Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Starboard & Port

Tom from Bellaire asked about the origin of starboard to indicate the right side of a vessel and port to indicate the left side of a vessel.

Starboard had nothing to do with stars; it did not refer to nighttime navigation, for instance. Instead, it came from an Old English word (stéor ) that meant a steering paddle, the forerunner of our rudder. Since most people are righthanded, the paddle was usually installed over the right side or board of the ship as you faced forward. It was also moved as far as possible to the back end of the boat for the sake of leverage, thus making the back of the boat the stern, or steering place.

Port originally was called baecborde (backboard). That was because it would have been behind the steersman as he plied the steering paddle over the right side. When the boat docked, it was necessary that the left side of the vessel face land, or the port. The right side had to be kept unobstructed for the sake of the steering mechanism.

The left side came to be called larboard. That probably evolved from loading board, since there was a cargo gate on that side for supplies to be brought on board. But since larboard could be confused with starboard when shouted out during tight or frantic maneuvers, the British Navy replaced it with port in 1844.

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