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Is it correct to use "starboard side" to refer to the "right-side" of a land vehicle (e.g. cars / trucks / lorries / motorcycles) ?

Wiktionary seems to accept specifically ships, boats, and aircrafts, but I've seen people using it to describe trucks (link, expand the comments).

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The reason that port and starboard are used in preference to left and right is to resolve ambiguity: does "right" mean on the right as I go forward, or on the right as I go aft?
In cars and trucks there is rarely an opportunity for ambiguity: you're expected to be in your seat, facing forward, at all times, so right and left are not ambiguous. The exception is when you're performing maintenance, and then - to resolve ambiguity - the expressions driver's side and passenger's side are usually used, at least in the US.

(Question for the Brits and other right-side drivers out there: do your maintenance manuals refer to driver's side and passenger's side, or left and right, or port and starboard? I've never been curious about this before, but suddenly I am.)

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The most common terms I think are "offside" (right, or driver's side) and "nearside" (left, or passenger side). Certainly I've never heard "port" or "starboard" for a road vehicle. –  Colin Fine Jun 3 '12 at 22:35
    
@ColinFine - How odd that the terms are interpreted from the passenger's POV, rather than the driver's! –  MT_Head Jun 3 '12 at 22:41
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They're not relative to the passenger per se, but to the (left-hand) side of the road. –  Colin Fine Jun 3 '12 at 22:43
    
@ColinFine - AHA! Thank you. –  MT_Head Jun 3 '12 at 22:45
    
I'm not sure I understand the reasoning in your first sentence. Even with starboard and port (or larboard), the terms are defined with you facing a certain way (toward the bow). The terms have more to do with how ships were steered and where goods were loaded. (See this Online Etymology entry for starboard –  JLG Jun 3 '12 at 23:48

I've never seen the terms used in relation to any land vehicle. Really they're only useful in something big enough to cause confusion between my left and steering left, so in effect ships.

Interestingly, I believe the Fleet Air Arm refer to left and right within their aircraft, versus port and starboard within the aircraft carrier. Whether this will change when they fly only from land I do not know.

Update: I find that in some military contexts regarding AFVs, port and starboard are used to reduce confusion. (e.g. 'Rifles through the starboard loopholes, aim 10 degrees left'). A few WW2 tanks had secondary turrets on each side, but these seem to have been called port/starboard and left/right indifferently. One 1940 vehicle had two forward and two aft sub-turrets, but since that was Russian (the T-35), we'll probably never know what they were called in English.

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