The origin of the term comes from old boating practices. Before ships had rudders on their centerline, they were steered by use of a specialized oar
. This oar was held by a sailor located towards the stern
(back) of the ship. 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 ship.
The word starboard
comes from Old English steorbord
, literally meaning the side on which the ship is steered. The old English term steorbord
descends from the Old Norse
meaning “rudder” and borđ
meaning “side of a ship”. The modern term "steering wheel" comes from the same language root as "starboard" or "steer board".
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 larboard or loading side) as to prevent the steering boards from being crushed. Because the words larboard
sounded too similar to be easily distinguished, larboard
was changed to port