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Coming in over the Transom - What's a Transom?

written by: Willie Scott • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 3/18/2013

A transom is an architectural term used to describe a piece of wood or stone over a doorway or a glass window above a doorway. It is also a nautical term referring to the flat structural surface that forms the stern of a boat or ship; the structural supports for the sternpost are known as transoms.

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    Introduction to Coming in over the Transom - What's a Transom?

    The phrase or saying “coming in over the transom" refers to the days when a budding author would submit a manuscript on speculation by pushing the piece of work in through a transom in the publisher’s premises, rather than submitting it in the normal way. The transom is a small hinged window above a door that would sometimes be left open in warm weather in the days before air conditioning. Another meaning to the phrase referred to miners throwing cash through a hotel room transom, hoping to bribe the occupying senator into a favorable action on their behalf. This is shown in the comic sketch below, please click to enlarge image;

    Over the Transom from wikipedia from The Anaconda Standard  

    This is an article on Marine Engineering, and in particular the architectural and nautical meanings of the word transom.

    The word transom has numerous meanings and these will be discussed during the article; we begin with an overview of the word transom and its different meanings.

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    What’s a Transom?

    There are a number of different meanings of the word transom, some are listed below; please click on images to enlarge.

    1. Architectural

    • A horizontal length of wood, stone, or steel spanning the top of a doorframe or window frame; also known as a lintel.


    • A horizontal length of wood or stone between the top of the doorframe and a window or fanlight. Artistic Transom Above Doorway from by João Miguel dos Santos Simões  
    • A horizontal dividing bar within a rigid window frame

    Transom bar in Glass Window  

    • A small hinged window or a rigid glass window pane above a door

    Transom Window above Window from Wikimedia Commons by Wildfeuer  

    2. Nautical

    • A transom forms the structural component of the stern of a boat and can be used to secure an outboard engine.

    Outboard mounted on Transom from Wikipedia Commons by Tawker  

    • On ships transoms were also referred to the structural / strengthening traversing beams attached to the sternpost.

    3. Other

    • The horizontal crossbeam on a wooden cross, fretwork or gallows.

    Over the transom from by Yvonne Loomis  

    • The piece of wood or steel used to connect the cheeks/side panels of some old gun carriages
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    Boats Transoms and Transom Sterned Ships

    • Pleasure Craft

    Transom Stern from by John of Austin  

    In small boats and pleasure craft, the transom can be used for several purposes; one use of the transom is to mount and fix the outboard engine, the outboard engine control cables, fuel lines and electrical wiring passing through the transom. The power/torque of the outboard engine is transmitted through the fixing bolts to the transom, and into the main structure; therefore the transom has to be structurally sound and fit for the purpose.

    Transoms are also used on pleasure craft to attach boarding/swim steps. These can be fixed, but are normally portable, being removed when underway.

    • Fishing Trawlers

    Transom SternTrawler Rebecca from Parkol Marine Website  

    On fishing trawlers the transom is designed so its lower edge is just above the waterline. This is known as a transom sterned trawler and its purpose is to facilitate the hauling in of the nets over the transom.

    • Royal Naval/Marine Warships and Merchant Ships

    Ships Transom from creativecommons by Para   Transom Stern USN Photo NH 98499 - USS Bradley  

    Significant financial savings can be made when designing a merchant or warship with a transom stern. These ships are known as Transom Sterned Vessels. The savings can be made in the reduction of steel plate and manpower during the construction phase of the ships.

    There is also the added advantage of a extra deck space in the form of a large horizontal lay- down area at the stern of the ship. The ships name and registration port is normally painted on the transom of larger vessels.

    Reference Webs:

    1. Marin: Transom Stern Design

    2. Banistermarine: Transoms Explained

    3. Wikimdiacommons: Transom Images

    4. answerbag: Forum Discussions on Transoms

    5. shipsnostalgia: Forum Transom Discussion

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    Summary - It Came in Over the Transom

    There are a number of meanings for the term transom that are split between two categories; architectural and nautical. Equally the phrase “It came in over the transom" could apply to situations from both categories.

    Transoms in Nautical terms are associated with the aft or stern structural members of ships and boats.

    Architectural meanings include wood or stone lintels above a window or door or a small hinged window over a door that was used for ventilation.

    In my opinion the phrase “It came in over the transom" is more likely to be from the practice of a budding author, who perhaps having been rejected a few times decides to throw his manuscript through an open transom above the publisher’s door. These small hinged windows were often left open at night to let in fresh air.

    This unorthodox route would mean the publisher's clerk laying the manuscript on the publishers desk with the comment, “It came in over the transom."