Collections Catch of the Week – Navigation Lights

Navigation Lights, Red and Green – G2000.022.031A+B

The “Collections Catch of the Week” blogs showcase artifacts from our collection that are not normally seen in our displays. This season’s blogs are submitted by our 2019 summer Collections Assistant Enid. Be sure to check back weekly to see what exciting finds she has chosen from the collections! 

What’s that in the distance? It looks like…Christmas lights? Nope, it’s our collections catch of the week, featuring two boat lanterns. These are brought to us by BC Packers, and are called navigation lights, with one glass tinted red, and the other one green. Nautical rules of the road were largely dependent on these light-emitting devices, and still are today. Usually used during nighttime, or in conditions with limited visibility, the red lantern indicated the left side of the boat, or the port side. The green lantern indicated the right side of the boat, or the starboard sideOne mnemonic device to remember this is noticing that redleft and port all have less letters than greenright and starboard 

Interestingly, the etymology of the word posh seems to be connected to the terms port and starboard. Mythologically, English travelers headed to India via steamship during the 1900s would ask for “portside out starboard home” on their tickets. This is because there was shade on the left of the ship during the out trip, and shade on the right side the way home. Acronymized, this became POSH, which is supposedly how this word was coined. However, this tale has been debunked by critics many times over, although it does provide an interesting story related to these artifacts.