Starboard is the nautical term (used on boats and ships) that refers to the right side of a vessel as perceived by a person facing towards the bow. Note that starboard refers to a particular and unchanging side of a ship, and thus is not a synonym for "right", a direction which is completely observer-dependent. (For example, an observer on board who is facing the stern would perceive starboard to be on his left, not his right The starboard side of a vessel is indicated with a green light.
The origin of term comes from old boating practices. Before boats had rudders on their centerline, boats were steered by use of a specialized oar. This oar was held by a sailor located towards the stern (back) of the boat. However, like most of the rest of society, there were many more right-handed sailors than left-handed sailors. This meant that the right-handed sailors holding the steering oar (which had been broadened to provide better control) used to stand on the right side of the boat. The word starboard is a corruption of steering board, which in turn came from the old Norse language word stýri, in the language of the vikings.
Similarly, the term for the left side of the boat, port, is derived from the practice of sailors mooring on the left side (i.e., the Portboard side) as to prevent the steering boards from being crushed. Because the words portboard and star board sounded too similar to be distingued under windy sailing conditions, portboard was shortened to port.
The starboad side of most naval vessels the world over is designated the 'senior' side. The officers' gangway or sea ladder is shipped on this side and this side of the quarterdeck is reserved for the captain. The flag or pennant of the ship's captain or senior officer in command is generally hoist on the starboard yard.
Right of Way for Sail-Powered Craft
When the wind was on the starboard side of a boat, i.e. blowing from the right, the boat would be defined as on starboard tack. As a rule, boats on star board have right of way over a boat on port tack, unless circumstances prevented the boat on port tack from giving way.
Right of way for other vessels
A diagram of the ships and associated lights
Consider two ships on courses that intersect. The rule is that the ship on the left must give way. The ship with right of way sees the green light on the starboard (right) side of the ship on the left. The ship that must yield right of way sees the red light on the port side on the ship on the right. This was likely the beginning of the convention for traffic lights that use red to mean stop and green to mean go.
It would also be true that if the oarsman with the steering oar is on the right side of the ship, the oarsman on the port tack can see the red light of the ship on the starboard tack better than vice versa.
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