Boating Basics: Port Vs. Stern

port vs. stern

Do you know the difference between port vs. stern? Even if you do, do you know where they come from? Every now and then, there’s nothing wrong with going over some basic boating tips. We created the National Documentation Portal to be a place where vessel owners could apply for and renew their documentation (among other forms), yes, but we also wanted it to be a hub of information, a resource that they could turn to for advanced questions, basic ones, and everything in between. 

Port Vs. Stern Explained 

On a boat, “port” refers to the left side of the vessel when facing forward (towards the bow), while “stern” refers to the rear or aft part of the boat. These terms are nautical in origin and are widely used in maritime contexts.

Where Do “Stern” and “Port” Come From? 

The term “port” originated from the old practice of docking ships on the left side in ports, as it was more convenient for right-handed sailors to load and unload cargo. The word “port” itself has nautical roots, derived from the Latin word “portus” meaning “harbor” or “haven.” On the other hand, “stern” refers to the rear part of the boat. It comes from the Old English word “styrene,” which means “rear” or “hind part.” The stern is where the ship’s rudder is located, which controls the direction of the vessel.

Why Do Folks Sometimes Get Confused About Stern and Port On a Boat? 

People sometimes get confused between port and starboard (right side of the boat when facing forward) and between port and stern for many reasons, not the least of which is that “port” and “starboard” can sound similar, especially in noisy environments, leading to confusion. Some may be new to boating or haven’t had much exposure to nautical terms. So, they may find it challenging to remember and differentiate between the terms. Really, you can be experienced, but still get “turned around” on a boat. For example, if you’re facing the bow of the boat and then turn around, your left side will become the starboard side. This change in perspective can confuse people who are not familiar with nautical terms.

Some Ways to Keep Stern and Port Straight 

You can use visualization. Imagine yourself standing on a boat and facing forward. Keep in mind that “port” and “left” have fewer letters than “starboard” and “right.” This mnemonic can help you remember that “port” refers to the left side of the boat. Some people find it helpful to associate “port” with the color red. Both “port” and “red” have four letters. Additionally, the red navigational light is located on the port side of a vessel. If it’s a struggle at first, don’t give up. The more you use and encounter these terms in a boating context, the more familiar and natural they will become.

 port vs. stern

A Vessel Documentation Site for Vessel Owners of All Levels 

We hope that the above has been helpful. Even if you’re up on stern and port, this blog could be of benefit to other boaters, particularly younger ones. If you need help with your vessel documentation, our site is here to help with that, too.