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What is the Stern of a Boat? – Boating Terminology Explained

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

what is the stern of a boat

What is the stern of a boat? Can you name a part of a ship besides the bow or hull?

The stern is the rear of the boat, as opposed to the bow. There is also a difference between the stern and aft, though. The stern refers to the outside rearmost part of a vessel, while the aft refers to the inside rearmost part of it.


The stern is one of the most common boating terms that has been passed around for a long time. You may not know all of the parts of a vessel, but you must at least know the basics, like the location of a bow and stern.

Without further ado, let’s get started on today’s article.

What is the Stern of the Boat Meaning?

First question to address is, is the stern the back of the boat? The answer is yes. The stern, also known as the aft, is at the back end part of a vessel.

However, aft vs stern isn’t entirely the same thing. As said, the aft refers to the inside, whereas the stern refers to the outside.

The official stern definition ship is the very back, outermost section of a boat. It is constructed over the sternpost, which is an upright structural beam that attaches to the transom.

The stern often holds the engine, which usually has a propeller and a motor. The propeller part of a boat rotates to power the boat forward or backward.

Looking at a boat terminology diagram, suppose that you’re standing behind a ship, the first thing you see would be the stern.


As for the origin of the word, we’re still uncertain as there are different theories.

Another interesting tittle-tattle about the word ‘stern’ traces back to the flourishing period of the Vikings in the 8th and 9th centuries. Back then, the word ‘styra’ meant to steer or maneuver. Later, styra adapted to ‘styrne,’ and gradually, we have the word ‘stern’ in modern English.

Many argue that the word “stern” comes from the Frisian term “stiarne” or rudder, an object that, coincidentally, often has its place at the stern.

Others believe this part of the boat has a Scandinavian root and evolved from the verb “styra” or to steer. 

Finally, there’s also a much more simple theory that focuses on the vessel’s appearance and not etymology. Some have speculated that the stiff, unrelenting shape of a boat’s rear suits the meaning of the word “stern” perfectly.

Function and Uses


The function of the stern is found in its name, so you can guess it. The stern is where the skipper steers or tills a vessel; it provides space for the engine. Bigger boats may have more than one engine, explaining why the stern of these vessels is also usually much larger.

Essentially, it’s not exaggerating to say the stern is the heart of a boat. Even though in modern designs, you may find the control board somewhere else, the stern’s primary meaning remains unchanged.

On yachts or cruise ships, the rear is where you’ll find the most spectacular views with the dining area and plenty of space for gathering. On smaller vessels like fishing boats or pontoons, the stern provides seating, allowing you to explore the water or simply just rest up after a long cruise.

Different Types of Boat Sterns


1. Transom Stern

A transom stern, or square stern, is the most common vessel stern type of all, often seen on modern cargo ships. It’s also easier to spot a transom stern on a boat; it has a flat shape that goes all the way to the waterline.

Besides the ease of construction, transom sterns also pose an advantage to improve the water flow around the vessel. Thanks to the special underside, which allows less turbulence between the propeller and the outer shell of the vessel, the propulsion efficiency is enhanced.

Compared with cruiser sterns, transom sterns are many sailors’ favorites due to their better resistance at slow speeds. However, the drawback to this type of stern is that it will easily become dampened when the vessel enters reverse mode or when the water is rough.

2. Cruiser Stern

Unlike transom sterns, a cruiser stern has a curved design that points upwards, coming in a vertical direction from the aft to the main deck.

What’s special about this type of stern is that the rudder is placed entirely below the waterline, making a unique wake when cruising on the water. It works like a champ when it comes to reducing the height of the steering gear located right under the deck.

Additionally, cruiser sterns add a great touch to the overall design; they’re especially loved on modern seacrafts like yachts and cruisers.

3. Elliptical Stern

Elliptical sterns, also known as merchant sterns, were the conventional stern designs for cargo ships in the late 2nd millennium. They got their name from their unique design – a series of wood panels that extended all the way from the bottom up and bent to form an elliptical appearance.

Due to its distinctive design, this stern type offers quite a spacious deck space, making it perfect for the sea transfer of goods. What is more, the reserve buoyancy of the vessel is also boosted with elliptical sterns.

Stern Styles


Apart from the types of boat stern, did you know that they also have different styles?

  1. Raked: The raked stern is made to adapt to racing purposes. The bow of a boat with a raked stern is also longer to streamline the movement of the boat through the water.
  2. Reverse: Reverse stern styles are the best for new boaters as they aid in maneuvering with ease. This style comes in an angular shape and is easy to climb on for swimming and other water activities.
  3. Canoe: Thanks to its circular shape, a canoe stern ship is much more aerodynamic compared with other designs, allowing the vessel to move at a faster pace.
  4. Flat: A flat stern is quite easy to distinguish as it has a broad, upright design that appears semi-circular from the back of the vessel.

Other Terms/Directions

  1. Bow: The front of the boat.
  2. Hull: The body of the boat.
  3. Gunwale: The upper edge of the boat’s side.
  4. Cleat: The part where you put your ropes through to moor your boat.
  5. Port: The port side is what the left side of the boat called.
  6. Starboard: The right-hand side of the boat. With that said, you should be familiar with the boat sides being referred to as port and starboard, instead of left and right.
  7. Forward: A term referring to the boat areas towards the bow.
  8. Aft: A term referring to the areas toward the stern (moving aft in a boat means going to the back of it).
  9. Astern: A term referring to a boat’s reversing.


What Is The Stern Side Of A Boat?

We only use port and starboard to refer to the left and right sides of a vessel. There is no such thing called a stern side.

Is There A Stern Port?

If you’re referring to the word ‘port’ as an entrance, then there are several modern designs that construct an entrance or exit on the stern area as well. For example, the reverse style sterns often have stairs with it.

What Is The Back Of The Boat Called?

The back of the boat is called an aft or a stern. Note that aft may also refer to a direction of movement such as going aft, which is the opposite of going forward.


What is the stern of a boat? By now, you should know the answer to this question.

The stern is the outermost part of a boat, unlike the word “aft”, which can refer to anything that is “behind” in relation to the bow. Knowing the basic boat terminology aids you with gaining a better understanding of a vessel, thus making it easier to move or give direction onboard a ship.

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