What is a Poop Deck?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Okay, let's all get it out of our systems right now. The poop deck of a sailing ship has absolutely no connection with a certain bodily function. That sort of business is generally handled in the area below the ship's bow called the head. A poop deck is actually the roof of a poop cabin located in the rear (aft) section of a sailing ship's main deck.

The poop deck is the rearmost section of the ship and doubles as the roof for the poop cabin.
The poop deck is the rearmost section of the ship and doubles as the roof for the poop cabin.

The word poop for our purposes comes from the Latin puppis, meaning "stern." Shipbuilders often designed a cabin space in the very rear of the ship called a poop cabin. This poop cabin extends a few feet above the level of the main deck, and is finished off with a flat roof. The flat roof of a poop cabin also serves as an observation platform called the poop deck. Officers and high-ranking sailors often used this area as an ideal position for observing the crew at work.

The poop deck is the deck above the rear and uppermost cabin on a ship's stern, or aft.
The poop deck is the deck above the rear and uppermost cabin on a ship's stern, or aft.

The poop cabin on a sailing ship generally served the same purpose as the raised bridge area does on a modern ship. The poop cabin could be used as an officer's mess hall during meals, as well as a storage area for maps, journals and official logs. The poop deck itself was a good vantage point from which to assess the condition of the ship's sails, since it was usually positioned behind the shorter third mast, or mizzenmast. If the captain was not at the helm himself, he could generally be found on the poop deck issuing orders to the helmsman.

As sails gave way to engines, the need for a functional poop deck decreased significantly. Almost all of the vital command orders could be issued from a centralized bridge which overlooked the entire ship. Modern sailing ships may still have an elevated cabin in the aft area, but the poop deck is little more than a raised platform suitable for sunbathing or other recreational uses.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Poupe in French is stern in English; poupee in French is doll in English - that extra e makes all the difference.


I work on a cruise ship and I am in charge of the ship's sanitation and I can't tell you how many times inebriated people think it's funny to leave a pile of excrement on the poop deck. I wish I could see the humor in this. Maybe if they were in charge of cleaning the defilement of our beautiful ship's deck, they wouldn't do it.


On sailing ships I have crewed, rather than have a facility at midships -or even "somewhat astern", there was a double bar setup full astern where all waste was kept away from the hull. E G


this is why you don't believe everything you read on the internet.

Here is the truth: Poupe as in puppet.

In the ancient times the god image was carried there to watch the ship. A statue of whatever your protector was placed there to watch over the crew.

I quote as a source, Leland Lovette 1938 "naval customs and traditions." he was an instructor at Annapolis.

There is a 1950s film of Jason and the Argonauts with the statue on the rear deck.


The name originates from the French word for stern, la poupe, from Latin puppis. Thus the poop deck is technically called a stern deck, which in sailing ships was usually elevated as the roof of the stern or "after" cabin, also known as the "poop cabin".

In sailing ships, with the helmsman at the stern, an elevated position was ideal for both navigation and observation of the crew and sails.


I am truly grateful for the excellent information. I also appreciate the word origin! You are wonderful. Thanks!


Actually it was the British sailors who went to the head to relieve themselves. Early British ships had an eagle's head with a beak or just the beak at the ship's prow. Going to the "beak's head" to relieve yourself eventually got shortened to "the head". Other nations like the Spanish used a board suspended out over sea midships, or even somewhat astern for the same purpose. Upon entering a harbor, the lowest level seaman (usually young boys) were suspended over the side with scrub brush and bucket to clean off the dried dump so the ship would look presentable to the harbor and not offend people with human waste when it was tied up at dock.

ancient mariner


poop deck ha ha


I'm so glad someone finally explained what a poop deck is! It is sure to make kids (and many adults!) giggle like crazy every time it is mentioned, but my friend who is a sailor gets really frustrated with that.

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