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6 Different Types of Boat Transoms

A photo of a yacht stern with three men standing facing the opposite way.

The transom and stern of a boat are the same, but they are not. The stern is a location at the back of the boat. The transom, however, is the part of a vessel furthest to the back of a boat. The transom is structurally tied together with the keel and sides of the boat.

The transom is a structural part of your boat. The stern is a location, and the transom is the structural part of the boat at the very back of the boat. The transom is rearward on your boat and may hold an outboard motor to power your boat, a rudder, or nothing but the boat’s name.

The transom of your boat is structural and designed according to the boat’s purpose. Some boats have quite elegant transoms in their execution, while others are merely functional.

The design of a boat’s transom relates to the structural part of your boat. However, many boat transoms are artwork, as well as functional. The transom is also where you will find a boat’s name and port of call.

1. Canoe stern boats are double-ended — they do not have a transom.

A photo of canoe boats at the dock on the mountain lake.

Instead of a transom, they have a second stem piece much like what is on a boat’s bow (front).

A boat with a canoe stern can be a canoe. However, it can refer to the stern of a vessel with the same appearance as a canoe. A canoe, a double-ended boat like a dory, and many colossal transport ships have no transom. 

Many canoes are wider in the bow than the stern (back of the boat). The reason is that the boat’s bow needs buoyancy so that not every little wave comes over the bow.

On double-ended powered boats, the motor is often in an engine well on smaller boats and low in the boat’s hull on those that use inboard motors to drive them.

Many large yachts and freighters have canoe-shaped sterns, which give them the advantage of being double-ended and more reserve buoyancy.

Some canoes have a transom.

Some canoes gained a transom along with the evolution from a tree log to a water-borne vessel. A transom allows you to add an outboard to your canoe that can scoot you along quickly to a fishing spot.

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Unlike the original canoe, boats such as the Gheenoe, based on a canoe hull, have transoms. These designs have taken naval architecture to its limits to design a fast, stable, and priced boat, so getting on the water is affordable.

Canoes with a transom are wider in the stern, and the transom may be straight up and down or raked slightly aft. In addition, the flat transom design adds more reserve buoyancy to the stern, which means you can carry more gear and people and add bigger motors.

2. Boats with ducktail sterns

A photo of a cruise ship with a ducktail stern extended in the bac portion of the ship.

The stern of a boat with an added extension is often referred to as a ducktail stern. However, the transom that the ducktail is added to may be flat, canoe stern, reversed, or rake. Therefore, no matter the shape of the stern of your boat, a boatwright can add a ducktail.

The purpose of a ducktail is to add buoyancy to the stern of a boat. This gives you several advantages. First, the added lift keeps the bow from rising too high and the stern too low when power is applied or when driving into rolling waves. This feature saves fuel and helps the boat move more quickly through the water.

3. The pinky stern boat is a memory of yesteryear.

A boat with pinky stern sailed in the sea with many poeple aboard.

A few of these are still around, and the stern of a Chinese junk has a stern and transom reminiscent of a pinky-sterned boat. Pinkies were common on the waterways of the Northeastern United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Often, schooners that carried a great amount of sail to drive them forward were used in trade to get goods from here to there. Like fishing boats, they may be gaff-rigged sloops, ketches, or schooners, depending on how they were used. Often pinkies were fishing boats, and small and large boats of this design were built and used extensively.

There are still replicas and plans for pinky stern sailboats; however, they have fallen out of favor with more modern boat designs. Although it could be built in fiberglass, the design would be hard to execute, and gaff-rigged sailboats are a lot of work. Besides, the only way to get back aboard would be with a ladder down the side of the boat. No thanks!

4. Reversed transoms can be found on power and sailboats.

A small motor boat with reversed transom parked at the docks with man and a woman talking.

A reverse transom angles from the waterline toward the front of the boat. Many classic powerboats, yachts, and newer powerboats add this type of transom to their boats for several reasons.

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In the case of powerboats, a reversed transom gives them the appearance of speed, even when at the dock.

