All Hands on Deck – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Don’t you just love idioms and figures of speech? They make language fun and can break up the monotony in most forms of writing. But only if you understand what they truly mean. Gaining insight into the origin of a word or phrase gives you a well-rounded idea of the different ways it can be used. Let’s take a deep dive into the idiomatic phrase “all hands on deck” to show you what I mean.

All Hands on Deck Meaning

All Hands on Deck Origin Meaning

The common phrase “all hands on deck” is a figure of speech that means everyone available needs to be involved in a task or activity, usually super urgent things that need immediate action.

It conveys the basic idea that all available people and resources are urgently needed to complete a task or solve a problem. We mostly use the phrase in situations of team building or group projects.

Is All Hands on Deck Hyphenated?

Yes and no. If you’re using the figure of speech as an adjective, then you’d hyphenate it. Otherwise, you don’t need hyphens.

  • This is an all-hands-on-deck situation. (Modifies and describes what type of situation you have)
  • We’re going to need all hands on deck for this project. (Expresses that you need all the help you can get to do a task)

The Origin of the Expression All Hands on Deck

I think it’s pretty obvious where this phrase’s root originated. It’s got naval origins, whether with sailors or pirates, and was a literal phrase once upon a time. Captains and sailing masters would call the entire crew to the main deck in times of need, like impending storms or a battle with another ship.

“All hands on deck” literally meant “all available hands come to the deck to help.” Over time, it just became the expression we use when we need as much help as we can get.

What Is a Synonym for All Hands on Deck?

  • Everyone pitch in
  • Full steam ahead
  • All aboard
  • Mobilize everyone
  • Team effort
  • Group effort

All Hands on Deck Examples in a Sentence

All Hands on Deck Origin Meaning 1
  • When the deadline for the book was moved up, I called for all hands on deck with my editors and formatters to finish the project on time.
  • My son’s soccer coach knew winning the championship would require all hands on deck from the entire team, so they rallied together to do their best.
  • With the storm approaching, it was an all-hands-on-deck situation as the whole community worked together to prepare and protect their homes from getting damaged.
  • During the school fundraiser, the principal (who organized the event) ensured they had an all-hands-on-deck attitude to keep things running smoothly.
  • When the restaurant received a large last-minute reservation, the staff knew they’d need all hands on deck to cook the food and serve the large group of unexpected guests.
  • Our house flooded during the torrential rain storms we just had, and our neighbors came over to help pump it out before too much damage was done. It was definitely all hands on deck, and we couldn’t have done it without them.

Many Hands Make Light Work

That’s another wrap on one more idiom that came from literal roots. I love using idioms and figures of speech like this to add layers to language and broaden my writing. I hope you do, too! Play around with it and see where it can work for you!