Do you have trouble remembering your port from your starboard? Confused by the coloured lights that boats show at night? I can teach you a little trick which will mean you never again confuse your port and your starboard.
I want you to imagine you have been invited to have dinner on board a British war ship which is in dock. You are the guest of the ships’ officers and you will be dining in the officers mess, which on a Royal Navy ship is called the Wardroom.
As dinner, there are dishes of food to share on the table. As you were likely taught when you were a child, you help yourself to these dishes and then offer the dish to the person on your right and the dishes move around the table this way, always to the right*.
At the end of dinner, there will be a decanter of port on offer and, exceptionally, this is passed not to the right but to the left (I will explain a possible reason for this in a minute).
OK, you now have everything you need: Starboard is right and the starboard light is green. So, remember, because you are nicely brought up, you know that you pass the GREENS to the RIGHT: And you will now never forget that you pass the RED PORT to the LEFT.
Green — Starboard — right.
Taylor’s Port express the opionion that the exception to the ‘pass to the right’ rule was created by the Royal Navy, because you pass ‘Port to Port’. You see, there are ‘Rules of the Road’ for ships, too, and if vessels are under power, when you are approaching another ship head on, the passing rule is you manoeuvere so that your port side (left side) is presented to their left side — that is, port to port. The Daily Telegraph and other sources consider this might be true, although the origins are lost in time, but they also offer the opinion that, as most people are right-handed, passing the port to the left kept your sword hand free!
Whatever is the case, here we are: You have not only learned which is port, which is starboard, what the green light means AND what the red light means, you have also learned one of the important Rules of the Road for ships!
(If you’ve ever wondered why we call it ‘a square meal’, please read my story (Why do we call it a ‘square meal’ — myths busted!)
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*In practice, you would be served the food and would not be helping yourselves. This is a little poetic licence so I can get away with saying about passing the GREENS to the RIGHT.