Port and starboard
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Port and starboard are nautical terms which refer to the left and right sides, respectively, of a ship as perceived by a person on board facing the bow (front). At night, the port side of a vessel is indicated with a red navigation light and the starboard side with a green one.
The starboard side of most naval vessels the world over is designated the "senior" side. The officers' gangway or sea ladder is shipped on this side and this side of the quarterdeck is reserved for the captain. The flag or pennant of the ship's captain or senior officer in command is generally hoisted on the starboard yard.
Starboard (right) 
The origin of the term starboard comes from early boating practices. Before ships had rudders on their centrelines, they were steered by use of a specialized steering oar. This oar was held by an oarsman located in the stern (back) of the ship. However, similar to now, there were many more right-handed sailors than left-handed sailors. 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. The word starboard comes from Old English steorbord, literally meaning the side on which the ship is steered, descendant from the Old Norse words stýri meaning "rudder" (from the verb stýra, literally "being at the helm", "having a hand in") and borð meaning etymologically "board", then the "side of a ship". Also, The "Plank" or Star Board, used to view the stars away from the sails, was typically on the right side, and to avoid crushing it, the ship was docked on the Port-side, or side toward the Port.
Port (left) 
An early version of "port" is larboard, which itself derives from Middle-English ladebord via corruption in the 16th century by association with starboard. The term larboard, when shouted in the wind, was presumably too easy to confuse with starboard and so the word port came to replace it. Port is derived from the practice of sailors mooring ships on the left side at ports in order to prevent the steering oar from being crushed.
Larboard continued to be used well into the 1850s by whalers, despite being long superseded by "port" in the merchant vessel service at the time. "Port" was not officially adopted by the Royal Navy until 1844 (Ray Parkin, H. M. Bark Endeavour). Robert FitzRoy, Captain of Darwin's HMS Beagle, is said to have taught his crew to use the term port instead of larboard, thus propelling the use of the word into the Naval Services vocabulary.
Before modern standardization, quartermasters were advised to follow the rotation of the bottom of the wheel. Thus, when obeying a "hard a-starboard" command, the QM would turn the bottom of the wheel to the right, or starboard. This applied the left rudder and the ship turned to its left, or to port. Steering with the bottom of the wheel was apparently an approved way to learn helming more than a century ago.
The nautical reason for a "hard a-starboard" command to turn left seems related to the tiller and not the rudder. A tiller is pushed to the right, or starboard, to apply left rudder and turn the vessel to the left.
Right-of-way for other vessels 
Vessels at sea do not actually have any "right of way"—they may be, correctly, in the position of being the "stand on vessel" or the "give way" vessel. Therefore, at no time should any vessel actually navigate its way into a collision, and the regulations are clear that no one in command of a vessel may assume a "right of way" up to a point of collision.
Consider two ships on courses that intersect. The ordinary rule is that the ship on the left must 'give way'. The stand on vessel (right) sees the green light on the starboard (right) side of the ship on the left i.e., 'give way vessel' (left). The 'give way vessel' (left) sees the red light on the port side of the 'stand on vessel' (right). If the courses are intersecting, the helmsman usually gives way to a red light by going around the stern of the stand on vessel.
There are other rules governing which is a stand on vessel, such as the wind based rules for sailing vessels, powered ships giving way to sailing ships, and all other ships giving way to powered vessels that are constrained by their draft or restricted in their ability to maneuver. Therefore the green light does not mean an unqualified go, but rather it means proceed with caution subject to other rules applying. The earliest railway signals went red/green/white (as per the stern light) for stop/caution/go following this naval practice and were only later changed to the more familiar red/yellow/green.
The very simple application of red light and green light is to remember the Ditty "If to starboard red appear, tis your duty to keep clear" meaning that if the helmsman sees a red light on his starboard side he is the Give Way vessel. The sailing rule that dictates that a sailing vessel on starboard tack is the stand on vessel is as old as any other regulation. Likewise, if on the same tack, a sailing vessel that is upwind of another is the give way vessel
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Sidelights are lit on the port and starboard side on vessels at night to indicate starboard bow with a green light, and port bow with a red light, each lit from right ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam on its respective side. In international waters, the lighting of vessel is standardized in §23 Part C COLREG.
Mnemonic devices 
There are a number of tricks used to remember which side port and starboard each refer to:
- A ship that is out on the ocean has "left port".
- The sailor left port with a red nose.
- Port and left both contain four letters.
- "Port wine is red; so is the port light."
- "Port is not right for children" (Port wine is red and not being "right for children" is therefore "left".)
- The phrase "Any red port left in the can?" can be a useful reminder. It breaks down as follows:
- The drink port is a fortified red wine—which links the word "port" with the color red, used for navigational lights (see below).
- "Left" comes from the phrase and so port must be on the left.
- The reference to "can" relates to the fact that port-hand buoys are "can"-shaped.
- A variation on the above is "Two drops of red port left in the bottle."
- Another variation: "Port is the red wine that is left in the glass."
- The common abbreviation P.S. (for English postscript, derived from Latin post scriptum) can be viewed as port ("left") and starboard ("right").
- "Star light, star bright, starboard is to the right."
- "There is no red port wine left".
- Terms referring to the right side are longer words ("starboard", "right", and "green"), while terms referring to the other side are shorter words ("port", "left", and "red").
- Starboard contains two letter "R"s, compared to only one in port; therefore, starboard refers to the right side.
- Red is the representative color for some major ideologies of the political Left, e.g. socialism or communism; whereas green is the color of US cash and is often synonymous with wealth.
- In countries that drive on the left side of the road: If someone is drinking Port, they should be on the passenger side; the "star" of the boat, or person who is in control of the boat, is on the driver's side.
- Port and starboard are in alphabetical order, which can be associated in European languages with reading from left to right. So they are in the same order as reading text. Left and right are in the same order.
- Green has two E's, Starboard has two R's, so starboard, green right.
A port buoy is a lateral buoy used to guide vessels through channels or close to shallow water. The port buoy is one that a vessel must leave to port when passing upstream. If in International Association of Lighthouse Authorities area A, the port buoys are red. If in IALA area B (Japan, the Americas, South Korea, and the Philippines) then the "handedness" of buoyage is reversed, and a vessel leaves black or green buoys to port.
Mnemonic devices for buoys in IALA area B:
- Best People On Earth = "Black Port on Entering"
- RRR = Red Right Returning
See also 
- Norie, John William; Hobbs, J. S. (1847) . Sailing directions for the Bay of Biscay, including the coasts of France and Spain, from Ushant to Cape Finisterre ("A new ed., rev. and considerably improved" ed.). C. Wilson. p. 1. OCLC 41208722. Retrieved 7 February 2010. "An order, recently issued by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, states, that in order to prevent mistakes, which frequently occur from the similarity of the words starboard and larboard, in future, the word port is to be substituted for larboard, in all Her Majesty’s ships or vessels."
Further reading 
- Herreshoff, Halsey, (consulting editor) (1983) The Sailor’s Handbook, Little Brown and Company
- Jobson, Gary (1987) Sailing Fundamentals, Simon & Schuster
- Maloney, Elbert S., (editor) (1999) Chapman Piloting: Seamanship & Small Boat Handling, Hearst Marine Books, New York
- Rousmaniere, John (1999) The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, Simon & Schuster
- Seidman, David (1995) The Complete Sailor, International Marine
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