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Recently I have heard both of these variants in the news with reference to the missing Argentinian submarine:

....avec 44 marins à bord.

....avec 44 marins à son bord.

Is there a difference?

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The meaning is essentially the same, but there are sentences where you're forced to used one or the other.

Tout l'équipage est à bord.

You didn't mention the boat so you can't use "son"

Le sous-marin compte 25 personnes à son bord

You're talking about the submarine's crew, so "son" is needed to indicate the genitive case.

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  • The question was "avec N marins à [son] bord" and in the case of "avec" the "son" is not mandatory. But in your example I agree that it is needed. – Alex Perrin Nov 29 '17 at 23:11
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the "son" is related to the boat in which the sailors are. Both forms are correct but the "son" version put a slight emphasis that the boat might be important. For example the boat has been named earlier in the sentence.

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