When we are told to ‘batten down the hatches’ it generally means that we should prepare for trouble or find whatever means we can to protect ourselves. In the case of bad weather this often refers to the use of sheeting to protect property or goods.
However the original meaning is far more specific and originated in the early 19th century. A batten (as most of you will know) is a strip of wood. When a ship’s crew were expecting bad weather they would use battens (and caulking) as added protection against water thrown onto the ships decks. This would prevent it running below deck via the hatches into their quarters. Early recorded uses of the term in print include:
‘Domestic Amusements’, John Badcock, 1823 - 'The severity of the climate having ‘
‘Chambers Journal’ 1883 - 'Batten down the hatches - quick, men.'