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Understanding Port and Starboard on Your Next Cruise Ship Vacation

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When new cruisers start to plan their cruise ship vacation, there is always one thing that comes up: what are starboard and port? These terms are not just for sailors but are used as reference for the location of almost everything you'll find on the ship from the hallway where your room is located to which bar to meet someone at. Sure, you could always just use left or right but this isn't a land-based vacation, you're on a cruise ship and that means it is time to learn the lingo. Let's break down these two concepts to help you understand them better before your next cruise!

So What Does Port And Starboard Mean On A Cruise Ship?

Starboard is the right side of the ship and port is the left while facing forward. Simple enough, right?

Well, it can be a little more complicated than that since ships turn in different ways so sometimes 'port' side will actually be facing away from land. However, no matter which direction the vessel is traveling or what side is touching the pier, the port side of the cruise ship is always on the left side while you are facing forward and the starboard side is always on your left.

When used in conjunction with forward and aft, you'll be able to navigate easier on a cruise ship. Let's take a look at some of the things they are used for specifically on cruise ships:

Your room may be located either on port or starboard depending on where your cabin number is assigned. Each ship has a slightly different numbering convention so you might get confused initially if your room is D312 for instance but discover that it isn't located next to D211 and instead is located on the other side of the ship.

Sometimes this isn't an issue but if you just walked down a long hallway and discover you are on the wrong side of the ship, well ... that can be very frustrating.

Additionally, when asking for directions it is customary for crew members to refer to the location of different places using starboard and port as well. For instance, they might say, "The library is located on deck seven aft".


Where Did The Concept Of Port And Starboard Originate?

There are many different stories and lore about the origin of port and starboard but they have been used for generations. According to the NOAA this tradition began because ancient vessels including canoes used a steering oar and so sailors (sitting in the middle of the stern) would use "starboard" for the right side since that was where the steering oar would be located. This led to the term steorbord (later starboard), a combination of the Old English words steor (steer) and bord (side of the boat).

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Over time, as ships grew in size it became easier to tie up to the dock on the opposite side from the steering oar so as to protect it from the damage of being squeezed between the boat and the quay. This lead it to being known as "larboard" (loading side) before being replaced with simply calling it the "port" side to reduce confusion.

As these vessels grew from small boats to the cruise ships we enjoy today these conventions have continued along with a variety of other maritime traditions.


How Can You Tell Which Side Is Port Or Starboard?

On a cruise ship it can be difficult to determine which side is port or starboard if you're not familiar with the layout. However, there are a few ways to help you out:

Look For Signage

Look for signage throughout the ship. This will include things like "No Smoking - Starboard Side" as well as directional signage indicating which way is aft (back) and forward.

Ask Crew For Help

If in doubt, ask a crew member! They will be more than happy to help direct you or answer any questions you may have about your cruise ship vacation.

Port And Left Have The Same Number Of Letters

If nothing else, you can look for a window and tell which way the ship is traveling, that will allow you to orient forward vs aft, and then remember that port and left are the same since they have the same number of letters.


What Have Some Cruise Ships Done To Make This Easier To Understand?

Professional sailors pick up port and starboard pretty quickly. However, for many guest this might be their first time at sea and for many more it is something they only experience every few years. As a result, it can be a confusing thing to learn. Some cruise lines have devised unique ways to help guests navigate the ship more easily.

Virgin Voyages:

Instead of referring to rooms as either being on port or starboard, the staterooms are referenced as "A" for port side and "Z" for cabins on the starboard side. This makes it very easy to know where your room is located since 11178A will be on the left side vs 11178Z on the right.

Do you have other ways that cruise ships have helped make port and starboard easier to understand?