On sailboats, a reversed transom scooped out, with steps and a landing added, is called a sugar scoop stern. This design makes the water and your boat’s tender easier to access than the deck.

Catamarans, especially larger cats, often have two sugar scoop transoms, one for each hull. The area above the two is a bridge deck, which is constructed on top of the two hulls, called amas, and the crossbeams are akas. These terms come from the Proa, which is still used in the South Pacific as a boat for fishing. 

Raked transoms decrease the waterline at the dock.

A boat with a raked stern has a transom angling away from the boat, from the keel to the gunwale. Sailboat Racing, like any sport, has many rules that seem odd, but they have them for a reason. One example is the raked transom of sailboats.

With the extension of the deck much further back from a boat’s waterline, you add deck length but have a much shorter waterline at the dock. However, once you are under sail and the action of the wind and waves act on your boat, the extended stern becomes part of the water line.

The boat will also have less drag by having the transom well behind the water line. The decreased drag and wetted surface of a vessel help it increase its speed. Add these ingredients together, and they make a fast sailboat.

5. Wineglass hulls have raked transoms — many have heart-shaped transoms.

A photo of sailboat with crew on the starboard with strong wind waves.

When a boat with a wineglass-shaped hull is sitting out of the water, it is easy to understand where it gets its name. The curved shape of the transom, sitting high above a deep keel, looks like a wineglass when observed from the stern.

This type of hull is reserved for sailboats as the added length of the overhang adds the boat a tremendous amount of reserve buoyancy and a waterline shorter than the deck length. In addition, the extended transom adds to the boat’s waterline length when sailing and heeled over.

If these boats had transoms that ended where the two sides meet, they would have shorter waterlines and not be as fast or able to carry as much sail. But, on the other hand, if they had a waterline as long as the length on deck of the raked transom sailboat, they would weigh much more.

However, if designed correctly, the length may not be as significant a factor unless the boat is sailing against one that is exactly like it. The increased length of the stern removes weight yet adds reserve buoyancy and length to the water line when under sail.

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No matter the shape of their transom, keelboats sit deep in the water and have displacement hulls. So, even when pushing them to high speeds, there is a limit to the speed they can reach.

Sailboats designed like this are fast and able to take on the world’s oceans. However, they are not as fast as a catamaran or trimaran with a much less wetted surface for the same length.

Since the length of a boat is determined by its waterline and deck length, the length is also different. Part of the difference is due to the design and location of a boat’s transom.

6. Most boats have flat sterns — whether power or sail

Three outboard motors mounted on a transom mount at the stern of the boat in dry dock.

The flat stern of vessels can be straight up and down, raked aft, or slightly reversed. Most rowboats have flat transoms on which you can mount an outboard motor. Some motors are mounted to brackets, while the engine is mounted directly to the transom on other boats.

When motors are mounted, or on brackets, the transom must be built beefy enough to hold the weight. The transom must also be able to stand up to the forces that water, vibration, and horsepower put on this integral part of your boat’s hull.

A boat with a wide beam at the stern, almost as wide as the middle of the boat, gives your boat more reserve buoyancy. Whether adding power to a small skiff or a 35-foot center console, your boat’s hull needs enough reserve buoyancy in the stern to hold the weight of the motors it is designed to carry.

FAQs about boat transoms

Can a boat transom fail?

A transom can rot due to the wood inside getting wet. Although most of today’s fiberglass boats are built so that a transom does not rot, even fiberglass can suffer fatigue with age and being in the sun and water.

Are boats limited to the amount of weight you attach to their transom?

They limit the size of the motor you attach to your boat and the number. Some boats will have two to six outboards strapped to their transoms, so they must be built strong to take the assault of the weight and dynamics of slamming into waves at 40+.

Is a boat transom expensive to repair?

The cost of replacing a boat transom ranges from $2000 to the sky. In addition, this repair requires a professional because a boat’s transom is integral to its construction, even if it’s just a tiny fishing boat.