Survival knives

There are few tasks more frustrating than trying to cut a line or a piece of webbing with a knife that is either not designed for the job or too dull and rusty from seasons of abuse and neglect. But frustration becomes the least of a mariner’s worries when there is an emergency at hand and the boat or a crewmember’s life is in jeopardy. Having a tool that is up to the job can make the difference between life and death, success and failure.

For some it might have been a tangle of stiff polypropylene lobster pot warp that somehow found its way around the prop, for others it might be a fouled mooring pendent. For the truly unfortunate it might mean having to cut away a sail that has either fouled in a furler or refused to come down.

Prudence and basic safety practice dictates that all sailors carry a blade of some sort when aboard and especially when at sea. The key here is that the knife is easily accessible, can cut quickly and that it provides some margin of safety for the user (i.e., a secure locking mechanism for folding knives and a secure grip for a fixed blade). Other bells and whistles such as marlinspikes and shackle keys are handy add-ons to the sailor’s knife but when making a choice the focus should be clearly on the quality and utility of the blade.

Among the key criteria for a useful marine knife is the ability to cut quickly and cleanly through a wide variety of materials, hold a keen edge, be easily sharpened, be corrosion resistant, nonmagnetic and easily deployed. But choosing the right knife is not easy given the number of options available. Here is a look at a handful.
Boye Boat Knives
Knife maker David Boye has been making knives for over 35 years. His knives are exquisitely made in the U.S. and feature hand-ground dendritic cobalt blades. The unique metallurgy of Boye’s carbide crystal blades place them in a class by themselves. They feature radical edge holding, are rust-free in salt water, compass safe and easily sharpened. Boye has conducted extensive tests on his blades proving their cutting ability on Kevlar, Spectra, Sta-Set, polyethylene, hemp and other tough lines. The blades cut without any need for resharpening after countless repetitive test cuts.

The Boye line is simple and elegant. They produce two folders and one fixed-blade knife — the Boye Cobalt Lockbacks and the Basic 3. Folding knives are available as a serrated sheepsfoot or a pointed version. The serrated sheepsfoot is best as a rope-cutting tool while the pointed style lends itself to being more of a utility knife. In a perfect world I would own both. Both knives are hand ground to a 0.010-inch edge, have a thumbhole for ambidextrous, single-hand opening and closing and are fitted with a nonslip grip, stainless lanyard loop and a recessed release mechanism. A stainless steel screw pin through the casing allows for blade removal and adjustment. Both of these knives are available with or without a slim profile titanium marlinspike and come in black or yellow.

The Basic 3 fixed blade is a work of art. Its overall length is just 8 inches. The knife’s 4-inch blade is hollow ground and made of the same dendritic cobalt material as the folders. It is not offered with a serrated blade. Rounded or pointed tips are an option and it sells with a brass-lined sheath.
Spyderco of Golden, Colo., is the brainchild of Sal Glesser. In the 1980s Glesser envisioned a folding pocketknife that had a convenient clothing clip, a serrated cutting edge that increased the sharp edge’s surface area, and a way to open the knife with one hand. Over the course of 30 years Spyderco has evolved into one of the most innovative and important knife manufacturers in the world. Their product line is broad and varied and includes several models that are geared toward marine use.

The marine lineup includes several folders and a new fixed-blade knife. The steel used for these blades is designated H-1 and uses precipitation-hardened alloy with 0.1 percent nitrogen instead of carbon. The nitrogen performs like carbon in the steel’s matrix and the result is a 100 percent rust-free blade. H-1 holds a keen edge and hardens at its cutting edge when sharpened. All of the knives’ internal components resist rust, as does the titanium clothing clip.

Spyderco’s C88 Salt 1 is a 4-inch folder that is available in either a plain or serrated edge. The back of the blade features the company’s trademark thumbhole for one hand opening and a lanyard hole in the case, and is available in black or marine yellow. All of the folders have a safety feature called the “David Boye Dent,” a small depression cut into the lock bar to lessen the possibility of gripping the knife hard enough to depress the lock and unlock the blade.

The C89 Salt Atlantic is slightly longer at 4 5/8-inches (closed) and 8 3/16-inches overall. The Salt Atlantic has the same features as the Salt 1 but instead of the Salt 1 knife’s standard straight blade it has a serrated sheepsfoot blade.

