What is a Poop Deck? (and Why Are They Called That?)

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If you’ve ever heard the term poop deck, you’re probably wondering what is a poop deck? Where does the name come from? And, do sailors poop off the poop deck?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the poop deck is “the aftermost and highest deck of a ship, especially in a sailing ship where it typically forms the roof of a cabin in the stern.”

poop deck on an old sailing ship
The poop deck on an old sailing ship

What is a Poop Deck on a Ship?

Despite its amusing name, it has nothing to do with going #2, but it originated centuries ago when ships were built with sails and lacked radar navigation!

A poop deck is a term used in nautical terms for a raised platform on the stern of a boat, typically extending from the back of the vessel to just beyond the propeller or rudder. It is also known as the afterdeck.

The poop deck’s elevation above played an important role in ship design and navigation.

The captain traditionally used the deck to observe the crew and navigate the ship while maintaining safety on high points.

Nowadays, there is no need for an elevated stern deck. Modern ships benefit from technological advancements in navigation with advances such as radar systems and weather monitoring. These systems help the captain and crew navigate even in low visibility conditions.

View from the poop deck on an old sailing ship
As you can see in the above image, the poop deck provides an excellent vantage point for navigating small vessels.

Why is it Called the Poop Deck?

It’s a common misconception that the “poop deck” refers to a relief area on boats!

However, the term has a more elegant origin.

The term poop deck originated from the French word “La Poupe,which means “the stern.” Therefore, the poop deck refers to the stern deck.

The stern deck was traditionally the tallest deck of the ship and was used for navigation, steering, and observation of the crew. On modern cruise ships, these duties are performed from the bridge.

Did Sailors Poop on the Poop Deck?

Despite its name, sailors didn’t poop off the poop deck. The poop deck was used by captains and officers for navigation and monitoring the crew. The term poop deck comes from the French word for stern, La Poupe.

What is The Poop Cabin on a Ship?

The poop cabin and poop deck visible on an old sailing ship
The poop cabin is located directly below the poop deck

Another related term is the poop cabin. Like the poop deck, the poop cabin is at the ship’s stern, directly below the poop deck.

What does “Swabbing the Poop Deck?” Mean?

“Swabbing the poop deck” means mopping the stern deck.

The stern deck of the ship required frequent mopping to keep the wood damp, slow decomposition, and minimize the risk of fires caused by the cannons, guns, and gun powder used during skirmishes.

Additionally, swabbing the poop deck kept the crew occupied during long sailings and helped to prevent boredom.

Did Titanic Have a Poop Deck?

The poop deck on the Titanic
The poop deck on the Titanic. 3rd class passengers used it as an outdoor recreational space.

The Titanic did have a poop deck.

The Titanic’s poop deck was located on deck B and was used by third-class passengers used the Titanic’s poop deck as an outdoor recreational space.

The Titanic was the last large ocean liner built with a poop deck. Even Titanic’s sister ship Britannica, which was under construction at the time of the Titanic sinking, was constructed without the poop deck.

Fun Fact: During the sinking of the Titanic, the 128-foot-long poop deck was one of the last parts of the ship to submerge beneath the ocean.

Do Modern Cruise Ships Have Poop Decks?

Modern ships don’t have poop decks.

In the past, the poop deck served as an elevated platform for navigation and for officers to keep watch of their crew.

As ships grew in size, navigating a vessel from the stern became impractical. Additionally, technological advancements in marine navigation have virtually eliminated the need for visual navigation.

On modern ships, navigation is done from the ship’s bridge.

Final Thoughts

A poop deck is a high-up deck traditionally used by ship captains and officers for navigational and observational purposes. Modern cruise ships carry out their operations from the bridge, located at the vessel’s bow.

The Titanic was the last cruise ship built with a poop deck, as technological advancements in marine equipment and the ever-increasing size of ships made navigation from the stern impractical.

Related: Titanic vs. Cruise Ship: How do they compare?

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Marcello

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.

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Dont Miss the Boat

Get the latest travel tips, news, and advice to get the most out of your next cruise vacation.

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