Monday, April 19, 2010


Port is the seafaring term for the left side of the boat or ship, from the point of view of a person aboard the ship, facing the front, or bow, of the ship. This term is also used for spacecrafts and airplanes. It is not synonymous with the right hand side, as the port side of a ship does not change depending on which way a person is facing. The opposite of 'port' is 'starboard.'
The original English nautical term for the left side of a ship was 'larboard.' This came from the Middle English term for 'the loading side.' As 'larboard' rhymes with 'starboard,' it was easily confused, especially during high winds or in loud environments, which could cause significant problems when attempting to follow shouted commands. In the 1500s, 'larboard' became known as 'port,' since it was the side of the ship where dockworkers normally load cargo from the port.
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An alternate theory for the etymology of 'port' is that the English word came either from the Latin word porta, which means 'door' or 'gate' or portus, meaning 'harbor.' This could have again referred to the side of the ship where the dockworkers loaded cargo or to the gate or door opened to load the cargo.

Whalers continued to use the term 'larboard' up until the 1850s, long after English-speaking merchant mariners adopted the term 'port.' Captain Robert FitzRoy of Charles Darwin's ship, the HMS Beagle, instructed his crew to substitute the term 'larboard' with 'port' in the late 1820s. This may have prompted England's Royal Navy to adopt the term 'port' in 1844.

Seagoing vessels and airplanes all have a red light on the port side, a green light on the starboard side, and a white light on the aft, or rear. This can help provide a mnemonic device for remembering which side of the ship is the port side. The port side of a ship has a red light, and port wine is generally red. 'Port' and 'left' both have four letters, and the port side of the ship is on the left from the point of view of someone facing forward.
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