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Why are Boat Steering Wheels on the Right?Let’s Find Out Right Now!

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

Why are Boat Steering Wheels on the Right

The position of the steering wheel in your boat may make you feel awkward if you are accustomed to your car’s arrangement. You may be wondering why are boat steering wheels on the right. Well, there’s meaning and purpose behind it for sure.

The boat steering wheel is on the right to give you the best visibility of traffic from the right that comes toward you. Dangerous collisions are prevented this way. Due to this reason, adapting to the wheel’s position is unquestionably worth it.

But, there’s more to know about why the steering wheel is placed on the right side of a boat. Continue reading to find out.

Common Misconceptions Regarding the Position of the Boat Steering Wheel


There are several misconceptions about the position of the boat steering wheel.

  • One story claims that a UK boat company started it in secret even though the vessels are sent to the USA. But, this set-up is, in fact, applied worldwide.
  • Based on a practical reason, an account stated that it’s done to please boaters as most people are right-handed. It may be half-truth for the comfort of the majority but the story behind it is not clear.

Starboard Vs. Port Side

The National Maritime Museum of the United Kingdom stated that as larger boats are created, the huge oar on the boat’s right side replaced the traditionally used oars. This oar was called ‘staerboard’ by Anglo Saxon in the past which eventually became ‘starboard’.

Starboard refers to the right section of a vessel while the left is called the port side. In the middle ages, Anglo-Saxon sailors had a different name for it. It was ‘baecbord’ because the one who steers the wheel has his back to this part.

As time passed by, this left side became ‘larboard’. It’s because, at that time, passengers and loads are placed on the left to not crush the ‘staerboard’.

It was in the 19th century that it became a ‘port’ which is the term that is used until now. This was born because of the confusion between the words ‘starboard’ and ‘larboard’.

The Reason Behind Boat Steering Wheels on the Right


Forget about the myths and rely on sensible explanations of why the steering wheel is on the right side of the boat. There are lookout technical and conventional reasons why the steering wheel is on the starboard.

Technical Reasons

The steering wheel is placed on the right because of the propeller which normally spins clockwise. This movement results in putting the left side down. Thus, the port is physically pushed by 2 to 3 degrees.

With this setting, the right side remarkably rises. To offset, the steering wheel is placed on the same section, so that the weight of the captain can restrict any rising motion. Hence, the boat can float evenly.

You may also notice that some technical controls are on the right side. This is done to enhance management when the left side is pushed down.

Enough Lookout and International Marine Traffic

International Maritime Organization (IMO) set rules like International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG’s). This directive is mandated for every vessel around the world and all waterways.

The goal of this regulation is to contain the oncoming traffic on the right side. Thus, it’s simple and easy for the driver to keep an eye on water crafts nearby.

But the case is different for smaller boats. The visibility of the oncoming traffic is much better on the port or left side. Some boat manufacturers are well aware of this so they started placing the wheel on the left. Perhaps this will soon become the new norm for small vessels?

Upon reading the score on small boats, you may wonder more. Did the IMO make the right choice of taking the traffic flow to the right side? Well, the rule that they formulated is based on old boating habits.

There are a large number of right-handed boaters even before modern times. In the past, oars were utilized in propelling boats of all sizes and shapes when traversing the waters. This operation is continuously practiced up until today.

A steering oar that is equivalent to a modernized rudder is operated by the captain at the stern. Due to the majority of the boaters being right-handed, the tradition is hard to die even until now because it has also proven to be effective.

The word starboard which refers to the right side of the boat comes from the word ‘steerboard’.

For the Sake of Convention

History has proven that placing the paddle on the right side is indeed productive. It became a custom to place the oars on the starboard and modern-day sailors don’t disagree.

Due to the comfort that this set-up guarantees, this practice is passed on from generation to generation.

The Right of Way

The visibility of the traffic is mostly on the right because the vessels that are coming from the left usually don’t have the right of way. They are likely to watch out for your movements and as well as their own to prevent collisions.

Since the vessels that are coming from the right side have the right of way, you’re expected to make the first move in order to avoid accidents. When you have the steering wheel on the starboard, there’s enough visibility to let you determine possible clashing.

Although this right of way applies to most cases, there are some exceptions. The best example is the boat under sail that has a grip on the right of way over a powerboat in most situations. However, sailboats can’t use their right of way to compel power boats or ships to move from deep water to shallow parts.

This scenario should allow you to recognize that no boat can dominate over the right of way if the other vessel is not capable of avoiding harm.

Are There Vessels with Steering Wheels on the Port?

Some modern vessels have the steering wheel on the port or left side. They are usually pleasure crafts and wooden boats. But some of them have the steering wheel in the center.

The purpose of placing it in the center is to give the operator a better view of what’s ahead and of approaching boats. In this set-up, the traffic is also observed and the small vessels don’t compete with the larger ones.

Do Steering Wheels in Boats and Car Work in the Same Way?

The steering wheel in your boat is different from the one in the car. Aside from the position and location of the steering wheel, maneuvering them varies in some ways.

Although you’re used to driving your car on the right side, you should still bear in mind that there’s a distinct manner when controlling a boat. Cars steer in the front while boats go in the opposite direction, which is the back, referred to as the stern.

When the front tires in cars turn, the ones behind them follow accordingly. In the case of boats, however, it steers at the back. Hence, you have to guide the boat’s body as you push the stern in an opposed projection.

There are times that there will be gusty winds when you travel. The wind inevitably blows the boat’s bow in a different direction. The current can also push you away from your chosen path as it draws back the stern.

Oversteering is one of the mistakes that can be committed by new sailors. It happens as it consumes a lot of time when adjusting the turn. When the boat passes the expected point, a rewind can be done.

It’s quite challenging to control a boat but with time and practice, you’ll get used to it. Don’t be discouraged! You’ll come to the point that you’ll be comfortable maneuvering it like you do with wheels on a car.


Since you have read through the viable reasons for having the boat steering wheel on the right, you can’t just deny its importance. That’s the reason why it’s set as a standard in every waterway in the world.

Why are boat steering wheels on the right? This has been answered and for beginners, what you need to do is to practice and get used to it. It’s for your safety and everyone on board as you have better visibility for the prevention of collisions.

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