Sailing & Knives

Aug 20, 1999
I am interested in opinions and experiences as they relate to sailing and rigging knives. What characteristics and design elements would be 1) required and 2) nice to have?
Most desirable blade shape?

I am particularly interested in fixed blade but, do not want to eliminate folders from the discussion.

Include custom made as well as production (comments about Myerchin welcome).
i'd love to find a good folder with a strong lock on the blade but also with a locking marlin spike; anybody ever seen one that fits the bill?
Camillus has a nice lock back type stainless folder. It has a large fid (marlin spike for knots) and a bracket for shackle bolts. Stainless steel Warncliff type blade, but will rust on the spring if not kept oiled. Mine is about 9 years old, has a lone lanyard, and is in great shape.
A Benchmade Mel Pardue auto partially serrated rf pocket, Spyederco delica, and BM axis lf are with me at all times on the boat. Lately a Spyderco Moran in a kydex sheath is also on my belt.
The Pardue came in handy off the coast of Washington 2 years ago.
Like the Camillus, but would not go out without a one handed auto like the Pardue. In a hurry, it can flat save your bacon.

What? Another knife? Don't you have enough of those things already?
How many does one person need?
And just what are you going to do with this one that you can't do with the others?
What is the purpose of all these knives anyhow??

A marline spike does me no good, as the rigging on my last sailboat was stainless, and there's no way I'd go for fiber over cable anyway.

That pretty much leaves with my sail, hull, or bow/anchor line to cut, or maybe some unruly fish.

I find my Project 1 works as good at sea as it does on land, which is pretty good actualy.

All this stainless jive is a bit unnecessary, nice, but unnecessary. Minimal maintainence and carbon and tool steels do just fine.

The fact that carbon steels were used for litteraly thousands of years, back in the days when edged tools and weapons saw REAL use, including on sailing ships, is often lost on people. A shame.
Historically, hands on ships were only allowed to carry knifes with no point, a blunt tip, and the edge not running to the tip. This is where the so-called "mariner's blade" profile comes from. The Spyderco Mariner is the perfect example. The officers, however, carried knives with points. This was to put the hands at a disadvantage and discourage any mutany.

I don't crew on sailing ships. It's not that I don't like sailing ships, but I just don't know the first thing about them. If you asked me to "trim the sails," I'd pull my knife and ask you how much you wanted me to trim off. But, I do, occationally, crew on power yachts. The hands I crew with all seem to have Benchmade AFCKs and some sort of multitool such as a Leatherman PST.

We don't do a lot of fancy rope work or rigging on power yachts, so there's no call for a pike. We always seem to have electrical problems, though, and my PST never fails to come in handy.


[This message has been edited by Gollnick (edited 21 August 1999).]
History is relative. From the early days of the Age of Expansion to the 19th century, Spanish sailors were carrying navajas.

In fact, Manual del Baratero even mentions they used lanyards on them, and indeed many of the navajas of this time period did incorporate lanyard holes.

Note that navajas are big, sharp, and very pointy. The handle can also serve as a marline spike when dealing with the extra-thick rigging of the old sailing ships.
I beg to differ. A carbon knife is not as good a maritime knife as a stainless one despite most of history getting by with carbon. (How many wood, caulk, canvas, manila, pitch and copper vessels you seen lately?)

A good and modern maritime knife will be 440 stainless or better. Why? Think situational awareness. Which knife(ves) would you want to ditch with if you had to do time in a life raft? Carbon craps out in the always wet, impossible to maintain anything environment of the liferaft. This is not to mention any type of pitchpoling or other catastrophe one could suffer at sea.

Unless you are a brownwater sailor, leave the carbon tools at home on the relatively dry where they belong.
My understanding is that the marlin spike is meant for splicing wire rope and that a wood fid should be used when splicing rope. Be that as it may, I don't do either while I'm sailing my dinghy, what I need is a knife which will cut rope easily, possibly in an emergency. For me the answer is (or will be soon
) a neck knife with a hawksbill blade.

Take care,

Don't worry that the world might end Australia it's tomorrow already.

I believe the modern use for a marlin spike is simply loosening knots that are too tight. Splicing is usually available on the equipment from factory sources.

Snick - if there are no lines on your boat, how do you trim sail?

The blade would have emergency function in cutting line if that line is trapping person or equipment ( prop). The "pointless" sheepfoot was most popular because one could put the line on a flat surface, put the straight edge of the sheepfoot blade on the line and hit the top of the blade with a belaying pin (to sever the line). A hawkbill would not serve this function.

I believe a lanyard hole is essential. Most sailboats have decks that curve down towards the side of the boat. Because when the boat is heeled, one does not want to "catch" wind with the windward side of the boat. Consequently, everything that is dropped bounces toward the water. tieing important things to something is a good practice.

Stainless is still best. Many of the "old" ways will still work, but modern seems to be more effective in sailing craft, at least from the performance point of view. Rusting mechanisms suck.

