What is Portside?


Learning the nautical terms for ships can be quite confusing. What side is the port on a boat? And how do you find out? Let’s look at what port-side on a ship actually is, what Portside means and the history behind it. Cruise ships are so big and it can be easy to lose your bearings. Understanding cruise terminology and some basic nautical terms can help you get around the ship more easily.

What is Portside on a boat and why? ( easy guide with diagram )

What is Port side on a ship? Everything you need to know

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So, what is the Portside of a boat or ship? Where does the word come from, and what colour is it? Let’s learn about some of the most used terms in the history of boats and ships.

What side is Port on a boat or ship? Where does the word come from and what colour is it?

MSC Seascape ship in the sea, MSC Seascape showing the Portside of the ship
MSC Seascape showing the Portside of the ship, Photo Credit: MSC Cruises

The port-side is the left side of any nautical vessel or ship. The left side of a ship is permanently called the port side.

Portside and starboard stay the same on every ship, vessel and boat and it is also used for aircraft. They are used for the mariner and crew’s orientation. The nautical terms of Portside and Starboard are used instead of left and right to avoid any confusion particularly over radio communications. By recognising Portside and Starboard you can determine the way the ship is sailing you will always know which way is left and which way is right.

When looking forward toward’s the bow of a ship, portside will always refer to the left of the ship. This makes Starboard the right. When looking the opposite way towards the Stern of the ship Portside will be right and Starboard will be left. Therefore the best way to determine whether you are on the Portside the left of the ship is to work out which is the rear of the ship (stern) or the front of the ship ( bow ).

What side is Port and why?

P&O Iona in Norway
Photo Credit: Sarah Christie Cruising with Kids

The left side is called ‘port’ because ships with steerboards or star boards as in history ships would dock at ports on the opposite side to the steerboard. This makes the steerboard or starboard the right. As the right side was always the steerboard side or star board side, the left side has to be the port side.

What is portside diagram

This is a boat terminology diagram of the nautical words and how to remember port and starboard sides.
Boat and Ship terminology Diagram

This is a boat terminology diagram of the nautical words and how to remember port and starboard sides.

What colour is Portside?

Ncl Norwegian Star Ship
Photo Credit: NCL cruise lines

Portside on a ship is seen as the colour Red

Why is Portside Red?

The red port side is given this colour as this side of the ship indicates zero visibility or limited visibility. This red port side of ship is also called the blindside. Red is the universally known as the colour for danger and is naturally picked in such cases.

Easy ways on How to remember Port-side

How To Remember Port And Starboard

There are a few easy ways to remember Port Side here are a few ways to remember the port side of a ship;

  • This is a fab Rhyme for remembering Portside particularly for children; Billy Bow is a the front, Lucy Left lives in the Port, Suzie Starboard rows to the right. Stern Stan Stands at the back.
  • Remember the words port and left both have 4 letters, if you can remember that one thing you will always get both right.
  • Also remember the saying “sailers had a wife or girl in every port” and think of your wedding finger. So the left hand is port.
  • For little ones it’s a great idea to get a friendship band on their left arm, or ask the cruise staff to put the cruise line kids band on the left arm, this will help them remember.
  • Which are do you wear your watch on? Note that, is your watch on your port or starboard arm, then you only have to look at your watch to remember, my watch is always on my left arm.
  • Remember this saying: “There is no Red Port wine Left in the bottle.”
  • Remember Port is red recognising the Port side
  • Another saying to remember is “Port is always Left at sea, but never left at dinner”
  • Remember the saying “The ship’s Left Port”

Why is it called Portside?

What are Royal Caribbean Biggest Ships At Sea, Icon of the Seas
Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

In the early days of ships and boating, boats were steered and controlled using a steering oar. As naturally most sailers where right handed the steering oar was placed through the right side of the ship. Sailors years ago began calling the right side of the ship the steering side. This word Steer soon became “starboard”. The other side the known now as Portside was known as “larboard”, or “the loading side.” The larboard would be were crew and goods were loaded on to the ship or boat.

As the size of ships grew so did the steering oar. This made it easier to make a ship dock on the side opposite the oar ( starboard ).

Over time it became evident that word “larboard” was too easily confused with “starboard”. The words sound the same during communication over radios.

Portside and Starboard History

Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

In 1844 Admiralty issued an order, stating that: ‘The word ‘Port‘ is frequently substituted for the word ‘Larboard‘, and as the distinction between ‘Starboard‘ and ‘Port‘ is so much more marked than that between ‘Starboard‘ and ‘Larboard‘, it is the Lordships’ direction that the word ‘Larboard‘ shall no longer be used.’

Thus Larboard was then replaced with the word “port” or Portside as this was the side that faced the port thus it easier to distinguish.


  • Donna Vallance

    Donna loves cruising with her husband and two teenage boys. Having cruised with the children from a young age she feels it is the perfect way to experience the world safely. Her boys are social butterfly’s and love meeting other children their own age whilst onboard some of the most extraordinary floating ships. She also writes over at Like Love Do, a travel memoir of her trips, from London to far off beaches. She has an eye for the unusual and like to go off of the beaten track just to find the perfect photo. With a passion for photography and exploring cruising has become the perfect holiday choice.

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