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Cruise Ship Directions Explained

Marissa Wright

Feb 21, 2023

Read time
3 min read

The maritime industry has its own vernacular, which is used on naval vessels, commercial ships and cruises alike. When it comes to cruise ship directions, rather than using words like "right" or "left" (which can be confusing depending on which way the speaker is facing), the industry has adopted nautical terms that are more specific, like port and starboard.

Here's a quick rundown of the directional verbiage to use onboard.

Cruise Ship Directions: What Is the Bow?

The bow of a ship is the part of the ship that faces forward when the ship is underway. The bow on ship is usually distinguished by a sharply angled hull, which provides less resistance, making it easier for the ship to plow through the water.

While modern ships don’t boast figureheads anymore, you can conjure up an image of the bow on ship by imagining the part of a ship where carved figureheads of mermaids and people once sat. As the boat is moving, the bow of the ship is the front half of the vessel, where a mermaid figurehead might be.

The bow on the ship is a great spot to watch the front hull break through waves and race toward your next cruise destination.

Cruise Ship Directions: What Is the Stern?

The stern is located at the back end of the ship, opposite from the bow. At the stern of the ship, cruisers can enjoy the view of uninterrupted ocean views and appreciate the neverending waves in the ship's wake.

On many cruise ships, the stern houses engine rooms or large dining areas.

Which Direction Is Forward on a Cruise Ship?

Forward on a ship means toward the direction of the bow. To go forward, walk toward the bow on ship. If you need a visualization tool, imagine you’re walking toward the mermaid figurehead on the front half of the ship.

Unsure of whether you should stay in a forward cabin or aft cabin? Check out our forward vs. aft cabin article and discover which would be best for you.

Which Direction Is Aft on a Cruise Ship?

Aft on a ship means traveling toward the direction of the stern. When walking toward the aft of a ship, cruisers confidently stroll toward the stern, aka back, of the ship.

Cruise Ship Directions: Where Is the Port Side on a Ship?

"Port" side of a boat or ship refers to the left side of the vessel when facing forward.

A good note for orienting yourself while onboard a cruise ship is to face toward the bow. From there, it's easy to distinguish where you are and in which direction you're headed.

Cruise Ship Directions: Where Is the Starboard Side on a Ship?

Starboard refers to the right side of the ship when facing the bow.

While port and starboard can be tricky to remember, especially when you’re a first-time cruiser, there are some tips and tricks that can help.

Tricks to Remembering Port and Starboard

If you're having trouble remembering which side is which, here's an easy trick: The words "port" and "left" both have four letters, so "port" means left.

Another trick that may work better for some cruisers is to use the abbreviation P.S., where "P" stands for "port" and "S" stands for starboard. Since "P" is to the left of the abbreviation, that means that "port" is left while "S" is for starboard, which is on the right.

Using Port and Starboard on Cruise Ships

Port and starboard along with other nautical terms are used onboard (i.e., to get to the hot tub, take the aft starboard staircase) but they are also used as navigational terms.

Per international maritime convention, when two motorized ships are traveling on a path where they would potentially collide, both vessels should alter their paths to starboard so that the ships pass port side to port side.

Colors Used Onboard to Identify Port and Starboard

Seafaring vessels use universal colors to reflect these directions, with green denoting starboard and red denoting port.

If you see your ship at night, you'll notice the colors used as running lights, with green lights on the starboard side and red lights on the port side, so other ships can easily navigate around them.

Updated February 21, 2023
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