What Is The Prow On A Boat? | LakeWizard

Key Takeaways

  • The prow is the most forward part of a ship that cuts through and sticks out above the water.
  • The prow of a ship is incredibly important for the visibility, movement and steering, and stability of a boat, and it helps keep excess water from coming on board.
  • Prow and bow are ofrequently used interchangeably, however, while the bow is the whole front end of the ship, the prow is just that part that is visible above the waterline.
  • Prows are also similar to stems which extend from the keel, or bottommost part of the hull, of a ship.
  • While the terms prow and bow can both be used to refer to the front of a ship, the back of a ship is called the stern.

If you are new to boating, there are a lot of confusing words and terminology to learn, especially when it comes to the names of the different parts of a boat.

So, what is the prow of a boat? The prow of a boat is the forward most part of the boat or ship’s hull. While the words prow and bow may be used interchangeably, prow generally only refers to the part that sticks out above the water and always points in the direction that the boat is moving.

Entering the world of boating for the first time can be very intimidating, as there are so many words used for boating and sailing that aren’t used anywhere else in the English language. This means that newbies always have an upward battle to learn all of this new terminology when they first start getting into boating. Still, you have to start somewhere, and starting with the name of the front end of a boat is as good a place to start as any. So, what is a prow and what does it do?

Table of contents


What Is The Prow On A Boat?

As I stated before a ship’s prow is the most forward part of the ship and the forward edge of the ship’s hull, and it is usually made from either wood or metal. It is the part that sticks out above the water, making it one of the most visible parts of a ship, and always points in the direction that the ship is sailing.

The prow is usually one of the strongest parts of any seagoing vessel, allowing ships to cut through the water with ease while being tall enough to prevent too much excess water from coming on deck.

Because this part of the boat has always needed to be so strong, many ancient navies also used the front part of the boat to ram into other boats. This was an incredibly common practice in naval conflicts all over the world until the advent of the sail.

It was also incredibly common for the prow of a ship to be decorated, especially in the case of wooden ships.  These decorations were often figureheads or some other sort of religious or national symbol.

What Does A Boat’s Prow Do?

The prow, and its surrounding parts, perform a variety of different functions, including reducing the effects of wind and water resistance as well as housing different navigation equipment and cargo like compasses, rope, anchors, and lifejackets. However, the prow doesn’t stop there and some of its most important functions have to do with ship visibility, movement, steering, and stability.


As we know, the prow is the part of a ship at the very front of the vessel above the waterline, making it one of the most visible parts of any ship. This visibility serves an incredibly important purpose when out at sea.

Without something to tower above and cut through the water, it would be very difficult for sailors on other ships to be able to see you, especially if the waters are rough, meaning that the prow is integral in keeping sailors safe.

Movement and Steering

Possibly the most important function of the prow, and bow as a whole, is to cut through the heavy seas, enabling the vessel to move forward easily and with as little resistance from the air and water as possible.

However, the prow doesn’t just help the boat move forward. Because the prow is able to cut through the water so effortlessly, it also makes it much easier to steer and turn the ship, putting much less strain on the rudder and whoever is steering.


The Prow is also incredibly important in helping the ship maintain stability. It is able to cut through and push away heavy waves that hit the front of the boat. It is also shaped in a way that helps prevent boats from excessively rocking or capsizing, especially while the ship is stationary.

Similar Boating Terms

Now that you know more about what a prow is and how it helps vessels cut through the water and stay afloat, we should make sure that you know the difference between prow and some other similar boating terminology.

Prow vs.Bow

The terms prow and bow are often thought to mean the same thing, however, there is a small difference in the meanings of these two terms. While both terms could be used to describe the forward part of a ship, the bow is essentially the whole forward edge of a ship and the prow is just the part of the bow that is visible above the waterline.

Prow vs.Stem

The difference between a pro and a stem is a bit more subtle and requires that we define a few other boating terms first.

Firstly, the hull of a ship is basically the whole water-tight body of the ship, which while in the water, will be partly above and below the waterline. It is basically the whole body of a ship.

The second term you need to know is the keel, which is the bottommost part of a ship’s hull. The important thing to remember here is that these terms, while similar, don’t mean the exact same thing, with the keep being just a small and specific part of the hull.

Now that we have that out of the way, the stem of a vessel could also be the most forward part of a ship. The big difference between stem and prow is their specific location at the front of the ship.

While a prow sticks out at the top of the bow, a stem is an extension of the keel of a vessel and therefore exists at a much lower height.

Stems are much more common on older wooden boats, however, even though, they have fallen a bit out of style in recent years and aren’t commonplace now, modern ships do sometimes still have stems.

Prow vs. Stern

Since we now know all about the front side of a ship what about the backside? While the terms bow and prow are both used to refer to the front of a vessel the back end of a ship is called the stern.

Being that the stern is at the opposite end of a ship, it needs to perform different functions from the bow and, because of this, sterns are often shaped very differently than bows, oftentimes being completely flat instead of coming to a point like a ship’s bow normally would.