About Submarines

Port, Starboard, Larboard

This information is a condensed version of the information that can be found at the Naval Academy Preparatory School, Newport, R.I. Web site.

The term starboard, the nautical term for the right-hand half of the ship, comes from Old English stéorbord and is a combination of stéor, meaning "steer," and bord , meaning "board." On old ships the rudder or steering paddle would be on the right side of the ship. Hence, the term starboard.


The counterpart to starboard is larboard, which derives from ladde and bord. American Heritage has ladde as the past participle of the verb "to lead." The left side of the ship would be led by the right, where the rudder was. Most other sources derive it from laden , meaning "to load." The left-hand side being the side put to the dock for loading cargo. The Old English Dictionary Volume 2, says the origin is undetermined.

Well you can probably guess the similarity in sound of the two names caused a great number of communications problems. "Ensign, was that lookout on the mizzen mast reporting a whale off the starboard bow or larboard bow, this wind makes it hard to tell. Lets turn to larboard and see if we can find anything." A different word was required. The term port for the left-hand side of a ship dates to the 16th century, but it was not until the 1840s that both the Royal and US Navies officially abandoned the term larboard in favor of port.


Why port was used for this is not known for certain, but most sources believe it is because the left-hand side of a ship was the side typically put next to the wharf or port. Especially if your rudder was on the starboard side, this would be the case.

 The Terms Starboard and Port are the international standard to this day.

What is not covered in  the discussion above, is the relationship to the ship's "Running Lights.".

In most countries, every water going vessel above a large row boat is required to have a set of navigation lights. What lights are required is determined by international rules and regulations. At the minimum, all vessels must have a bow light, stern light and port and starboard running lights. The bow and stern lights are white. The running lights face forward on either side of the vessel. They cannot be seen from other vessels unless they are approached from the front. A red light is used for the port side and a green light for the starboard side. With this method  vessels can tell which way other vessels are headed at night. 

The graphic below depicts the top view of the forward part a submarine sail showing the running lights. when submerged or temporarily surfaced the running lights are retracted into the sail.



[ Email Me | Home | Ship's Rosters | Sub Library | | Yeoman | SS 393 | SSN 651 ]
 [ Submarine News | Slang | About | Reunion | Photos | Links ]
[ Guest book | Stories | Searches | Help Us | Uffie | Chat ]