How To Remember Port And Starboard On A Cruise Ship (7 EASY Ways)

The average cruise ship is well over 1,000 feet making them very easy to get lost while onboard.

In these moments, it’s good to know some basic nautical terminology. Words like Port and Starboard come in handy, but it can be hard remembering which is which.

However, there are some easy tricks to remember basic port and starboard directions on a cruise ship.

Is The Port The Left Or Right Side Of A Ship?

Port is always the left-hand side of a ship when you are facing the front.

The ship’s navigational lights use the color red to indicate the port side.

These terms come in handy because they always refer to the same side of the boat, no matter which direction you’re facing.

Side view of a ship - Starboard sides

Is The Starboard Side The Left or Right Side Of A Ship?

The starboard side of a cruise ship is the right side when facing the front of the ship.

The ship’s navigational lights use green to indicate the starboard side.

It’s good to know these terms when you’re at sea for efficient communication, better navigation, and overall safety on the water

To easily remember port and starboard, try this trick: the word “port” has the same number of letters as the word “left,” so you can associate the port side with the left side of the ship.

Similarly, think of the phrase “star-right” to associate the starboard side with the right side of the ship. With these simple techniques, you’ll have no trouble remembering port and starboard during your maritime adventures.

Why Do Ships Use Port and Starboard And Not Left And Right?

Ships use port and starboaard as opposed to ‘left’ and ‘right’ due to the need for clear communication and to avoid confusion, especially in hazardous maritime situations.

The terms ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ are unambiguous references that remain the same regardless of the mariner’s orientation.

With these terms, everyone on board can quickly understand which side of the ship is being referred to, without having to consider the direction others are facing.

This improved communication helps ensure the safety and smooth functioning of the vessel.

These terms have been passed down through generations of seafarers, maintaining their importance in maritime communication.

Understanding Port and Starboard

Origins of the Terms

The terms “port” and “starboard” have their roots in maritime history. Port refers to the left side of the boat, while starboard is the right side.

These terms originated from the days when ships were steered with a steering oar on the right side, which in Old English was called “steorbord,” eventually evolving into “starboard.”

As for “port,” it comes from the fact that the left side of the ship would face the port when docking, so sailors started calling the left side the “port side.”

Originally called “larboard,” was the side where ships were loaded and unloaded at the port.

To avoid confusion, larboard was later changed to port, a word that was easier to distinguish from starboard.

Visualizing the Boat

One common trick is to remember that the letters “left” and “port” both have four letters, making it easy to associate the word “port” with the left side of the boat.

For starboard, think about how the right side of the ship was the steering side in the past. You can imagine a star on the right-hand side of the ship as a symbol of guidance.

This visualization can help you remember that starboard is the right side of the boat when facing forward.


  • Port = Left side of the boat
  • Starboard = Right side of the boat

Try these techniques and tips to help you easily remember the difference between port and starboard, improving your sailing knowledge and communication on the water.

How To Remember Port And Starboard Sides

Color Associations

One helpful way to remember port and starboard is by associating them with colors. When you’re aboard a ship, you might notice that the navigation lights are green and red.

The green light is on the starboard side, and the red light is on the port side. Using these color associations can make it easier to remember which side is which:

  • Starboard = Right = Green
  • Port = Left = Red

You can also remember that the word ‘green’ has more letters, like starboard and right. And Red has less letters like left and port.

Word Associations

Another great technique to remember port and starboard is using word associations.

There are a few mnemonic devices that you can use to help you remember which is which.

  1. The number of letters in each word can help you remember their position relative to the bow: “Port” has 4 letters, and “Left” also has 4 letters. So, when you’re facing the front of the boat, the port side is on your left:
    • Port = 4 Letters = Left
  2. You can easily remember “starboard” is on the right side by noticing the two letter Rs: “StaRboaRd is RIGHT.”
  3. Another memory aid is the phrase “The ship’s LEFT PORT,” which can help remind you that when you’ve left the port, the port side is on your left.

Same Order As Left And Right

Most people say ‘left and right’ not ‘right and left.’

The same thing goes for ‘port and starboard.’ Saying ‘starboard and port’ just doesn’t sound right, does it?

So just say the phrase to yourself, ‘left and right, port and starboard’ and boom. An easy way to remember which side is which.

Using Environmental Cues

Navigational Lights

When you’re on a boat at night, navigational lights can help you remember which side is port and which side is starboard.

Most vessels have a red light on the port side and a green light on the starboard side.

A mnemonic to remember this is “red, left, port wine” – port wine is red, so the port side has a red light, and port side is on your left when facing the bow.

Port wine - a great way to remember port and starboard side of a cruise ship

Docking and Mooring

While docking or mooring your boat, pay attention to the environment. The relationship between the position of berthing facilities, such as cleats and piles, and your boat may help you remember port and starboard more easily.

