in a position behind a specified vessel or aircraft: The cutter was following close astern.
in a backward direction: The steamer went astern at half speed.

1620–30; a-1 + stern2 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
astern (əˈstɜːn)
adv, —adj
1.  at or towards the stern
2.  with the stern first: full speed astern!
3.  aft of the stern of a vessel

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

1620s, from a- "on" + stern (n.).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
The wounded had been dragged to the after-torpedo room, the compartment
  farthest astern.
With his departure star astern and his destination star ahead, he could keep to
  his course.
It employs an underwater towed body acoustic projector, which is towed astern
  of the host ship by a fiber optic tow cable.
The baits skipped near the surface almost ten fathoms astern.
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