of a cruise ship can offer stunning ocean vistas, sunrises, and sunsets, the direction of your route can play a role in deciding which side will offer the most picturesque views. For instance, if you sail along the inside passage on the way up but take the ocean route on the way back, you’ll have a better view with a cabin on the starboard side.
  2. Personal preferences and sailor superstitions: If you have a personal choice or a superstition that one side is luckier, you’ll prefer one side over the other.

Remembering the Bow and Stern

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Cruise Ship uses different colored signs in the cabin hallways for the fore, mid, and aft making it easier for passengers to find their cabins.

We can’t discuss ship orientation without talking about the bow and stern. The bow refers to the front of the ship, while the stern is the rear.

Knowing these terms will make it easier to navigate your way around and understand the ship’s orientation.

On a cruise ship, you may hear the bow referred to as forward, while those near the stern are also called the aft. This distinction is beneficial when choosing a stateroom or exploring onboard amenities.

For instance, at the end of a show, the entertainment director often announces the night’s entertainment and activities. They’ll usually tell you which deck of the ship an activity takes place and whether it’s at the bow or stern.

By understanding these directional terms, you can easily find your way around your temporary home at sea.

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 the aft is at the back.
Marcello De Lio
Marcello De Lio

Marcello's been cruising since he was 12 years old. He loves the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. Marcello created High Seas Cruising to share his passion for cruising and travel with readers and grow a community of passionate voyagers.

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