We at Spyderco are also interested in the answer to Winslow's question. We have played around with "seafaring" designs over the years. Our first "Yachtman" design was in '84 (The C06 that was never produced). The pleasure yachting industry took a downturn in '85 so we decided to "hide 'n watch" for a while. We pulled this design out in '94 and are currently giving the concept attention. I would add to Winslow's question; size? weight? shackle key or mechanism? materials?

Thanx for bringing up this topic. It might also bring out the sailors.
Here are some of the features I would like to have in a sailor's folding knife.

*suitable for marine environment
*one hand folder
*independently locking blade and marlinspike
*tapered shackle slot
*lanyard hole/ring
*may be disassembled for cleaning & oiling.

I am undecided as to the best blade shape. Although serated blades work well with line, my bias is against them.

Brion Toss (, the rigging guru in the Horthwest might be a good one with whom to 'toss' around ideas.

BTW, I've been using a plain Delica. It has served well.
I suspect that the requirements are different in small boats. I do use a sheepsfoot in the manner Sal mentioned when I'm preparing line ashore. I've got an old, traditional sailing knife particularly for that purpose. However, bouncing around in a small open boat, in an emergency, getting the point of a hawksbill in behing the rope seems to be easier (I'll admit to being influenced by Mike Sastre on this
). No belaying pins in a dinghy anyway
. My boat has no shackles and the ones in dinghies are usually too small for the shackle keys on most knives anyway, so the shackle key is not an issue. In a folding knife, the most important feature is one hand opening and I can't understand why none (?) of the sailing knives on the market have that feature.

Take care,

Don't worry that the world might end Australia it's tomorrow already.

I pretty much agree with winslow as to what sort of features would be nice on a sailor's knife. Blade shape is something that can definitely be debated, but I think given the wide range of relatively hard, and often fibrous material that might need cutting, I'd favor a serrated blade.

Clay - Sal's right about splicing...except for really weird stuff, it's hard to do it better than the guys at the marina can with real equipment.
Clay - I guess they're waiting for us.

Winslow - How large and how heavy do you think is ideal?
Sal, good point. Still, I don't really have much of a need for a marline spike. But, as a matter of fact, my last boat had stainless cable running rigging. Rope is still more common though.

I'm not arguing for carbon or tool steel over stainless, I'm just saying that you needn't obsess over the matter.
I'm not arguing for carbon or tool steel over stainless, I'm just saying that you needn't obsess over the matter.

Who is obsessing?

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man"
-Nordic proverb


But, as a matter of fact, my last boat had stainless cable running rigging.

Do you mean standing rigging? How do you tack or jibe with stainless cable???? Wire halyards maybe, but lines? Is this to keep the alligators from chewing through?
What kind of sailboat was this? Racing??
Hey, I have been sailing for many years, but this sounds strange. I guess you learn something new every day. That is what makes life interesting.

It was a 14 foot minimum weight Bluejay.

I don't do much racing at all, only maybe just messing around with a friend once in a while. I bought it second hand, came with stainless cable running rigging.

And a deep cycle marine battery and bilge pump that ought to have tipped me off to the fact that this rotten bark had sprung a leak somewhere along the aft chine.

It was a fun little boat, and it sailed pretty well despite the leak. The only problem was that I tried to fix it.

It ended up that I'd bought and onion instead of a boat; I peeled layer after rotten layer away till I was left with nothing but tears.

That said, cable running rigging isn't really all that uncommon around here. A lot of guys are sailing homebuilts, or something they built up from bare hulls, and they need to buy stainless cable for standing rigging, winches, and harpoons anyway, so it just makes sense to buy in bulk.

I think kevlar is all the rage with the racers right now, but that might be old news. Like I said, racing isn't something I'm really to into.

As soon as I get some money saved up I'm gonna have made/make myself a pocket cruiser, probably a cutter, with an old timey look like a sharpie or something. Humph, a sharpie cutter! Can you see the coming together of intrests?

Anyway, I want to build for strength and seaworthiness, probably positive bouancy, narrow beam, and I want the cabin trunk layed up in one piece with the hull. Probably build a foam form and lay the glass over that. I'm thinking of using a thick epoxy/kevlar laminate. Speed is secondary, I want something tough I can take of for months at a time to the Ten Thousand Islands in and not have to wory about something breaking. I like an overbuilt minimalist approach. But I guess I should save this for a sailing forum or something...

I'm not accusing anyone here of obsession, I'm basicaly saying that the stainless thing gets stressed a bit too much, and that with minimal maintainence a carbon or tool steel knife is servicable, so if you particularly like a knife that happens to be made of an alloy that's less corrosion resistant than the 440 series, that's fine. After, 316 is about as stainless as steel gets, but it makes a lousy knife.
Too bad Lorena Bobbet wasn't aboard with a SIFU...


I mean, if I went around saying I was an Emperor because some
moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, people would put me away!