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From Middle English ladde-bord, latebord, most likely referring to the side of the ship on which cargo was loaded. Changed to larboard in the 16th century by association with starboard. (Texts from the 1500s have spellings like lerbord, leereboord, larboord, corresponding to how they spell sterbord, steereboord, starboord.)


larboard (usually uncountable, plural larboards)

  1. (archaic, nautical) The left side of a ship, looking from the stern forward to the bow; port side.
    Synonyms: port, backboard, leeboard, left
    Antonym: starboard
    • 1674, John Milton, Paradise Lost[4], Book 2:
      [] harder beset
      And more endangered than when Argo passed
      Through Bosporus betwixt the justling rocks,
      Or when Ulysses on the larboard shunned
      Charybdis, and by th’ other whirlpool steered.
    • 1841, Edgar Allan Poe, A Descent into the Maelström[5]:
      The boat made a sharp half-turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new direction like a thunderbolt.
    • 1898, H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds[6], Book One, Chapter 17:
      Suddenly the foremost Martian lowered his tube, and discharged a canister of the black gas at the ironclad. It hit her larboard side, and glanced off in an inky jet, that rolled away to seaward, an unfolding torrent of black smoke, from which the ironclad drove clear.
    • 2001, Dudley Pope, Ramage & the Rebels:
      "It means to turn to larboard."
    • 2004, Dewey Lambdin, Havoc's Sword:
      The schooner ploughed on Northerly for a minute longer, before tacking again to lay herself half a mile in advance of the nearer corvette, now up on their larboard quarter.
    • 2012, Paul Harris Nicolas, Historical Record of the Royal Marine Forces:
      The Java, placing herself under the same canvas as her opponent, stood directly for her; and at 2 h. 10 m. P. M., when within half a mile, the Constitution opened a fire from her larboard guns, and a second broadside was discharged before the Java returned the fire from a position close upon the larboard-bow of her antagonist.
    • 2014, Barry D. Boothe, INFIDEL: Don’t Tread On Me:
      This time an almost defeated sigh was heard from both the larboard and starboard gun crews. Even though the larboard gun crew was up first, the starboard crew had seen what was eventually to be their next target as well.

Usage notes[edit]

  • In 1844, the Royal Navy ordered that port be used instead of larboard in reference to that side of a ship; port had been used since at least the 1500s and was already the usual term when referring to the helm (ie. sailing direction), in order to avoid any confusion between starboard and larboard in such an important matter.[1][2][3] The United States Navy followed suit in 1846.[4]
  • Larboard continued to be common into the 1850s by whalers[5] and others. In chapter 12 of Life on the Mississippi (1883) Mark Twain writes larboard was used to refer to the left side of the ship (Mississippi River steamboat) in his days on the river, circa 1857-1861. In his book A Dead Whale Or A Stove Boat (1967) Naturalist Robert Cushman Murphy recalls his 1912-1913 whaling voyage and mentions that the blowhole of a sperm whale is "asymmetrically located on the larboard side ('port' on a modern merchantmen, but larboard on a whaler)."



  1. ^ Admiralty Circular No. 2, November 22, 1844, cited in Western Courier newspaper (Plymouth) December 11, 1844
  2. ^ Norie, John William, Hobbs, J. S. (1840) Sailing directions for the Bay of Biscay, including the coasts of France and Spain, from Ushant to Cape Finisterre[1], A new ed., rev. and considerably improved edition, C. Wilson, published 1847, →OCLC, retrieved 7 February 2010, page 1:An order, recently issued by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, states, that in order to prevent mistakes, which frequently occur from the similarity of the words starboard and larboard, in future, the word port is to be substituted for larboard, in all Her Majesty's ships or vessels.
  3. ^ Ray Parkin, H. M. Bark Endeavour, Miegunyah Press, second edition 2003, →ISBN, page 56
  4. ^ George Bancroft (1846 February 18) “Port and Starboard: General Order, 18 February 1846”, in General Orders[2], Washington, DC: US Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), retrieved February 2, 2017
  5. ^ Morton, Harry (1983 January 1) The Whale's Wake[3], University of Hawaii Press, →ISBN, retrieved 2020-03-20, page 84