What Does All Hands on Deck Mean?

All Hands on Deck Meaning

Definition: All available people need to come to help, especially in an emergency.

Origin of All Hands on Deck

This expression has a naval origin. Hands is another word for sailors and deck is a part of the boat. In a storm or other emergency, the captain might yell all hands on deck. This is a command for all the sailors to come to the deck of the boat to help navigate the storm.

Nowadays, people use this for any situation, not just on a boat. Hands means any nearby people or workers and deck means the location of the speaker or event.

It may have originated in the 1700s.

Examples of All Hands on Deck

all hands on deck movie This example dialogue involves a husband and wife who are discussing making a Christmas meal.

Bobby: I’m going to go out and watch the game with my friends.

Jennie: Sorry, you can’t.

Bobby: Why not?

Jennie: Your parents are coming over tomorrow for Christmas dinner, and I need all the help I can get.

Bobby: Really? Are you sure? I have faith in you. You always do such a good job.

Jennie: Thanks, but the house is a mess, and this meal would take hours if I had to do it alone. I need you and the kids to help out as much as possible. Sorry, but this is an all-hands-on-deck situation.

Bobby: Okay, then I’m happy to help. I’ll grab the kids so they can start too.

all hands on deck songTwo friends are about to go hang out when a phone call interrupts them.

Andrew: Okay, I’m glad we finally picked a movie. Let’s drive to the theater now, before we’re too late.

Aaron: Wait, my phone is ringing. I have to check this.

Andrew: Who is it?

Aaron: Oh no. It’s my boss. Hello? Uh huh. Okay. Oh, that’s too bad. I understand. Okay. I’ll be there.

Andrew: That didn’t sound good. What did she say?

Aaron: There’s an emergency at work. They are asking everyone to come in on their day off. That was the call to tell everyone all hands on deck.

Andrew: Really? Oh no.

Aaron: Yeah, sorry.

More Examples

This excerpt is about a group effort to help more students graduate.

  • This hard-to-believe turnaround was accomplished to a great extent through an all-hands-on-deck effort to supply students with makeup classes; district officials now say that 42% of the 2016 graduates were able to walk the stage because of such courses. –LA Times

The second excerpt is everyone working together to help stop a flood.

  • The area’s reclamation district is working to reinforce the levee with rocks and boulders, he said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck type of effort,” Robinson said. –LA Times


The phrase all hands on deck is a command ordering everyone around to join in to accomplish a goal.