Boat Diving Terminology
As a SCUBA diver there are many ways to access the underwater world. Depending on the dive site location, you can access a dive site from; a beach, pier, pontoon or, most commonly, from a boat. Generally, smaller boats access close to shore locations, larger open plan dive boats – similar to the boats used by Crystal Dive– are used for day trips, and the larger live-a-board style boats are used for periods of a few days or several weeks.
Getting to know the correct terminology and parts of a boat is important for both new and experienced divers alike. It reduces any possible confusion in dive briefings with an added benefit to help understand the correct direction when diving on a Wreck.
The Boat Has Left The Port
Port and starboard are nautical terms for left and right, respectively. Port is the left-hand side of or direction from a vessel, facing forward. Starboard is the right-hand side, facing forward. Since port and starboard never change, they are unambiguous references that are not relative to the observer, thus reducing confusion.
The term starboard derives from the Old English steorbord, meaning the side on which the ship is steered. Before ships had rudders on their centrelines, they were steered with a steering oar at the stern (back) of the ship and, because more people are right-handed, on the right-hand side of it. The term is similar with the Old Norse stýri (rudder) and borð (side of a ship). Since the steering oar was on the right side of the boat, it would tie up at wharf on the other side. Hence the left side was called port.
Formerly larboard was used instead of port. This is from Middle-English ladebord and the term lade is related to the modern load. Larboard sounds similar to starboard and in 1844 the Royal Navy ordered that port be used instead.
People who are unfamiliar with boating terms often confuse the words ‘starboard’ and ‘port’. To help people memorise these terms there are a few snazzy ways to remember which way is which. If you are facing the front of the boat then port is on the left hand side.
There are four letters in the word port and also in the word left. By process of elimination, it would mean that starboard is on the right. Another neat way to remember is by the phrase ‘the boat has left the port’… I’ll let you be the judge of what that means!
Bow & Stern
The front and back of the boat are slightly easier to remember. Stern, being the back portion of the boat, can be compared to ones backside, referring to sitting down on your stern. The word stern originated from old Norse stjórn meaning ‘steering’.
The front portion of the boat is known as the bow, originating from the middle Dutch word boech. The front of the boat is always the narrowest section, so the word shorter word bow (compared to stern) can be linked to the front section.
Now that you are well versed in boat terminology, may your first or next boat diving experience be a little less confusing than otherwise.
Author: Niek Van Riel (PADI DM #344046)