In 'Titanic', why does the helmsman turn the wheel to port when the Second Officer gives the order 'hard a starboard'?
In the film Titanic, the Second Officer gives the order 'hard a starboard' when the iceberg is sighted: the helmsman then turns the wheel and the ship to port.
The reason is that in the British Merchant Navy steering orders used to be given as helm orders; as though the helmsman at the wheel was actually holding a tiller. So 'hard a starboard' would mean 'put your helm or tiller hard a starboard'. This would turn the ship’s rudder to port and so the ship would turn to port.
This all changed with the Merchant Shipping (Safety and Load Line Conventions) Act, 1932, which came into effect on 1 January 1933. This brought the British Merchant Navy into line with the rest of the world, so that from that date all steering orders were given as wheel orders, and 'hard a starboard' did in fact mean 'turn right'.