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Choosing a sailing knife

Every sailor should carry a knife for lemons and lines

Benjamin Island, North Channel, Lake Huron, August 2008
Benjamin Island, North Channel, Lake Huron, August 2008

I’m an expert on knives. I’ve gone through a few of them in my sailing career:

A sailor needs a knife. That’s need, not want. There are plenty of uses for a simple, dependable knife. They range from leisurely lemon slicing to panicked line severing. The former for sundowners, the latter to laugh nervously while drinking the sundowners after escaping damage to property or body parts.


Captain Currey Deckhand Lockblade

No frills, classic rigging knife

Captain Currey Deckhand Lockblade

All stainless, sheep foot-ish locking straight blade, shackle key, lanyard.

$33.95 from M&B Shipcanvas

Shipping: About $4, free for orders over $99


Myerchin Sailor’s Tool

Locking blade and marlinspike, pliers instead of shackle key

Myerchin Sailor’s Tool

$30.12 from Fisheries Supply

Regular price: $39.95

Shipping: $10, free for orders over $99

Model P300BL. All stainless, one-handed open and close, locking blade and marlinspike. Hybrid straight-serrated blade. Includes a sheath and tether loop. 1 year warranty.

Other Myerchin knives reach into the high end. The Sailor’s Tool is among their least expensive but still a step up in features from the traditional bosun’s knife.

The ideal knife

The ideal knife

Like most things on a boat, the ideal knife has conflicting qualities: there when you need it, out of the way when you don’t, sharp enough to cut an arm or a leg off, but not necessary in cost.

The platonic knife doesn’t exist, of course. But it’s still something to aim for.

Rust sucks

The ideal knife resists corrosion. That typically means stainless steel. There are other non-corroding materials, like titanium and ceramic, but those are expensive. We’ll get to expensive later.

One hand, all fingers attached

What do your fingers and a knife have in common? They work best when they’re attached to you. Clip or tie your knife to your PFD or belt. Back in the day, sailors tied their knives around their necks. Yeah. The ideal knife has a clip for a lanyard or belt. Some have a hole to thread the lanyard. And like the ideal set of fingers, you can open and close (and lock and unlock) the ideal knife with one hand.

Other tools

Single-purpose knives have a place on a boat. For example, a rescue knife has a fixed, serrated blade with a floating handle. It works well in emergencies but not much else.

You’ll get more use from a folding knife. A folding blade makes it compact, which makes it more comfortable to carry. A couple of essential tools make it more useful. The traditional bosun’s knife is foldable and includes a marlinspike and shackle key. The marlinspike is almost vestigial, working best with 3-strand rope, not so much with braided. On a modern boat the key sees more use. One or two more tools, like a screwdriver, never hurts.

Straight edge, sheep foot, thick spine

The blade needs to stay sharp and be sharpenable. I prefer straight/non-serrated blades because they’re easier to sharpen. Blunt is better than pointy. A pointy tip is a liability on a moving boat, the rounded sheep foot shape avoids unintended piercing. If a blade has a thick spine, even better. Tap a malette against it to cut thick rope or tough lemons.

The cost of shedding tears

I once read that the salinity of human tears is the same as sea water. That explains the salinity of sea water. Many sailors shed many tears after watching a $300 knife bounce on the deck before plunking into the abyss. Unless you never leave shore or have a fat wallet that needs to lose weight, get an inexpensive knife.

More on safety

Choosing an inflatable life jacket

An inflatable life jacket is about comfort, not extra safety

At your service

Humbly yours,

Supreme Purser