what is the left of the boat called
what is the left of the boat called

Ahoy there! Have you ever found yourself pondering about the parts of a boat? Well, today we’re going to take a closer look at one specific aspect – the left side of a boat. That’s right, we’re going to dive into the fascinating world of nautical terminology and discover what the left side of a boat is commonly referred to as. So, grab your life jacket and join us on this maritime adventure!

Port Side


The term “port side” refers to the left side of a boat or ship when facing forward in the direction of travel. It is the opposite side of the boat from the starboard side, which is the right side. The port side is an essential reference point in navigation and plays a crucial role in ensuring clear communication and safety on board.


The origin of the term “port side” can be traced back to the early days of sailing ships. In the past, ships were predominantly steered using oars, and the steering oar, known as a “tiller,” was positioned on the right side of the stern. Consequently, to dock or moor the ship, it was necessary to approach the pier with the left side facing it. This allowed the tiller to be on the side away from the dock, thus avoiding any potential damage during the maneuver.

Symbolism in Navigation

In addition to its practical origins, the port side also holds symbolic significance in navigation. The designation of the left side as the port side allows for a standardized and universal means of communication in the maritime industry. By adhering to a consistent terminology, sailors and maritime professionals can avoid confusion and ensure smooth communication, regardless of their native language or the vessel they are operating.

Left Side of the Boat

Different Names

While the term “port side” is widely used in the maritime community, it is worth noting that there are alternative names for the left side of the boat. In some contexts, it may be referred to as the “larboard” side. However, this term has largely fallen out of use due to its similarity in pronunciation to “starboard,” which could lead to confusion, especially in noisy or chaotic situations.

Function and Purpose

The left side of the boat, or port side, serves several functions and purposes. Firstly, it provides an easily identifiable point of reference for communication and navigation. By using definitive terms such as “port side” and “starboard side,” sailors can avoid ambiguity and potential mistakes, especially when maneuvering in tight spaces or adverse weather conditions. Secondly, the port side often accommodates the docking facilities and loading/unloading equipment in ports and harbors, ensuring efficient and organized operations.

Understanding Naval Terminology


In naval terminology, “port” is the term used to describe the left side of a ship or boat when facing forward. It is an important nautical term that facilitates clear and concise communication among naval personnel. By using consistent langugage, naval officers can convey precise information and avoid misunderstandings, contributing to the overall effectiveness and safety of naval operations.


In contrast to the port side, the starboard side refers to the right side of the boat or ship when facing forward. Similar to “port,” “starboard” is a standard term used in the maritime industry to ensure effective communication. Together, “port” and “starboard” create a clear distinction between the two sides of a vessel, streamlining communication and preventing confusion during maneuvers or emergencies.


“Aft” is a term used in naval terminology to refer to the back or rear part of a boat or ship. It is synonymous with the term “stern” and is often used in conjunction with “port” or “starboard” to provide specific directions or locations on a vessel. Understanding the concept of aft is critical for maintaining situational awareness on board and facilitating efficient movement around the ship.


The term “bow” refers to the front or forward part of a boat or ship. It is essentially the opposite of “aft” and is crucial for establishing points of reference and providing clear directions. The bow of a vessel typically contains important navigational equipment and is the part that faces the direction of travel.

History of Left and Right Determination

Historical Context

The determination of left and right sides dates back centuries and has evolved over time. In ancient maritime cultures, such as the Phoenicians, the side facing the shore was considered the left side. However, this convention changed with the development of sailing vessels and the introduction of steering oars, resulting in the left side of the ship becoming the designated port side.

Factors Influencing Determination

Several factors contributed to the determination of the left and right sides of a boat or ship. One primary factor was the predominant use of the right hand for steering and control. As most individuals are right-handed, it made sense for the steering oar or tiller to be positioned on the right side. This placement allowed the helmsman to have a clear view ahead and maintain control with their dominant hand while navigating through various water conditions.

Importance of Knowing the Terminology

Clear Communication

One of the key reasons for knowing and understanding naval terminology, including the distinction between port and starboard, is to ensure clear communication. By adhering to standardized terms, sailors can easily convey instructions, relay critical information, and avoid confusion or misunderstandings that could have potentially dire consequences. Whether it’s issuing commands during maneuvers or emergency situations, precise and concise communication greatly enhances safety and efficiency on board.

