What Is The Meaning Of Port, Starboard, Bow, And Stern?

When learning to sail or motorboat, there is an entirely new language that you need to know and understand. The words port, starboard, bow, and stern are the words that you will need to know for any boating.

What Does ‘Red on Deck’ Mean in...
What Does ‘Red on Deck’ Mean in Boating?

The term port means the left side of the boat, and starboard is the right side of the ship. The bow is the front side of the boat, and the stern is the back side of the ship. Each of these is a different part of the boat, and it is vital to understand these terms when sailing a boat or driving a motorboat.

Parts of the Sailboat

Meaning Of Port And Starboard On Sailboats And Other Boats

Whether sailing a sailboat or driving a motorboat, you may hear someone call out starboard or port instead of right and left. The starboard and port never change on a boat; it always remains the same.

The starboard is the right side of the boat, and the port is the left side of the boat as you sit facing the bow. Knowing and understanding these terms is very important, especially when sailing a ship.

When sailing, you may call the crew that you will starboard tack or that the wind is on the port side. The port and starboard will never change, even if the boat’s direction changes.

Using the port and starboard terms for the right and left-hand sides of the boat helps the mariners and the crew avoid confusion.

Ethnology Of Port And Starboard Boating Terms

Port and starboard are mariner terms that have been used for a long time. Each word has a story and is why the terms are still used today.

The term starboard comes from the Old English word steorbord, which means the side on which the ship is steered. In the past, ships used to have rudders on their centerline, and they were steered with a steering oar from the right-hand side, never the stern; ships were steered on the right-hand side because most people are right-handed.

The word port came from the steering being on the right-hand side, so the boat would be tied up at the wharf or dock on the left-hand side or what was known as the port side of the ship. The term port was used in Old English as far back as 1543.

Understanding these terms is very important when sailing a boat or driving a motorboat. Knowing the starboard or port terms will help you and the crew avoid confusion when you call out directions such as “starboard” or “port” to your crew.

Meaning Of Bow And Stern On Sailboats And Other Boats

The bow and sterns are two parts of the boat that refer to the boat. The ship’s bow is the part that faces forward when the ship is underway. The bow usually has a sharp-angled hull, providing less resistance to make moving the vessel through the water easier.

The stern is the back part of the ship; for a sailboat, the stern is where the tiller is, and on a keel sailboat, you will sit near the stern to steer the boat. The stern is also referred to as the aft-most part of the ship or boat.

The stern is at the opposite end of the ship from the bow. If you are sailing, it is essential to know and understand the difference between the stern and bow of the boat.

Ethnology Of Stern And Bow Boating Terms

Today stern and bow are terms that any boater should know and understand. The words also have some fascinating history.

We do not quite know where the word stern comes from, but most people believe that the word stern comes from the word steer, as it is at the stern or the back of the boat where the boat direction comes from or where the ship is steered.

The term bow of the boat is thought to come from Middle Dutch of Boech or Old Norse Bogor (shoulder). In Old English, the word bough, bog, or both could also mean bow; we are unsure if the word bow is related to these words.

The word is more than likely related to the French word Prow, which also means the ship’s bow above the waterline. The terms prow and bow are often used interchangeably to describe the very forward part of the ship.

Why Understanding The Port, Starboard, Bow, And Stern Are Important

Understanding the terms port, starboard, bow, and stern is essential if you are sailing a boat or on a motorboat. Understanding the differences between the stern and bow of the ship is essential to know and understand which part should be docked or tied up first when docking your boat.

Also, it is important to know the difference between the starboard and port when on the waterway to understand which boat has the right away or give way. 

Also, if you are a crew on a ship and the Captian is shouting orders, you must understand the basic terms of the bow (front of the boat), stern (back of the ship), starboard (right side of the boat) and port (left side of the boat).

Boating and especially sailing are entertaining watersports to be a part of. But to like many other things, you need to learn the “lingo” or language and what the different basic terms mean, including starboard, port, bow, and stern. 

At A Bus On A Dusty Road, we talk about all things to do with travel, life, sailing, and ex-pat living. We are all about “Living Life As A Global Citizen.” We explore social, cultural, and economic issues and travel.

We would love to have you be part of our community. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up-to-date by clicking here. If you have any questions, you can contact me, Anita, by clicking here.

Listen to our Podcast called Dusty Roads. You can find it on all major podcast platforms. Try out to listen to one of our podcasts by clicking here.

Subscribe to our A Bus On A Dusty Road YouTube Channel filled with great videos and information by clicking here.

All About Sailing In The Philippines

The Philippines has long been a sailors’ paradise for cruising and learning to sail a boat. For 7000 islands, there are many places that you can explore within the Philippines. It can be an area that can hit many typhoons, so to cruise or sail the Philippines, you need to understand the best time to go there.

By clicking here, you can discover All About Sailing In The Philippines.

How Much Wind Is Too Much For A Beginner Sailor?

For a beginner sailor, the wind is usually recommended to be under 10 knots. Those who are more experienced or with a larger boat can consider going up to 12 knots of wind. A knot is not the same as miles per hour or kilometer per hour but is faster than these measurements.

By clicking here, you can discover How Much Wind Is Too Much For A Beginner Sailor?

No Experience Sailing, 6 Tips To Get Started

If you are going to take up sailing, then the first thing you must do is get on a boat and find out if sailing is suitable. The best sailors can handle their boats in all kinds and types of weather. Find a class that you can join and get certified. Sailing requires knowledge and skill. Find yourself a sailing community that you can be part of.

By clicking here, you can discover No Experience Sailing, 6 Tips To Get Started.


Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

Recent Posts

What Is The Meaning Of Port, Starboard, Bow, And Stern?