How to Remember Port and Starboard (From a Memory Expert)

how to remember port and starboard feature imageYou need to know your terms if you’re going to get your boating license.

That’s why you can’t afford to mess around with the standard advice out there about how to remember port and starboard.

Some people suggest techniques like noticing that the word “port” and “left” both have four letters.

That’s true, and it can help.

But it involves a mental calculation that you might not have time to make during an emergency, much less during an exam.

So if you want to know your terms like the back of your hand, we’re diving deep into how to remember the port and starboard sides permanently.

Let’s get started.

Port vs. Starboard

Simply put:

  • Port = left and is associated with the color red
  • Starboard = right and is associated with the color green

port vs starboard

The origin of these terms is useful to know. It can also help you remember the terms. You’ll do this by using the historical story to create vibrant mental imagery.

The color associations can seem counterintuitive, especially if you’re ambidextrous like me. But I’ll share a few ways you can lock in unforgettable associations.

Which Side Is Port?

Larboard was the original name for “port.” The “lar” part is related to our modern word for “load.”

If you create a simple mental image of people carrying port wine in red bottles onto the left side of a ship, you can use this history to help you remember this fact.

Which Side Is Starboard?

Steoboard is the original word for “starboard” and refers to our word for steering. 

Because the steering oar is typically on the right side of boats, they would dock to the left for loading and unloading.

On the Starboard side, you can imagine people steering so fast that some of the green wine pours off of the red side.

Make the scene vibrant in your mind. Hear the sounds of boots, wooden crates and colliding bottles to the left of your imaginary boat.

Taste and smell the wine to the right. Revisit this imaginary scene several times throughout the day and over the week to come.

There are more techniques than this we’ll discuss, but for many people, this approach will be more than enough.

How to Remember Port and Starboard Once and For All

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all memory technique. So let me give you a number of suggestions.

Whatever option you choose, the key is to elaborate the associations you make by making them zany and crazy.

Here’s what I mean: If you use the idea of red bottles of port coming in on the left side and pouring out green wine on the other, you can add features.

For example, you can imagine Natalie Portman bringing in the red bottles of wine on the left side (Portman = Port). Maybe she’s so drunk on red wine, she drops a crate.

port vs starboard mnemonic example
Any time you can use a familiar association like Natalie Portman drinking red wine with her left hand to remember that the port side of a boat is the left, you should. It transfers the information into long term memory very fast, if not instantly.

To exaggerate the knowledge that Starboard is the right side and is associated with green, you can have green stars raining down from the sky. You could add comedian Tom Green to your association.

Encode On Your Hands

Another option is to use your hands.

port and starboard mnemonic example

Imagine getting a green star tattoo on your right hand. You can go with that alone, or get a Natalie Portman tattoo on your left.

Encode On A Boat

If you’re familiar with a boat, you can also imagine green stars pummeling down onto its right side and envision bottles or red port wine crashing down on its left.

As with the historical example we discussed, you want to add sounds, emotions and as many sensations as you can to your association.

Repeat To Remember

What you’ve learned so far is called elaborative encoding. It’s not just about assigning associations. It’s also about deepening them.

After that, we just need to recall the associations that we made over time, ideally in a way that avoids rote learning.

By recalling our simple associations, we’re using active recall instead, provided our associations are personal and packed with a variety of multisensory elements.

I would suggest that you apply your associations to a number of different boats. Literally go out of your way to watch movies with boats so you can practice.

Likewise, when you see people on the street, start imagining that their right hands are green and their left hands are red.

This final step will be very useful because port and starboard refer to the position of the boat regardless of the position of the observer.

Never Forget Port and Starboard Again

With a small amount of practice, you should have the knowledge of port and starboard deeply ingrained in your mind. 

And this is just the beginning of remembering important information. For example, if you really want to become a master of all things nautical, you’ll need to know how to:

  • Create a trip plan
  • Perform a boat inspection
  • Remember the steps involved in routine boat maintenance
  • Understand and manage fuel and safety equipment
  • Interpret the weather and tides
  • Properly execute maneuvering principles and know what factors influence them
  • Know the International Code of Signals
  • Flawlessly follow emergency communication protocols

And potentially a lot more if you want to learn about marine animals and their habitats.

No matter what you’re called to do in life, you’ll want to be constantly prepared and capable of rapidly absorbing new information into your memory.

To learn more about how I can help you learn faster and remember more with incredible ease, get my FREE Memory Improvement Kit.

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

You’ll learn how to do so much more, including how to turn boats, other objects and locations into a Memory Palace. 

And since you’ll be sailing around, you’ll want to make full use of this special mnemonic technique.

So what do you say?

Are you ready to remember port vs starboard for good?

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Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, names, music, poetry and more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.

Dr. Metivier holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University and has been featured in Forbes, Viva Magazine, Fluent in 3 Months, Daily Stoic, Learning How to Learn and he has delivered one of the most popular TEDx Talks on memory improvement.

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