When approaching a typical dock or marina, you’ll notice that the boat slips are designed for either port or starboard side docking.

In most cases, the slips have the mooring on the left side, indicating that the port side of the boat should be against the dock.

This setup provides visual cues and helps reinforce which side is port and which side is starboard. Remember that the port side is on your left when facing the bow, and the starboard side is on your right.

Practicing Identification

On-Water Exercises

One of the best ways to remember the difference between port and starboard is to practice identifying them while on the water.

Next time you’re on a boat or near a marina, try these helpful on-water exercises:

  • Observe the colors: Look at the navigation lights on nearby boats. Remember that port side has a red light and starboard side has a green light. Take note of which side is illuminated in each color when a boat passes.
  • Test yourself: As boats approach or pass by, quickly determine and say out loud which side is port and which is starboard. This will help reinforce your mental association between the words and their meanings.

Simple Games

In addition to on-water exercises, you can practice remembering port and starboard with fun, simple games.

Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Play memory games: Challenge yourself or play with friends to see who can recall port and starboard the fastest. For example, use flashcards with images of port (red) and starboard (green) sides, then shuffle and reveal them one by one, quickly identifying which side each card represents.
  • Create mnemonic devices: Come up with playful rhymes, acronyms, or even jokes to help you remember the difference. For example, you could try saying “port is left, just like the last four letters of the alphabet,” or “starboard has more letters, just like the word right.”

By engaging in on-water exercises and simple games, you can enhance your understanding and memorization of port and starboard.

Do Cruise Ships Always Dock On The Port Side?

Cruise docked on both sides

While it’s common for cruise ships to dock on the port side, it’s not an absolute rule and they can dock on both sides.

Many factors determine which side the ship will dock on, including the port layout, weather conditions, and even local regulations.

When entering a port, the captain and the local harbor pilot work closely together to maneuver the ship into its berth. In some ports, the layout may require the ship to dock on the starboard side.

For instance, if there’s a strong wind pushing against the port side, docking on the starboard side might be necessary to maintain control during the docking process.

Another factor to consider is that not all ports have designated cruise ship terminals. Some ships may dock at a commercial pier, where the berth’s layout or nearby cargo operations could influence which side of the ship faces the dock.

In addition, port authorities may have specific regulations and preferences that dictate the docking procedure.

Despite these variations, you can still use the port and starboard concept to orient yourself on the ship.

Remember that regardless of which side faces the dock, the port side of the ship is always on the left while you are facing forward, and the starboard side is always on the right.

Why Are Port And Starboard Lights Different Colors?

Cruise ship at sunset

The first time I was on a cruise ship, I noticed the different lights on other ships we passed at night. I didn’t give it much thought, but now I realize how such a small detail can be so important.

The reason behind these colored lights lies in their vital role in maritime safety and communication.

Firstly, the differing colors allow you to quickly identify the orientation of nearby vessels, especially in low visibility conditions. The port side emits a red light while the starboard side displays a green light.

This color coding enables you to determine the direction a vessel is heading, helping you avoid potential collisions.

Apart from assisting with safe navigation, these colored lights also serve as a visual means of communication between vessels.

For example, if you see both red and green lights of a distant ship coming closer, you can infer that it is sailing towards you.

Conversely, if you only observe one light, it indicates that the vessel is going in a perpendicular direction.

In addition to port and starboard lights, boats are usually required to display a stern light, which is white.

The combination of these lights forms a vessel’s navigation light configuration, and complying with international regulations helps to maintain order at sea.

Overall, the distinct colors of port and starboard lights have been thoughtfully designed to aid communication and ensure the safety of maritime traffic.

Summary: How To Remember Port and Starboard

Remembering the difference between port and starboard can be simple and enjoyable with these easy tricks.

By associating port with the left side because both words have four letters, you’re already a step ahead. And don’t forget the classic trick of linking port with red wine which is often served on the left side of the table.

Not only will these handy tips help you remember the terms, but they’ll also make your experiences on ships, cruises, and aircraft more pleasant.

No more panicking when someone says “Look at the dolphins on the starboard side!” You’ll be able to relax and enjoy the stunning view with confidence, knowing exactly where to look.

Additionally, understanding the origins of these terms can help solidify them in your memory.

Remember that before rudders, most ships were steered using a steering oar on the right-hand side, as most people are right-handed, leading to the term starboard.

Next time you’re aboard a vessel or chatting with fellow travelers, feel free to share these memory aids with them.

Or talk to staff and use these nautical terms. I’m sure many will be impressed you know the port and starboard sides!

But more importantly, if you ever need to be somewhere on a cruise ship, and all you have to go by is ‘meet on the 5th floor, starboard side,’ you will have no problem locating the event.

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