Safety Measures

Knowing the terminology associated with the left and right sides of a boat or ship is crucial for implementing safety measures effectively. For instance, during navigation in narrow channels or congested waters, understanding the port and starboard sides allows sailors to make quick, instinctive decisions to avoid collisions or accidents. Moreover, when responding to distress signals or emergency calls, recognizing and utilizing the correct terminology can ensure a timely and coordinated rescue operation.

Implications for Navigation

Navigational Conventions

The use of consistent terminology, particularly when referring to the left and right sides of a vessel, has various implications for navigation. It allows sailors and mariners from different countries and backgrounds to communicate effectively, understanding each other’s commands and directions without confusion. This standardization of language enhances safety and promotes smoother operations, especially when multiple vessels are sharing the same body of water.

Effects on Vessels and Ports

The consistent use of port and starboard designations also has practical implications for vessels and ports alike. By establishing clear points of reference, ports can efficiently allocate docking facilities and loading/unloading equipment to the appropriate side of the vessel. Similarly, vessel operators can plan their approach and maneuvering strategies based on the standard port and starboard arrangements, minimizing the risks of accidents or damage to both the ship and the infrastructure.

Popular Myths and Misconceptions

Confusion around Terminology

Despite efforts to establish a standard terminology, confusion still exists regarding the left and right sides of a boat or ship. This is particularly true for those unfamiliar with nautical language or lacking experience in the maritime domain. Misunderstandings can arise when individuals mistake the terms “port” and “starboard” or use them interchangeably, potentially leading to communication breakdowns and compromising safety.

Common Mistakes

One common mistake regarding the left and right sides of a boat is using the word “left” instead of “port.” While “left” seems intuitive, it is essential to use the correct terminology to ensure precision and effective communication. Additionally, linguistic differences and language barriers can contribute to misunderstandings, highlighting the need for standardization and clarity in the maritime industry.

Cultural References

Nautical Language in Literature and Film

Nautical language, including the terminology associated with the left side of a boat, has permeated numerous works of literature and film. From classic novels such as Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” to iconic films like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” maritime settings have been an enduring source of inspiration. This cultural prominence has further solidified the importance and recognition of nautical vocabulary, including the significance of the left side of the boat.

Slang and Expressions

Beyond formal literature and mainstream media, nautical language has also influenced everyday speech and idiomatic expressions. Phrases such as “living on the wrong side of the tracks” or “making a right-hand turn” carry underlying references to port and starboard sides. The inclusion of maritime terminology in colloquial language showcases the enduring influence and relevance of these concepts in our daily lives.

Contemporary Usage

Uniform Standards

In contemporary maritime practices, uniform standards are essential for ensuring consistent communication and safe operations. Regulatory bodies and maritime organizations worldwide aim to establish and maintain a common nautical language, including the consistent use of terms such as “port” and “starboard.” This dedication to standardization contributes to the overall safety and efficiency of global maritime operations.

Left and Right Conventions

While the use of the terms “port” and “starboard” remains prevalent, various other conventions exist based on specific circumstances or vessels. For instance, in small recreational boats, the terms “left” and “right” may be used more informally. Nevertheless, in professional maritime settings, adherence to the standard terminology is critical for ensuring effective communication and maintaining a high level of safety.


Final Thoughts

Understanding the left side of a boat, known as the port side, is fundamental for effective communication and safe navigation. The historical and practical foundations of this distinction, combined with the universal adoption of standardized nautical language, ensure clear instructions, and minimize the risks associated with misunderstandings or accidents.

Appreciation of Nautical Vocabulary

The nautical terminology associated with the left side of a boat offers a rich linguistic heritage and serves as a distinctive part of maritime culture. Whether it’s appreciating the symbolism and history behind these terms or recognizing their influence in everyday life, awareness and understanding of nautical vocabulary contribute to a deeper appreciation of the maritime world and its traditions.

David Wright
Hi, I'm David Wright and I'm the author behind DockG, a web site dedicated to inflatable dock floating platforms. I'm passionate about providing the best possible information on these revolutionary floating docks, and I'm constantly striving to provide up-to-date, accurate and helpful tips and advice on the subject to anyone who visits the site. As an avid outdoorsman and water enthusiast, I'm constantly in search of the best ways to enjoy time spent on the water, and I'm confident that the content I provide on DockG will help anyone looking to get the most out of their inflatable dock floating platform.