Hard a starboard

  • Thread starter Christopher R. Graf
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Christopher R. Graf

Can anyone fully explain the "Hard to Starboard" story? The order proir to collison was "Hard to Starboard" was is shown in the movie as the wheel being turn counterclock wise or to the left. Starboard is the right side of the ship when facing forward. What is the real story?

Chris from New Jersey
Dec 12, 1999
In Don Lynch and Ken Marschall's book "Titanic: An Illustrated History," Lynch explains that "The (Hard a starboard) order stemmed from the early days of sailing when putting the helm to starboard caused the ship to turn to port."


Expanding on what Shomi says above - only since the mid-twenties have helmsmen turned the wheel the direction they want to go (like in a car) The best way to explain the commands given on the Titanic is to look at a small rowing boat or yacht: If you want to go left (As the Titanic did when colliding with the iceberg) you have to pull the tiller right - hence "hard a starboard" Titanic's wheel would still be turned left (as on a car) as she wasn't steered by a tiller but the command would have been so.

This is one of the theories behind the collision between HMS Hawke and the Olympic - the helmsman turned the wheel the wrong way - misunderstanding the bizarre and outdated orders given to him.

Ken LeClaire

After watching James Cameron's Titanic for the umpteenth time I'm still confused about the orders given after berg was sighted. The Officer on Deck orders Hard a Starboard (right) and the helsman turns the wheel full left. The ship turns towards the port (left) thus allowing the berg to hit on the starboard side. ???
Dec 12, 1999

This question comes up on this site occasionally. The answer is under "Closed Threads," in the conversation captioned as "Hard A Starboard Story."

Ben Dover

Jun 13, 2000
In the days of sailing ships, commands were always given by the commander to the ship's tiller (horizontal bar, connected to the rudder). In other words, the command 'hard a starboard', meant put the ship's tiller hard to starboard and vice versa.

Now, if you put your tiller to starboard, it has the opposite effect of turning the ship to port. Also, if you put your tiller to port, it has the opposite effect of turning the ship to starboard.

These were called 'false helm orders'. They fell out of practice by the '30s... So, when Murdoch calls 'hard a starboard', and the ship turns to port, this is correct and not a mistake!
Sep 28, 2003
This is Silvano from Florence, Italy. Excuse me. I am new. Surely you have already talked about it. I have a doubt on the "Hard-a-starboard!" order. Does it mean "Rotate the helm to the starboard side" or "I want the ship to move to the right"?
Feb 8, 2000
Mister Murdock ordered hard a starboard and the ship turned left which is port. Of course they wanted to turn that direction but why did ordering starboard accomplish this?
Dec 31, 2003
Hampstead, London
This was an otherwise successful attempt to clear the dead-ahead, lower, left-end 'rump' of the crouching lion. Unfortunately, even heraldic lions have tails! Or, to use another highly-descriptive analogy borrowed from eyewitnesses, this 'Gibraltar' as modelled in ice included a 'causeway': actual cause of the disaster.
Jun 12, 2004
In simple, straightforward ('undrawn-out') terms: In the days of Titanic (i.e. ON Titanic), if you wanted to turn left (port), the QM (quartermaster; person steering) would have turn the wheel in the opposite direction, and vice versa. The tiller, when turned, would cause the ship to go in the opposite direction. Does this clear it up?
Oct 28, 2000
Sam is correct, although to a 1912 quartermaster it may not have seemed he was turning the wheel to the left, but to the right. Helm orders are a good example of how it is necessary to "unlearn" our modern knowledge in order to understand the events of another era.

Automobiles are the problem when it comes to understanding 1912 helm orders and responses. We today think that the direction of rotation of the top of a steering wheel determines whether it is turning "right" or "left." This, of course, is the standard used on autos worldwide.

A few years ago, Nate Robison found an 1890s era seamanship manual. Quartermasters were advised to follow the rotation of the bottom of the wheel. Thus, when obeying a "hard a-starboard" command the QM would turn the bottom of the wheel to the right, or starboard. This applied left rudder and the ship turned to its left, or to port. Steering with the bottom of the wheel was apparently an approved way to learn helming more than a century ago.

The nautical reason for a "hard a-starboard" command to turn left seems related to the tiller and not the rudder. A tiller is pushed to the right, or starboard, to apply left rudder and turn the vessel to the left. Titanic, of course, did not have a true tiller but rather a quadrant gear turned by the steering engines.

The helm orders of 1912 that confuse modern motorists were quite functional. They allowed officers and quartermasters to operate a variety of boats and ships without the need to alter their language conventions. For instance, the QM of a lifeboat later that night actually did steer with a tiller. He would have pushed the tiller to starboard upon a "hard a-starboard" order, turning the lifeboat to port. The modern "left" and "right" commands would be as confusing in a tiller steered lifeboat of 1912 as the 1912 helm orders are to anyone who learned to steer on an automobile.

-- David G. Brown
Apr 13, 2006
The orders of shipping had not changed at all from the those of the 18th and 19th century because sailors who were used to sail on sailing ships sitll used helm orders in regard to the tiller. This is because ships didn't turn just left or right due to the stern's movement in regard to the orders of the tiller.
For example hard a starboard met to turn the tiller to the right causing the bow to turn left and the stern to push itself to the right to push the bow to its left.
So ships couldn't have just turned left or right because of the movement of the stern.
Think of a car sliding on ice while trying to turn left or right or push a shopping cart backwards and try to turn and you're understand the helm orders of 1912 society much better !!

david wilson

Mar 17, 2003
Dave Gittins,g'day from wa,"she steers like a supermarket trolley",that's because of your perspective from down under.Everything is upside down!!!
Cyclone update,we had three cyclones in four weeks.Clare cat 3,blew us away.Glenda cat 4,weak as & Hubert cat 1,caused a lot of flooding.Stranded the crew between port hedland & karratha,between two floodways for several hrs.
For the last two weeks nothing but hibernation.
seven degrees west.

Dave Gittins

Mar 16, 2000
G'day, David!

I'm glad to hear you were not blown away, or washed away.

I won't name the ship that steered like a supermarket trolley. She was a right gutless wonder and managed to bust up a wharf. Her career was brief and inglorious.

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