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Starboard is odd while port stays even

Jan 1, 2003

In reference to a recent item in Chartroom Chatter (Online 'Rules' column urges lights knowledge Issue 126, Nov./Dec. 2002), Tomas Daly is quoted as saying that his father was instructed as lookout to ring a bell once for lights to port, twice for a light to starboard and three times for a light dead ahead.

The general concept is right, but I think the port and starboard signals are backwards.

Referencing the American Merchant Seaman's Manual, the signals to be used by lookouts to communicate sightings from the bow to the bridge, by bell, are to ring once for an object to starboard, twice for a sighting to port.

Several things in merchant circles hold to the system of starboard being one or odd, and port being two or even:

  • Lifeboats and life rafts are numbered on the starboard side of the ship, 1,3,5,7, etc., with No. 1 being farthest forward. Port-side boats are listed as 2, 4, 6, 8, etc.

  • Whistle and light signals for turning to starboard in maneuvering situations, as outlined in Colregs Rule 34 (a and b), are such that one short blast means "I am altering my course to starboard." While the Inland rule states it slightly differently, the net effect of "I intend to leave you on my port side" is that you will be turning to starboard.

  • The International Code of Signals, H.O. publication 102, shows the same signal correlation. The signal flag "Echo," with the corresponding Morse code signal of one dash, has the single letter signal definition of "I am altering my course to starboard." The signal flag "India," with the corresponding Morse code signal of two dashes, has the single-letter signal definition of "I am altering my course to port." n

    Mark Landow lives in Chappaqua, N.Y., and works as master onboard the 239-foot research vessel, Maurice Ewing, which is operated by Columbia University.