The stem is the very most forward part of a boat or ship's bow  and is an extension of the keel itself. The stem is the curved edge stretching from the keel below, up to the gunwale of the boat. The stem is more often found on wooden boats or ships, but not exclusively. The stem is part of the physical structure of a wooden boat or ship that gives it strength at the critical section of the structure, bringing together the port and starboard side planks of the hull.
There are two styles of stems: plumb and raked. When the stem comes up from the water, if it is perpendicular to the waterline it is "plumb." If it is inclined at an angle to the waterline it is "raked." (E.g., "The hull is single decked and characterized by a plumb stem, full bows, straight keel, moderate deadrise, and an easy turn of bilge.")
Because the stem is very sturdy, the top end of it may have something attached, either ornamental or functional in nature. On smaller vessels, this might be a simple wood carving (ornamental) or cleat (functional). On large wooden ships, figureheads can be attached to the upper end of the stem.
- Steward, Robert; Boatbuilding Manual, 3rd ed. International Marine Publishing Company. Camden, Maine (1987). ISBN 0-87742-236-2
- Maloney, Elbert (2006). Chapman, Piloting & Seamanship. Hearst Books. p. 20. ISBN 978-1-58816-232-8. Retrieved December 7, 2012.
- Steward, Robert (1987). Boatbuilding Manual, 3rd ed. Camden, Maine: International Marine Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87742-236-2.
- Condition Assessment of Main Structural Members of Steam Schooner WAPAMA (Report). Madison, WI: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory.. 2008. p. 3. http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fpl_gtr177.pdf. Retrieved December 7, 2011.