When the call to General Quarters (GQ) is made, the crew prepares the ship to join battle. Off-duty or sleeping crewmembers report to their stations and prepare for action. Watertight doors between bulkheads are shut and security is increased around sensitive areas such as the bridge and engineering rooms.
While the term 'General Quarters' is used in navies such as the United States Navy, other navies, such as the Royal Navy use the term 'Action Stations'. In French, the term is Aux postes de combats ("to combat stations"), and used to be branle-bas de combat, literally meaning that sleeping hammock should be cleared off the gunnery deck, foiled, and piled on the upper borders of the ship as protection for the crew. The German Navy uses the term "Gefechtsstationen", meaning literally "combat stations".
General Quarters, or Beating to Quarters, is called at any time in which the ship or crew may face danger beyond that which is necessarily expected of them in a life at sea. Quarters are called during storms, battles, or random sightings in the fog. The general philosophy is that of preparedness. If a ship is to face the danger of the elements, and should happen upon an enemy, it is much better to be prepared.
All crew members are assigned their general quarters upon being accepted as a crewmember aboard even a modern naval vessel. When GQ is called, that crewmember must drop and stow whatever it is that they are doing and report to the general quarters station. Then a roll will be called, and duty assignments made then, based on the nature of the situation requiring a GQ alarm.
The original bell signal for Beating to Quarters was a rapidly-rung bell 5 times, at 5 second repeats. Today, the GQ alarm is a rapidly repeating electronic klaxon bell rung in the same or similar manner. There are different klaxon signals for different conditions. For example, a chemical warfare signal (requiring the crew to don gas masks) is a high pitched sold whistle in the US Navy, and a Star Trek "Red Alert" type klaxon indicates combat stations, battle ensuing. The original "Beat to Quarters" drum signal was a three second drum roll with two beats in between the rolls, i.e., tap tap roll tap tap roll, etc.