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The name originates from the French word for stern, la poupe, from Latin puppis. Thus the poop deck is technically a stern deck, which in sailing ships was usually elevated as the roof of the stern or "after" cabin, also known as the "poop cabin". In sailing ships, with the helmsman at the stern, an elevated position was ideal for both navigation and observation of the crew and sails.
The fantail is an overhang at the extreme rear of the ship, to the rear of the poop deck and closer to level with the main deck. On a stern wheel steamboat, the fantail supports the large paddle wheel and is typically angled upwards so the shaft of the paddle wheel can sit higher than the main deck. On some steamboats, the extreme end of the fantail supports "monkey" rudders that mimic the operation of the main rudders in order to provide additional steering control.
On modern, motorized warships, the ship functions which were once carried out on the poop deck have been moved to the bridge, usually located on the superstructure in the center of the ship or the island on the starboard side in the case of aircraft carriers.