About the Starboard Rule in Sailing

About the Starboard Rule in Sailing
Sailing is a sport that comes complete with its own arcane language and complicated jargon. While the Starboard Rule is simple enough on the surface, understanding what it really means requires coming to grips with other terms, such as "tack" and "stand on."

The Rule

The starboard rule is about which vessel is the "stand on vessel" while sailing. Ships on the starboard tack have preference over ships on the port tack.

Port and Starboard

The names for the sides of a ship are determined from the point of view of standing on deck and facing the bow (front). Right is starboard, and left is port.


A sailing ship's tack refers to the ship's position relative to the wind when the ship is moving into the wind (the wind is blowing toward the bow). If the wind is on the right front of the ship, that is the starboard tack.

Right of Way

A boat is supposed to avoid a collision at all times, so there is no true "right of way." This is why the technical term for a ship with what amounts to right of way is "stand on vessel," while the vessel that is supposed to stand aside is the "give way vessel."

At Night

The standard rule for all ships is that they should have a red light on the port side and a green one to the starboard.

Fun Fact

"Starboard" has its origins in the right-side mounted rudders of early Northern European sailing ships. It is probably a derivative of an Old English version of "steer-board."

Article Written By Edwin Thomas

Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.