Why Is The Steering Wheel On The Right Side Of The Boat?

Last Updated on October 1, 2022

In many European countries, the steering wheel of a vehicle is situated on the left-hand side of the car and so you might wonder, why do boats have their steering wheels on the right-hand side? Several theories try to explain why the steering of a boat is on the right-hand side and not on the left-hand side. Some of these theories are not valid or enough to be seen as a reason.

Before we go into some of the answers that may or may not have had an impact on the positioning of the steering wheel, let’s take a look at the technicalities of having the steering wheel on the right side.

The Technology Behind Having A Right-sided Steering Wheel On A Boat.

While building the boat, the propellers were designed to move in a clockwise fashion. This helps to move the boat from one position to another, but the movement of the propeller causes the boat to tilt out of the water on the right side, making the left side sink. The addition of the steering wheel to the right side of the boat helped to stop this from happening. The weight of the captain or whoever is in charge of the wheel helped to balance the boat, preventing it from tilting and sinking.

In the past, before the advent of the steering wheel, boats were steered or controlled with the aid of the steering oar. This steering oar looked like a bigger form of a paddle. The steering oar was placed on the right side of the boat because most people or boat handlers were right-handed and so the steering oar being on the right side of the boat was for the ease of controlling it.

The right and the left side of the boat were termed starboard and port respectively. The word starboard was coined from the old English word, Steorboard, which means steering board. The left side of the boat was also initially called the Larboard, from the old English word Lade, which means load.

These sides of the boat were named to avoid confusion as a person’s right side could be another person’s left side. Trying to describe your right side to another person who automatically assumes it is the right side could be frustrating and so the naming of the sides made things easier.

The starboard is the starboard and cannot be taken for the port, and the same goes for the port. The transition of the port from Larboard to port was due to the existing similarities between how the two words sounded. This was also confusing and there came the name Port, a very distinctive name from starboard at that.

The left side of the boat was called the port because the boat always entered the harbor with their left side. The right side where the oar was located was avoided because of the fragile nature of the steering oar, taking care not to damage it while entering the harbor.

Other Reasons For The Position Of The Steering Wheel In A Boat

These reasons may or may not be candid enough for the positioning of the steering wheel but they are considered possible.

Visibility And Audibility

The International Maritime Organization made a law enforcing every vessel on the sea to have unobstructed visibility of their paths and also a clear hearing. It was determined that to have these, the steering wheel has to be on the right side (starboard) away from every possible obstruction.

Traffic Regulations

The International Regulations For Preventing Collision At Sea pronounced that all traffic on the sea should be right-sided. If two vessels crossed paths, both vessels should steer towards the right, so that they pass by each other from port to port. (Left side to left side). The position of the steering wheel will make maneuvering very easy.


Since the olden days, the steering oars of boats have always been on the right side because there were more right-handed boat operators and so over time, even after the invention of steering wheels, it has become a norm for the steering wheel to be on the right-hand side of the boat.

With modern creations, smaller boats have their steering wheel on the left side, which is the port. It is said that operators of smaller vessels can get more visibility on the left side of a small vessel than on the right side, the starboard. Some vessels even have their steering wheel in the center of the cabin. This way, the operators get to have clear visibility from every direction. This helps them avoid a collision, even for boats that have a right-sided steering wheel.

The position of the wheel on the right side of the boat was said to be productive and offer comfort for a long time.

Are There Boats That Have Their Wheels On The Left Side?

Yes, there are. Modern vessels and also wooden boats and pleasure crafts often have their steering wheel on the left side (port).

Do Boats And Cars Steer The Same Way?

If you want to know if cars and boats are operated alike, the answer is no. They both might have steering wheels but they are not operated the same way. They have their differences.

In most countries in the world, cars are left-hand-sided, and in only a few do we have the right-hand-side driving rule. For boating, it is a right-hand-sided rule all over the world. Even if you are used to a right-sided driving rule, it is still different when it comes to steering a boat.

For cars, the steering controls the front tires and the back tires just follow suit. It is different for boats as the steering controls the back of the boat.

You get to steer your car in the exact direction you want it. For boats, you have to steer in the opposite direction to get the direction you want. For example, If you are going to go left, you have to steer to the right.

You could also encounter the issue of oversteering because boats move slowly, giving you the impression that you haven’t steered to your preferred angle.

In Conclusion

Boats have their steering wheels on the right side for technical reasons and also for convenience. Not to forget, they also have their steering wheel on the starboard for traffic purposes.