Here's a useful mnemonic phrase for placing marine navigation lights (red and green) correctly on each side of a vessel:

"Port wine should be left alone when it is red"
(ie. port (left) red, so starboard (right) green).

The phrase is a reminder in two basic ways:

  1. Side: When on deck and facing the front of the ship, the "port" side is always to the left, just as after dinner port wine is always traditionally passed around the table to the left.
  2. Colour: The "port" light is always red, just as port wine is always red.

Chris Berkeley of Seven Hills, NSW (Australia) sent an e-mail in 2005 with a better way to remember:
"Port is always left at sea, but never left at dinner".

Other simple ways to recall port and starboard sides are:

  1. "StaRboaRd is Right." (ie. 2R=Right)
  2. "The ship's left port!"

"Starboard" was originally "steerboard", referring to the side on which the steering rudder was hung on Viking ships.The "port" side used to be called "larboard" in earlier times, so one can also remember "Larboard and StaRboaRd" (ie. L=L, RR=R). The term "larboard" was officially dropped in favour of "port" by international agreements in the 19th century, to avoid confusion between the similar-sounding calls.

Incientally the term "posh" (meaning wealthy or upper-class) originated as an acronym P.O.S.H. (standing for "Port Out, Starboard Home") used by booking staff on British cruise-liners to describe the cabin arrangements for rich passengers wanting the sunny (southern) side of the ship on Atlantic crossings out to America and back.

A separate page contains mnemonics for marine traffic rules, which involve the correct reading of navigation lights at night.


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