AskDefine | Define starboard

Dictionary Definition

starboard adj : located on the right side of a ship or aircraft n : the right side of a ship or aircraft to someone facing the bow or nose [ant: larboard] v : turn to the right, of helms or rudders

User Contributed Dictionary



star + board


  1. The right hand of a ship or boat when facing the front, or fore or bow. Starboard does not change based on the orientation of the person aboard the ship or boat. Derived from the Scandinavian term "steerboard", which was hung off the right side of the boat, making it impractical to put the right side against a pier when in port, hence the left side of the boat became known as the port side. Steering capabilities with such a primitive oar and steering system, would be compromised if it was on the left, as the majority of able seamen were right-handed.
  2. In the context of "Nautical": One of the two traditional watches aboard a ship standing a watch in two.




right hand side of a vessel
  • Chinese: 右舷 (yòu xián)
  • Danish: styrbord
  • Dutch: stuurboord
  • Finnish: tyyrpuuri
  • French: tribord
  • Italian: tribordo
  • Portuguese: boreste
  • Spanish: estribor
  • Swedish: styrbord

Extensive Definition

Starboard is the nautical term that refers to the right side of a vessel as perceived by a person on board the ship and facing the bow (front).


The origin of the term comes from old boating practices. Before ships had rudders on their centerline, they were steered by use of a specialized oar. This oar was held by an oarsman located in the stern (back) of the ship. However, like most of the rest of society, 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. The old English term stēorbord descends 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”. The modern term "steering wheel" comes from the same language root as "starboard" or "steer board".
Similarly, the term for the left side of the boat, port, is derived from the practice of sailors mooring on the left side (i.e., the larboard or loading side) as to prevent the steering boards from being crushed. Because the words larboard and starboard sounded too similar to be easily distinguished, larboard was changed to port.
The starboard side of a vessel is indicated with a green navigation light at night.
Here are some easy ways to remember "starboard" vs. "port":
  • 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").
  • Another easy way (at least for English speakers) is to simply remember that the word "port" and the word "left" both have four letters in them. Port is left, so naturally, starboard is right.
  • Also the phrase "Any red port left in the can?" can be a useful reminder. It breaks down as follows: -
    • Port, the drink, is a fortified red wine which links the word port with the colour red, used for the navigation 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 harbour buoys are "can" shaped (only in IALA region A).
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 hoist on the starboard yard.

Right-of-way for other vessels

Vessels at sea do not actually have any "right of way"—they are, correctly, in the position of being 'stand on vessel' or 'give way' vessel. This means that at no time should any vessel actually navigate its way into a collision situation, and the rules are clear that no one in command of a vessel should assume a "right of way" and should at all costs avoid a collision.
Consider two ships on courses that intersect. The rule is that the ship on the left must give way. The stand on vessel sees the green light on the starboard (right) side of the ship on the left. The give way vessel sees the red light on the port side of the stand on vessel. The helmsman gives way to a red light by either turning away and showing a stern light (which is white), or by going around the stern of the stand on vessel.
This was likely the beginning of the convention for traffic lights that use red to mean stop and green to mean go.
There are other rules governing which is a stand on vessel, such as small ships giving way to big ships, powered ships giving way to sailing ships, and in some circumstances vessels under sail 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 that if the helmsman sees a red light, the helmsman should make sure that the other vessel can see his green light, which usually means giving way. If he sees a green light, he should stand on, but without getting into a collision situation.
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.

See also

starboard in Danish: Styrbord
starboard in German: Steuerbord
starboard in Spanish: Estribor
starboard in Esperanto: Tribordo
starboard in French: Tribord
starboard in Hebrew: ימין ושמאל בכלי שיט
starboard in Dutch: Stuurboord
starboard in Japanese: 面舵
starboard in Low German: Stüerboord
starboard in Swedish: Styrbord

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Epistle side, astarboard, clockwise, conservative, decanal side, dexter, dextrad, dextral, dextrally, dextrocardial, dextrocerebral, dextrocular, dextrogyrate, dextrogyratory, dextropedal, dextrorotary, dextrorse, ease the helm, ease the rudder, larboard, off, on the right, port, reactionary, recto, right, right field, right hand, right side, right wing, right-hand, right-wing, right-winger, right-wingish, rightward, rightwardly, rightwards, starboard tack, to the right
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