Batten Down the Hatches – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell people to prepare for the worst? This post unpacks the meaning and origin of the expression, "batten down the hatches."


The meaning of the saying, "batten down the hatches," is to prepare for trouble. You can use the phrase to describe any situation where you know or feel bad things are on the horizon.

The phrase can apply to social and professional situations at work and home. The term can also mean to prepare for a bumpy ride in a car or plane. Or, it can mean tightening up security protocols around a high-value target or client.

Example Usage

"Batten down the hatches," we're heading into the path of the at twister to get the shot, and things could get a little rough."

"Are you guys ready for this? Batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst; this storm is a big one."

"The boss is coming in this afternoon, and the word is he's angry about the procedure problems. Batten down the hatches and have all your paperwork ready to prove you weren't liable for the issue."

"The arrival of the financial depression means that everyone is going to have to cut back on their expenses. Batten down the hatches and protect your savings and investments."


The origin of the expression "batten down the hatches" is a maritime expression meaning to seal all the hatches on a ship due to incoming bad weather. The sailors would use the "battens" to hold the hatchways in place around the vessel and prevent water from entering.

Admiral W H Smyth's 1867 encyclopedia "The Sailor's Word-Book: an alphabetical digest of nautical terms" calls it "battening of the hatches."

"Battens of the hatches: Long narrow laths serving by the help of nailing to confine the edges of the tarpaulins and keep them close down to the sides of the hatchways in bad weather."

Bob Dylan also used the phrase in his 2012 album, Tempest, which appears in the same name song with the following lyrics.

"They battened down the hatches

But the hatches wouldn't hold."

Phrases Similar to Batten Down the Hatches

  • Prepare for problems.
  • Winter is coming.
  • Hold on for dear life.

Phrases Opposite to Batten Down the Hatches

  • Baton down the hatches.
  • Don't worry, be happy.
  • Leave it open.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Batten down the hatches.

Ways People May Say Batten Down the Hatches Incorrectly

Using the term in its original maritime sense isn't the correct use of the phrase outside of the boating and seafaring industry.

If you're at work at the office and someone tells you to baton down the hatches, it means they are telling you to prepare for the incoming workload or to secure the premises against theft. Using the spelling "baton" instead of "batten" is usually a common error when using the expression.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Batten Down the Hatches

You can use the saying, "batten down the hatches," when you're telling people to expect a bumpy ride. The phrase can apply to travel, finances, bad weather, and various life scenarios. For instance, if you're hoping income to reduce and prices to increase, you could "batten down the hatches" on your finances to get you through the tough times in the economy.

If you're driving into a rainstorm, you could tell everyone to "batten down the hatches" to get them to roll up the windows and secure their seatbelts. You could use the term as a warning to prepare the house for an incoming storm.

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