What Is The Stern Of A Ship And Where Is It?



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Whether you are a brand new boater or you simply have an interest in learning more about boats, then you have probably noticed that there are lots of different boating terms to learn about.

One of the most common terms that is thrown around is the stern of a ship or boat.

Boating can be a highly pleasurable activity, but if you want to be able to make the most out of your enjoyment, then you will need to learn as many boating terms as possible.

Of course, there are lots of different terms, and you might not need to familiarize yourself with all of them, but the stern is an important part of the boat, and you should understand what it means.

In this article, we are going to tell you exactly what the stern of the boat is, as well as where it can be found on a boat. This will help you to understand what it means, so you will be able to add another boating term to your arsenal. 

What Is The Stern Of A Boat?

The stern is what is known as the back part of a boat or a ship, and it is constructed over the sternpost. The sternpost is a steel bar that can be found in the stern that works to support the rudder. It will extend up the taffrail, which is a handrail that goes around the ship. 

On the other side of the boat or ship is the front part of the boat, which is called the bow. So, the back part of the ship is called the stern, and the part directly opposite it at the front of the boat is called the bow. 

Interestingly, people that go canoeing would consider the person that is at the stern of the boat as the one that is steering.

The person that is padding at the bow of the boat will provide power to the boat in order to move it forward. The stern of a ship will also work to keep water out. 

Something that you may have already heard about is the fact that the different parts of the ship can also refer to different directions.

The bow is the front of the ship, the stern is the back of the ship, the starboard is the right side of the ship, and the port is the left side of the ship. 

The majority of modern boats will be equipped with a light at the back of the boat that is often used for navigation purposes. It can also be used to help to inform other ships about their presence or location when it is night time.

More often than not, these lights will glow in white, which helps to make the boat as visible as possible, even at really long distances.

When it comes to smaller boats, the stern will be the area where the propulsion devices are installed. An example of this is that outboard motors will extend into the water from the stern of small boats.

As well as this, there are boats where the rudders will extend into the water from the stern in order to help with the steering.

What Is The Purpose Of The Stern?

The main purpose of the stern is to house the steering device or tiller. You might also find that it is the place where the outboard motor of the boat is installed.

This motor can be tilted from side to side in order to make the boat turn. The outboard motor also has a propeller that can work to provide the power that will move the boat forward. 

When you think of this on a bigger scale, the stern of the ship would typically be the area in which the engine room can be found. Ships will require a bigger propulsion in order to aid them in moving forward.

There will usually be two or more marine engines installed in a larger ship to allow it to move forward and backward.

If a seacraft is classified as a ship, it will typically have at least two or maybe more engines that will provide it with its propulsion power.

These engines can usually be located at the stern of the ship, typically in the engine room. Although, this room will be far below the deck of the ship.

Locating The Stern

The Stern Of A Container Ship berthed in port.

If you are wondering more about the exact location of the stern, you should know that it is at the back of the ship where the propeller is installed. The engines will usually be near or directly in front of the propeller, which works to shorten the distance. 

The shorter this distance is, the less power that will dissipate from the engine and into the propeller. This would also mean fewer materials and equipment that would be needed in order to connect the two together.

The stern can also serve many other purposes as well as housing the engines of a ship or boat. In smaller boats, it is easier to understand this logic, as these boats don’t need much to get them working.

The stern of the boat is simply the back end, usually home to an engine or propeller. 

However, when you are considering the exact location of the stern of a ship, it can be much more difficult to determine if you are not sure about how large ships can actually be built. 

The majority of larger ships, even ocean cruisers, will have their engine rooms located at their stern. As well as various other logical reasons, their location will reduce the distance between the propeller and the engines, which will enable an increased forward thrust. 

What Happens At The Stern?

There is more going on at the stern of a boat or ship than you might think. The stern of a bigger ship will serve many functions, rather than just being the area in which the engines are installed.

When it comes to cruise ships, for example, the stern of the ship can sometimes house a dining area. The back part of the ship will usually offer the best view of the ocean, which is why this is often the case.

If you think about an aircraft carrier, you might figure out that the stern is the most logical area to put an elevator that will be able to take people on the aircraft below deck.

The rear of an aircraft carrier will usually be free from the landing strip’s busy traffic at the bow or the front of the carrier.

In the past, the majority of ships featured quarters for the captain at the stern of the ship.

Something that you should know is that the stern is also called the transom, which is highly decorated on some ships, whereas others would have sparse features that keep its functions of it more basic. 

With more modern seacrafts, like yachts, the stern will usually be the part of the boat where the name of the boat can be found. 

Types Of Sterns

When a ship is going through the process of being built, there are lots of different factors that will need to be considered. Some of the most important factors are flow patterns, aesthetics, simplicity of construction, and hydrodynamic efficiency. 

