What is the stern of a boat?

What is the stern of a boat? Most of us know it’s the back of a ship. However, in the modern age of sailing, it also serves many functions such as providing space for the boat’s steering gear, its outboard motor, accessories like trim tabs as well as other applications. seating, storage and even catering.

Keep reading for a more detailed explanation of a ship’s stern and the vital role it plays.

The Origins of “Stern” as a Sailing Term

Although there is no certain historical information that can confirm why the stern of a boat is called so, experienced sailors who have a deep knowledge of nautical history say that the meaning of the stern of a boat dates back to the Viking Age.

In Old Norse and Old English it was called styra and styrene, and it eventually evolved into a stern once the Middle English era arrived. Old Norse translation of the deed.

Don’t confuse “Stern” with other terms like “Aft” and “Transom”


Many novice sailors often confuse these sailing terms with each other. Overall, though, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise since they’re all tied together. For example, it is true that the stern is actually the rearmost part of a ship or boat.

The term “rear” has several meanings, depending on the situation. If the context is directional, you are moving “backwards” if you are moving backwards. However, it also means the area exactly at or near the stern of the ship.

What about a “traverse”? Many sailors use it as a synonym for stern, which is understandable since there was a time when it was called a transom. Still, it’s important to distinguish it as part of a stern that reinforces it.

Depending on the type of boat, the transom may also be the section of the boat where the outboard motor and, as noted above, the trim tabs are mounted. This is also where the name of the boat is printed.

The goals of a stern differ depending on the type of ship and the time spent in the story


In the past, especially in the age of sail, you would normally see ships designed so that the stern could accommodate the captain’s sleeping quarters. This lifestyle-focused approach also carries over to how the stern of most yachts is constructed to house the vessel’s dining area or observation deck.

Of course, the two are easily opposed by smaller boats like the fiberglass Jon boats, as I mentioned, where they serve a more practical purpose. This is the perfect place to attach an outboard motor that would propel the ship forward.

Although this is no longer the norm, especially in larger vessels, it is also worth mentioning that the stern is also where a boat’s tiller is installed to aid in steering. Nowadays, many boat builders prefer to install a wheel for this purpose.

Other types of sterns of small boats or sailboats

You will also see these stern designs on small and mid-sized vessels.

Think of boats with sterns that flex inward. In most cases, they incorporate either swimming steps or the so-called sugar spoon design. If you don’t know what a standard sugar shovel looks like, a simple Google search will tell you what most ships look like with an inverted transom. It’s also not without its advantages as most boats benefit from larger aft cabins and more storage space with this design.

Also known as double-ended sterns, these are boats whose sterns are shaped like half-moons. The spherical shape of the hull and stern allow the vessel to flow more easily through the water (i.e. improve hydrodynamics). These are also called cruiser sterns which are praised for their aesthetic style.

These points relate only to the definition of the stern of a boat. What about ships? Is their stern unique in any way? Sure!

Elliptical sterns found on ships

The fact that there is a separate definition of the stern of ships and that there is more than one type of stern for these large ships proves that a stern is not limited to being the “stern” of a ship. In ships, it also serves a more practical purpose by ensuring that it keeps resistance and vibration low while increasing propulsion.

That said, other than the flat “stern table” and “cruiser” stern also found in ships and which I’ve explained before, this is the last type of stern you’ll see on larger ships .

Like the cruiser’s stern, the elliptical stern also carries a curved design that flows upwards. They can be easily confused with each other for this. However, if you look closely, most elliptical sterns have rudders that are above the waterline. Their skegs are also often visible.

Their benefits include increased buoyancy for the vessel and, like inverted transoms, can also increase storage capacity and overall stern space.


So, in summary, what is the stern of a boat? The fact that it is the main aft side of the boat emphasizes its essential purposes for navigation and makes life on board the vessel more practical overall.

There are also many different types, which shows how boating design has evolved over time. Knowing them is essential if you want to deepen your understanding of nautical terms and why boats are designed in a particular way.

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