Poop Deck Origination

From the Shipmate Archives. Originally Published March 6, 2015.

“The Head”

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “I gotta hit the head” – probably an uncle…yeah, you know the one I’m talking about. Though he’s probably quite pirate-esque, I bet he doesn’t know that his endearing term for “the toilet” is of nautical origin.

The Head” of a ship is located at the bow (the front) of the vessel. Prior to the days of cruising, larger boats were powered primarily by wind and sails. As such, they had to travel with the wind pushing the vessel forward, blowing from back to front. If you’ve ever been downwind of a cow pasture, you’ll realize why these clever sailors positioned the toilet upwind, away from all of the action.

Evidently, enough seafarers announced their bathroom visits to “the head” of the ship to make it stick.


The dictionary definition of “Poop Deck” is as follows:  “the after-most and highest deck of a ship, especially in a sailing ship where it typically forms the roof of a cabin in the stern.”

Boring, yes. Some say that the “poop deck” got its name from sailors who would “drop trou” from the rear of the ship. Given the previous definition of “the head,” this would actually make sense with the advent of mechanical engines. A ship's motor would likely result in wind blowing from front to rear, in which case it’s a good idea to have the toilet at the rear.

Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t hold true in this case. We got the term, “poop deck” from the French. The French word for “stern” is “la poupe.” And that, my shipmates, is where “poop deck” originated. I hope that this helped “clear the air.”


Do you know anyone who uses the terms “the head” or “poop deck?”  If so, make sure to send this to them!  Share buttons are at the top of the article. 


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