When I first started boating with my father, I was about 5 years old. I was confused by what starboard and port meant and didn’t know how to remember port and starboard. That was until my father gave me this very simple to remember trick.

The word “port” has 4 letters in it. The word “left” also has 4 letters in it. So, all you need to remember is that similarity in order to know the difference between port and starboard directions on a boat or ship.

It’s key to understand, that you only really need to remember the name for one side of the boat, as if you know one, you will automatically know what the other side is referring to.

It’s really simple isn’t it? Just remember that “left” has 4 letters, and “port” has 4 letters.

But what about the differences in color for port and starboard that are used in nautical terms. Here’s an easy way to remember that too below.

How to remember port and starboard colors

How about the colors of the navigational lights that all boats use? One side is green, and one side is red, but which is which?

I have an easy way which should help you to remember the differences.

Again, it was my father who taught me logical connection as I grew older to help me remember port and starboard directions and colors.

the difference between where port and starboard colors are displayed on a boat

Image from the excellent AceBoater.com website.

For example, port is also known as a red wine.

Now I didn’t know much about wine when I was five years old, so that logical connection didn’t really help me to remember which side was which.

But as I’ve got older and even taught adults how to drive a pontoon boat, I have used this remembering game to teach them the sides and colors of a boat.

It’s easy to remember using this commonly used mnemonic:

“There is no RED PORT wine LEFT in the bottle.”

See what we did there?

That one little phrase lets you remember that the port side is on the left, and it will be using a red navigation light. All of the information is there in that one phrase, meaning if you get that, you won’t need to remember any phrases or tricks for the starboard side as it’s simply the opposite!

Therefore, if you know the port is the left-hand side (red in navigational lighting terms) then the right-hand side has to be starboard (green in navigational terms).


Here’s a video on YouTube which uses the exact same remembering strategy.

Another way to remember port and starboard

Moving forward with the wine analogy, let’s put that into more practice.

Let’s say you are on a cruise ship and out on the deck. If you are facing towards the front of the boat, then your port side will always be on the left.

If you are familiar with how port wine is traditionally passed around a dinner table, you should know that it always goes to the left.

And just like port wine which is red, the left-hand side navigation lighting will also be red.

Another phrase I have heard, but I don’t think is as easy to remember as the one I referenced earlier is:

PORT is always LEFT at sea, but never left at dinner”

Meaning, people always drink up all the port!

And lastly, another couple of remembering tricks you could use this when trying to recall which side port or starboard is on:

“StaRboaRd is RIGHT.” – it has 2 letter Rs in it.


“The ship’s LEFT PORT

Let’s be honest though, neither of these are as good as the originals I showed you:

PORT and LEFT both have 4 letters in them”


“There is no RED PORT wine LEFT in the bottle.”

The last word…

Port and starboard refer to the sides of a boat, and how they got those names is steeped in history. If you do want to know more about the origins, then take a look at this guide, it’s really interesting!

We use port and starboard instead of left and right, as they can change depending on which way you are facing the boat.

PS: I was recently contacted by a UK reader via my social media channels, and he gave me another way for British people to remember port and starboard differences and colors.

This will only make sense if you know about UK politics:

PORT is LEFT. The British Labour Party are to the left of politics and use the colour red as their branding and signage.”