Another folder, identical in size and features to the Salt 1 is the C106 Tasman Salt. This knife has a hawkbill blade that will curve itself around rope or webbing and is ideal for pulling downward while cutting. It has either a plain or serrated blade.

The Spyderco fixed-blade Caspian Salt is another innovation in marine knives. It is constructed from a single piece of H-1 steel overlaid with a fiberglass reinforced nylon (FRN) scaled grip. The blade has a 1-inch diameter finger hole for a secure grip when wearing gloves or for those with large hands. The hollow-ground blade itself is plain toward the tip and serrated toward the handle. The back of the blade features a groove cutter for dealing with small-diameter cord. The knife is available with a blunt or pointed tip and comes with a plastic, spring-loaded sheath with two nylon straps. The knife can be worn on the leg, diver style, or mounted in a convenient location such as the mast. The Caspian Salt will not rust and is easily maintained.

Spyderco also has a unique sharpening system, the Tri-Angle Sharpmaker. It is comprised of two sets of high-alumina ceramic stones: a pair of medium-grit brown stones for cutting and a set of fine white stones for professional finishing. The stones can be used to sharpen plain or serrated blades. The base, which serves as a storage case, is keyed with slots to accept the stones and hold them at optimum sharpening angles, 30 degrees and 40 degrees for knives and 12.5 degrees for scissors. A groove running the length of each stone enables you to sharpen pointed tools such as awls, sail needles, fishhooks, etc. Two brass rods mount in the base and provide hand protection. Laid side by side in the base the stone also serves as a bench stone for sharpening broad, flat blades such as chisels and plane blades. Sliding the lid of the base on halfway provides a stable handhold while sharpening. The Tri-Angle Sharpmaker kit includes an instruction book as well as a DVD. The system is portable, easy to use and yields results in minutes.

Kershaw Knives
Kai USA Ltd. of Tualatin, Ore., manufacturer of Kershaw Knives, has introduced a line of stainless steel rescue knives that while geared to first responders are equally at home on a boat. Their black Rescue Blur Model 1675BLKST incorporates both a plain and serrated blade with a blunt round tip in a 4.5-inch locking folder. The butt of the handle has a carbide tip that is designed for breaking glass in an emergency but would be just as useful as a shallow punch for starting a screw or drill in hard material. The Rescue Blur Model 1675BLKST uses Sandvik 13C26 stainless steel with a tungsten DLC coating and the Rescue Blur Model 1675RDST sports a red case and uses the same steel without the tungsten coating.

The company also makes a fixed-blade knife called the Responder Model 1078. This knife blade is made from AUS8A stainless steel with black Teflon coating. The blade is blunt tipped and partially serrated toward the handle. The back of the blade has a grooved cutter for webbing and small stuff. The handles are double-injection molded Santoprene for a secure, comfortable grip and are available in black or florescent yellow.
SOG produces a wide variety of knives for military, law enforcement and first responders. Their Bi-Polar model is a dual-bladed folder that could easily find a place aboard or on your belt. The knife has a 3-inch hollow-ground AUS8 stainless steel blade and can be delivered with either a handy V-cutter for cutting cable, wire and small stuff or a full-length serrated blade in place of the V-cutter. The butt of the case also comes with a hardened stainless steel emergency glass breaker. The dual blades are fitted with double-lock bars and twin safeties to lock the blades open or closed. The case is made of hard, anodized 6061-T6 aluminum and has a comfortable contoured grip.
Another Oregon knife maker, Benchmade, manufactures a fixed-blade knife that would be as at home on deck as it would be in a diver’s kit bag. The 110SH20 is robustly ground from a solid piece of X15.T super corrosion-resistant steel with a blade hardness of 58-60HRC. It comes as a modified 3.23-inch sheepsfoot with partial serrations toward the handle. The easy-to-hold thermoplastic handle comes in either black or florescent green and has a lanyard hole drilled through it. The standard case for the knife is Kydex plastic. An ambidextrous, molded Kydex Tek-Loc case is available separately. 

Contributing editor John Snyder lives in Fryeburg, Maine.

By Ocean Navigator