Welcome back to our Word of the Week!

Every week, we look together at a word that is either interesting, funny or mysterious and that appeals to all of us in the aviation community.

And today, as we feel generous, you get two words of the week! Port and starboard.

port (n.)

UK /pɔːt/ US /pɔːrt/

the left side of a ship or aircraft as you are facing forward

starboard (n.)

UK  /ˈstɑː.bəd/ US  /ˈstɑːr.bɚd/

the right side of a ship or aircraft as you are facing forward

Port and starboard unambiguously refer to the left and right side of the vessel, not the observer. That is, the port side of the vessel always refers to the same portion of the vessel’s structure, and does not depend on which way the observer is facing.

The port side is the side of the vessel which is to the left of an observer facing the bow, that is, facing forward towards the direction the vehicle is heading when underway, and the starboard is to the right of such an observer.

This convention allows orders and information to be given unambiguously, without needing to know which way any particular crew member is facing.

Very nice! But where does that all come from?

The term starboard derives from the Old English steorbord, meaning the side on which the ship is steered. The Afrikaans term stuurboord (steering-board) is also taken from this root. Before ships had rudders on their centrelines, they were steered with a steering oar at the stern of the ship on the right hand side of the ship, because more people are right-handed. Since the steering oar was on the right side of the boat, it would tie up at the wharf on the other side. Hence the left side was called port. The Oxford English Dictionary cites port in this usage since 1543.

And now, how do I remember which is which?

Ha! We actually have a small trick to help you remember. You know on which side of the aircraft your navigation lights are? Splendid

So, when facing the front, the light at the left wingtip is red.

Well, the delicious port wine is also red. So port goes on the left, where the red light is! And then, naturally, the other side is starboard. 🙂

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