What is the Stern?

On smaller vessels, propulsion devices may be located in the stern, such as outboard motors.
The backside of a ship or boat is known as the stern.
Typically, on boats the stern is the rear, the bow is the front, the starboard is the right side, and the port is the left side.
The stern of a vessel is its aft end.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2015
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The stern is the back side of a ship or boat. It is the exact opposite end of the boat from the bow, or front. The stern is built over a part of the boat known as a sternpost, which is a structural beam over which the transom, or back end, of the ship is built. Canoeists often cite the stern of the boat as the position from which the steering of the boat is done, while the person paddling in the bow position is responsible primarily for power production.

A boat is generally labeled in four directions: the stern, or rear; the bow, or front; the starboard side, or right side; and the port side, or left side. Many modern crafts feature a light at the rear of the ship for navigation and to make other ships aware of its presence during the night. The aft, or back, light usually glows white. On smaller vessels, propulsion devices may be located in the stern; motorboats, for example, often feature outboard motors that extend into the water off this part of the vessel. Some watercraft will feature a rudder that extends into the water at the aft part of the boat as well to aid in steering the craft.


The stern of many ships is the location of the engine room, albeit far below deck. The engine room is located at the rear of the ship to cut down on the distance between the engines and the propeller that is used for forward thrust. The shorter the distance between the engines and the propeller, the less equipment is necessary to connect the two. The stern of the ship can serve different functions depending on the type of craft; a cruise ship, for example, may have a dining area positioned at the rear of the vessel to provide clear views of the sea. An aircraft carrier may have an elevator that allows aircraft to be taken below deck without interfering with the normal function of the landing strip, which is often positioned at the bow of the ship.

On older sailing vessels, the stern of the ship was often the location of the captain's quarters. This part of the ship, known as the transom, was sometimes highly ornate, while other ships bore little decoration and were intended only for functionality. On yachts and other modern-day vessels, this is often the location at which the name of the vessel is painted or otherwise indicated.


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