DOCK-TIONARY: STARBOARD AND PORT
Welcome back to Dock-tionary, where we help ferry fans learn how to speak boat. This month, we’re breaking down the nautical terms starboard and port and why these words are used by mariners worldwide, including our ferry crews.
During the early days of marine vessels, captains would steer boats with a rudder by following their centerlines. The majority of mariners were right-handed and therefore, the right side of the vessel became the steering side as time progressed. Because of this, the right side soon became referred to as the starboard (or steering) side. As boats grew, it became easier to tie up the boat to the pier or port on the opposite side of the steering side – hence the left side soon became referred to as the port side.
The port and starboard sides of a vessel never change regardless of crew orientation and therefore have become the standard when referring to the left or right side of any marine vessel. Fast forward to today, and these terms are used daily by all mariners including San Francisco Bay Ferry crews.
Before docking on two-berth floats like Downtown San Francisco, Vallejo, Alameda Seaplane and Oakland, the captain will let the crew on which side – port or starboard – they will dock. This is communicated either via radio or the overhead speakers. See if you hear on which side your ferry is docking on your next ride.