When on a seafaring vessel, the maritime convention dictates that you stop calling the directions "left" and "right," and that you call them port and starboard instead.

When airplanes became common, and electric lights became the norm for planes and boats alike, a standard for red and green lights was developed to help others determine the vessel's relative heading.

Here's a good way to remember whether red lights go on the left or port side, or not. Unfortunately, like most mnemonics, it's not easy for internationalization.

Thus, the red light does go on the left, er, port side of your plane or vessel, and the green light does belong on the starboard or right side.

The easiest way to remember port from starboard, at least for this old English-speaking salt is:




If that red light is on your right—or starboard—side, the boat or airplane is coming AT you.



(You don't want there should be confusion about this.)

The way I remember port and starboard (because heaven knows how many hours a day I spend on our nations waterways) is thusly:

  • the word "port" is four letters long just like the word "left".
  • the word "starboard" has more than four letters — similar in that respect to the word "right"

As far as the colors of the port and starboard lights go...

  • "port" is a type of red wine — so the port side light is red.
  • by default, the "starboard" side gets the other light which is the green one
    (I guess you could say that "green" is five letters long like "right", but I always connect starboard and green because I know that the port side already has dibs on the red light).

Okay, I'll admit it, there is a snippet from the summer camp song "Barges" that goes

"...Starboard shines green and the port is glowing red, I can see them flickering far ahead..."
but I don't recall it enough to count on it. Besides, while singing on the bowsprit of a ship about to ram another may make you the stuff of legend to your fellow sailors, it's probably not the best way to remind yourself of quickly needed info.


Notes: 2003.10.9@15:54 Pignut says "re:port and starboard. If you have a red nose, stay well away from port"

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