The Origins of Port and Starboard
The most complete answer is a compilation of input from those answering the question.

The old sailing ships delivering cargo to the world ports had a "steering board" or rudder on the right side of the ship. It is believed that the starboard derivation was influenced by the Dutch word "stuurboord" with "stuur" meaning rudder. In order to prevent damage to the rudder the left side of the ship was put against the dock (port).

Another explanation of the origin of starboard is that since the helmsman was on the right side (being, usually, right-handed), so was the area used for navigation. Since celestial navigation was used, the ships had onboard what we call today a star finder. It was then called a star board, a board with holes depicting the night sky.

The left side of the ship also had a board called the "larboard" or loading board. To prevent confusion between larboard and starboard the term port was adopted to represent the left side or side the port was on.

Thanks for input from Capt. Jack Flash, Leon van de Meij, Fred Miller and Alan Richards.


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