The sailing knife has been the tool of true men for centuries. Long before most other tools were invented the knife stood by the man’s side. It is their best friend. It is a lifesaver. It is the one tool on your boat that will get you out of almost every difficult situation. Without a knife you will be lost.

You never know when you and your knife will need to pair up. In the 2011 Chicago Mackinac Race a boat capsized. Crew members were trapped underneath the boat with their harnesses, tethered to their boat. This unfortunate event has greatly strengthened the focus on safety at sea. You need a razor sharp and easy to open knife if you are to come out alive and survive a catastrophe like this. Without a solid knife you are not getting out. I’ve put together this resource as a one-stop-shop and the ultimate guide to help you find the perfect sailing knife.

Top 5 All-Purpose Sailing Knives

Sailing Knife
Type
Specs
Rating & Price
Myerchin Knife Titanium Captain Pro
Smooth Blade
Folding
Blade Length: 2.8"
Open Length: 7.55"
Weight: 5 oz.
$$
Spyderco Atlantic Salt
Serrated Blade
Folding
Will Not Rust
Blade Length: 3.7"
Open Length: 8.25"
Weight: 2.75 oz.

$$
Camillus Carbonitride Titanium & Marlin Spike
Rigging Knife
Smooth Blade
Folding
Blade Length: 2.75"
Open Length: 6.5"
Weight: 4 oz.
$
NRS Co-Pilot Knife
Serrated Blade
Sheath
Blade Length: 2.25"
Open Length: 5.25"
Weight: 4.6 oz.
$
Spyderco Assist Rescue Knife
Serrated Blade
Folding
Will Not Rust
Blade Length: 3.7"
Open Length: 8.375"
Weight: 4 oz.
$$

Infographic: Anatomy of a Rigging Knife

Infographic

 

The 3 Types for a Sailing Knife

There is a large variety of sailing knives from which to choose.  Various uses dictate which category a sailing knife belongs to and they all stem from the historical uses of naval and maritime sailors.  While there is a huge selection of available knives for the seaman, they basically breakdown into the 3 categories below:

1. PERSONAL SAFETY KNIFE / RESCUE KNIFE

2. COCKPIT KNIFE

3. RIGGING KNIFE / MARLIN SPIKE

What is a Rigging Knife or Sailing Knife?

While many may say a knife is a knife–and this very well may be true for the land-lubber public–there are distinct characteristics that a knife made for use while on the water offers over a standard survival knife.  Think of the many uses a sailor has for a knife:

  • A primary purpose of the recreational boater and racer is to cut line
  • Assist in untying stubborn knots
  • Assist in cutting tape and other adhesive-like materials
  • It must maintain its sharpness and be easy to maintain
  • Last, but not least, for personal safety!

Keeping these typical and varied uses in mind, you can easily see why a sailing knife can be categorized by the three categories above.  While a blade may be a blade to the novice–a sailing knife needs to be able to cut under specific circumstances–for instance, a personal safety or rescue knife should be bright and easy to open with one hand.  Imagine being trapped underwater with only one hand free and being unable to unclasp your tether from harness! In cases like this it is easy to see the value in having the best sailing knife possible.

My Personal Approach to Choosing the Best Sailing Knife

It’s an all new prerequisite for the Chicago-Mackinac race, not to mention various offshore races, to have a knife that is easily accessible all the time on a sailboat. Scott, a bowman on the Beneteau 40.7 Flash Point, has constantly recommended to carry a specialized razor-sharp knife attached to your PFD. I go along with him and the latest guidelines. Early last year I put my Myerchin rigging knife to the challenge.

In my opinion, Myerchin produces gorgeous and top notch sailing knives. Indeed, in the course of my testing under dire circumstances, it effortlessly cut through a 5/16″ poly line. I simulated clipping the line when it is in motion when you are cutting it. I thought that was how a tangled line would act in response.

If you had to cut through current lines, fishing nets, or fabric to free yourself or a second person in an emergency, is the knife that you are holding suitable for the job? It’s likely that it is not.

My wife and first mate prefers the Spyderco Assist knife (awesome orange color!), it is created for this goal and is recommended by rescue experts around the world. The function I am most excited about is that you can stick a line into the partial unfolded blade and press the knife closed to slice the line. It’s not a cheap knife, but definitely a knife you can trust.

Gill manufactures a personal rescue knife that is visually compelling; however I have had several issues with it.  First, the sheath (which is marketed as being excellent for lashing to a stern pulpit near the cockpit, does not even hold the knife solidly in place—making it very easy to lose. Second, the blade just isn’t sharp enough. The Gill costs just 25 dollars, has a rounded cutting blade, numb tip, and prominent serrations for slicing line, but just doesn’t cut quickly enough. By the way, one-handed opening is a requirement for the Chicago-Mackinac race.

The important point is to obtain a knife that can cut you or somebody else free in an emergency situation. Regardless of which rescue knife you select, be certain to read my reviews here before you buy a knife. Some training can make the distinction between say fumbling away critical seconds or securely and comfortably taking care of a disaster situation on board or in the water.

Possession of Sailing Knife: Basic Cruising & Racing Requirement

The sailing knife is a survival tool that dates back to the stone ages. It is likely also the most useful and basic of tools discovered till date.  Everyone from prehistoric men to pirates to professional yacht racers today have the basic requirement to carry one. So, unless you’ve already got one for yourself, now is a good time to search the best sailing knife on the web and make your purchase.

Sailing, cruising, and especially yacht racing without having a functional modern-age sailing knife in your possession is a strong trespass of sailing rules and regulations. In the case of an inspection or crisis, you may have to pay the price for engaging in sailing without observation of the strict industrial sailing guidelines. It would be a very foolish idea to think you will not be checked on and sail without a handy knife on-board.

For off shore races, possession of cockpit knives has always been standard requirement, as deemed by ISAD Special Regulations. An extra knife also needs to be stored in the safety grab bag on the boat too. As per such rules, on-deck knives must be in an easy to access spot, made from the highest quality of steel alloy, be able to endure environmental wear & tear, and remain securely fastened in the scabbard.

Post a 200 research conducted on 2 sailing accidents involving high-profile personalities showed that it is best and the safest if every sailor on-board carries one of these personal sailing knives. Furthermore, in 2012, the MSR (Mackinac Safety Requirements) board passed a law requiring each and every member of the crew to have a knife if they are on the deck.


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