Sediment deposited around oceanic volcanic ares potentially provides the most complete record of the tectonic and geochemical evolution of active margins. The use of such tectonic and geochemical records requires an accurate understanding of sedimentary dynamics in an arc setting: processes of deposition and reworking that affect the degree to which sediments represent the contemporaneous volcanism at the time of their deposition. We review evidence from the modern Mariana and Tonga arcs and the ancient arc crustal section in the Lower Jurassic Talkeetna Formation of south-central Alaska, and introduce new data from the Mariana Arc, to produce a conceptual model of volcaniclastic sedimentation processes in oceanic arc settings. All three arcs are interpreted to have formed in tectonically erosive margin settings, resulting in long-term extension and subsidence. Debris aprons composed of turbidites and debris flow deposits occur in the immediate vicinity of arc volcanoes, forming relatively continuous mass-wasted volcaniclastic records in abundant accommodation space. There is little erosion or reworking of old volcanic materials near the arc volcanic front. Tectonically generated topography in the forearc effectively blocks sediment flow from the volcanic front to the trench; although some canyons deliver sediment to the trench slope, most volcaniclastic sedimentation is limited to the area immediately around volcanic centers. Arc sedimentary sections in erosive plate margins can provide comprehensive records of volcanism and tectonism spanning < 10 My. The chemical evolution of a limited section of an oceanic arc may be best reconstructed from sediments of the debris aprons for intervals up to ~ 20 My but no longer, because subduction erosion causes migration of the forearc basin crust and its sedimentary cover toward the trench, where there is little volcaniclastic sedimentation and where older sediments are dissected and reworked along the trench slope.