What are left and right in sailing?

When you're learning how to sail, you need to learn some basics aspects and boating terminology in order to understand how boats work, its parts, and the procedure to follow; you might noticed that there's a lot to learn, and one of the first things you can learn is the parts of a boat, starting by knowing what are left and right on a boat these terms are used for two main parts.

Remember that when you are going to sail, you go on board the boat, we don't call it to enter, or ride a boat, the appropriate word is board, with your training you'll notice that sailing has its own vocabulary and this vocabulary must be learned as one of the most important things, so the practice will become easier for you knowing in advance how each thing is called and avoiding confusions.

If you are just jumping into the world of boats and sailing, you'll find yourself confused with all those words that you have not heard ever, as a start point you must remember two main aspects:

  • The left side of the boat is the port (port side) is the left-hand side of a boat, looking forward towards the bow (opposite of starboard).
  • While the right side is the starboard is the right-hand side of a boat looking forward towards the bow (opposite of port).

According to the place, there are some exceptions such as in New York State Barge Canal system, where the starboard side is the northern side, so to avoid the confusions or any problem; you can verify special cases in the charts of the place you're sailing.

You might be wondering why people put the names of port and starboard to the left and side sides, well, it's due to two terms related: Starboard Tack that means that the wind is coming from the right side and Port Tack that means that the wind is coming from the left side, those terms denote the direction the boat is moving; you might notice that if the wind is coming from the left side, then you have to move towards left therefore it means it's the opposite of what one might think.

However, to avoid mistakes, most boaters relate the word left with port because both have the same length (number of letter), you can use this clue to learn when use each term. Although some beginners think that it could be easier to use just left and right, but what this could cause is some confusion like when you're looking forwards on a boat, you see the port on your left hand, but when you're looking to the stern you see the same port on your right hand.

It's important to remember both terms, what are left and right, because when you're studying the rules of sailing, the tutorials or books use commonly those terms, port and starboard, you'll find it specially when studying racing rules, for example when two sailing boats meet: if the boats are on different tacks, then the boat on port tack gives way to the boat on starboard tack, if you understand the difference between port and starboard then you might understand this rule.