port/starboard etc.

Prof. R. Sussex sussex at UQ.EDU.AU
Wed Sep 4 22:56:37 UTC 2002

While pursuing this topic further I came across the following from
John Harland's book "Seamanship in the Age of Sail":

Orders to the helmsman were traditionally given in terms of "helm",
that is to say, the position of the tiller rather than the rudder.
'Hard a-starboard!' meant 'Put the tiller (helm) to starboard, so
that the ship may go to port!'. It will be realised that not only the
bow turned to port, but also the rudder, top of the wheel, and prior
to the advent of the steering-wheel, the upper end of the whipstaff.
Cogent reasons existed, therefore, for giving the order in what one
might call the 'common sense' fashion. The transition to 'rudder'
orders was made in many European countries about a century ago...The
change did not proceed smoothly everywhere, since old traditions died
extremely hard in the merchant service, even in lands where the new
convention was readily imposed in naval vessels...In the United
Kingdom, the changeover did not occur until 1933, at which time the
new regulations were applied to naval and merchant vessels
alike...although the United States Navy made the switch from 'Port
helm!' to 'Right rudder' in 1914, practice in American merchant
vessels did not change until 1935

Roly Sussex


Roly Sussex
Professor of Applied Language Studies
Department of French, German, Russian, Spanish and Applied Linguistics
School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies
The University of Queensland
Queensland 4072

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