However, there are also various other elements that will need to be considered when it comes to choosing the right style and design of the stern. These elements can include things like:

  • The sterns ability to prevent vibrations
  • The ability to ensure a uniform flow of water to the propeller in order to achieve high propulsion efficiency
  • The sterns ability to reduce resistance

These are all things that will need to be thought about throughout the design of a ship or a boat. While keeping all of these things in mind, designers came up with three broad types of stern, which are the transom stern, the cruiser stern, and the elliptical stern.

All of these types of the stern are referring to the top side of the stern, but there is also the underwater form of the stern to consider. 

Those that are designing ships and boats will be required to pay attention to the design of the stern in order to improve the flow of water into and away from the propeller.

Lots of designers have previously favored the cruiser design for sea vessels in the past. However, more people are opting for transom sterns in their designs today.

So, now that you know exactly where you can find the stern of the boat, and you are aware of the importance of the stern, it is time to take a look at the three different types of stern, so you can find out what they all mean. 

What Is A Transom Stern?

The first type of stern that we are going to look at is the transom stern. The shape of this type of stern is usually flat, all the way to the waterline. This shape will work to produce a greater space in the aft deck area.

This is easier and simpler to create, but it also works to improve the flow of the water around the stern. The flat surface of the transom stern can also begin either at or above the waterline.

This specific type of stern design, especially its underside, will affect the propulsion efficiency of the boat. If there is less turbulence in the space between the outer shell of the ship above the propeller and the propeller itself, then its efficiency will be much better.

However, the deck of a transom stern will easily become wet when the ship goes into reverse mode and during heavier seas.

In these instances, the water is damped up, and the flare and knuckle of the ship will be used in order to avoid flooding the deck. They will instead be able to deflect water when the ship is either astern or reversing. 

What Is A Cruiser Stern?

When the cruiser stern was first designed, it was intended to reduce the height of the steering gear, which could be located beneath the armor deck.

This means that this type of stern has a curved profile that goes upwards, coming from the aft perpendicular to the poop or the main deck.

In a cruiser stern, the cutaway is not like it is on a counter stern. The rudder will be placed below the waterline, where it will be fully submerged. This type of stern works to improve the resistance capability in comparison to the merchant stern. 

What Is An Elliptical Stern?

The third option that we are going to talk about is the elliptical stern, which is also often referred to as the counter stern or the merchant stern. It was the most conventional type of stern design for various cargo ships in the early 20th century.

When the deck line and the knuckle line are viewed from above, it can be noted that they have an elliptical shape.

It has an upward and curved profile, and the cutaway for the counter stern can be found above the waterline. This means that this type of stern has an exposed skeg and a pronounced aft overhang.

As well as all of this, this type of stern will allow for a larger deck space, and it also looks great, which is another added bonus. The reserve buoyancy of the ship will also be increased greatly with this type of stern.

Different Styles Of Stern

Bulk carrier at the shipyard availing repair of the rudder and some modifications in the engine room

As well as all the different types of stern, there are also various different styles of the stern to be considered. Sterns can be constructed in different types of styles, and this means that not all sterns will look the same.

They can widely vary when it comes to their angle, width, and overall style.

However there are four stern styles that tend to be used the most commonly, and these are the raked stern, reverse stern, canoe stern, and flat stern.

We are going to provide you with some more information about each of these different stern styles below. This will help you to understand what each of these styles means. 

Raked Stern

The raked stern is a style that has been adapted for racing purposes, and its design is able to streamline the movement of the boat through the water. As well as this, boats that feature this style are also more likely to have longer bows.

Reverse Stern

The reverse stern style has much more of an angular shape, and it will often include steps that make it easier for passengers to be able to disembark from the boat.

Some things that are often added in are swim steps and handrails, which are typically added in the transom area.

Canoe Stern

On the other hand, the canoe stern style is much more aerodynamic due to its circular shape. It also allows for the pushing away of more water at the back side of the boat. 

Flat Stern

The final style that is worth mentioning is the flat stern, which has a broad vertical face and looks to be semicircular at the back.

Although, you should know that the style of the boat is not the only thing that will determine how the stern of the boat is built and exactly where the stern will be located on the boat. 

Some of the other things that will need to be considered are the overall functionality and utility of the area. More often than not, the stern of the boat will contain chocks and cleats, which work to secure the sails, dock lines, mooring, and much more.

You will also need to ensure that you have all of the right hardware to aid you on your journey across the water. All of this hardware must be immovable and secure at the stern of the boat.

A boat with some of the best features will not provide you with a great time on the water if the stern of the boat is not as functional as it should be.


Now you know that the stern is what is considered to be the back part of the ship, which is the aft-most part of a ship or boat.

There are various different stern types and styles that you can find on different boats, depending on the specific type of boat and what it is being used for. Not every boat stern will be the same as the next. 

In more technical terms, the stern of the boat or ship is the part of the vessel that is built on top of the sternpost. It will extend up to the taffrail, which is the handrail that runs around the edge of the boat.

The location of the stern is directly opposite the front part of the boat or ship, which is called the bow. Every part of the ship will have its own name that is worth learning if you want to become more knowledgeable.

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