Best Sailing Knife: 13 Options Reviewed

Published Categorized as Boats

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Like many outdoorsmen and women, sailors know the importance of a knife. The best sailors knife is the one that’s built for the task. It’s easy to handle when your hands are wet, and it’s built to withstand life in and around saltwater. Rope working, locking and opening shackles, and general utility are all things a good sailing knife should be able to handle. But first and foremost, the yacht knife is a vital part of a sailor’s safety kit.

What is a Sailing Knife?

There’s no firm definition of what constitutes the best sailing knife or yacht knife. However, there are many uses for carrying one of these tools. Some boaters and people living on their sailboats prefer carrying multiple tools, while others might like to have one tool to rule them all.

In my way of thinking, nothing on a boat should serve only one purpose. Space is limited, and multi-taskers rule the day. To that end, my picks for the best sailing knife tend toward multitools.

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For the day and coastal sailor, these will serve every need they have aboard, at sea and in port.

When you search online for the best sailors knife, you’ll see some very specific nautical knife designs listed. Most of these are simple blades built to cut rope and little else. These are handy, for sure, but a well-rounded multitool will get a lot more use.

So before purchasing a sailing knife, give the topic some thought. What are you going to use it for, and what do you already own? Of course, if you need an offshore capable emergency rope cutter to holster to your sailing harness, go for it. But most of us will get much more utility out of something that can do that–and other things too.

I prefer a two-pronged solution. First, I carry a useful multitool wherever I go, in my pocket or on its clip. I also keep a purpose-built cutter on my lifejacket harness for offshore work where a survival tool is called for.

sailors knife for rope

Below, you’ll find sailing knives categorized in four ways.

  • Sailing multitools
  • Sailing knives with marlinspikes
  • Simple knives for boating
  • Purpose-built rescue tools for boating
Myerchin Knives Tested at Sea WF300P Generation 2 Captain Professional Wood Handle Rigging Tool Knife

Why Carry Sailors Knives?

With that in mind, let’s review some of the ways sailors use blades and tools onboard a boat, whether that be a sailboat or a yacht. These can be divided into three types of use: general utility, specific sailing needs, and emergencies.

General Utility Knife and Tool Use

If you already carry a multitool like a Leatherman or a Swiss Army Knife, you need no reminding of how useful a tool like this can be. Everywhere you go, you’ll find more and more uses.

Just having a pocket knife can come in handy. Slice an apple, open annoying packaging, or cut through pretty much anything. But if you choose a multitool, you’ll get access to a lot more than a blade.

nautical knife

Nearly all multifunction pocket knives include an assortment of screwdrivers, a real bonus on a boat. One feature that many people now consider a must-have is a good set of pliers. You can use this to grip things, tighten or loosen nuts and bolts for example on your boat beds, and even grab tiny objects.

Sailing Specific Knife Uses

Ok, so all of those uses apply on a boat too. If you have a knife in your pocket, you’ll find a use for it. But what are some things that sailors do that no one else does?

First and foremost, there are a lot of ropes and lines on a boat. So you’ll definitely want a knife that can cut through the toughest stuff, including modern ropes like Dyneema. For this, only the sharpest serrated blades will do.

Another common tool found in boating tools is the marlinspike. A marlinspike is a traditional rope-working tool used to separate strands of rope and work them through the rope’s core. It looks a little like a pointed metal cone. Marlinspike seamanship is the term associated with the various forms of rope working–that is, forming various knots, bends, and splices.

A final super handy tool to have is a shackle key. Most shackles have a small flat area for tightening that is too small to use by hand. A key fits over the flat area and gives you some mechanical advantage, like a wrench. If you don’t have a key, then pliers work great.

Emergency Harness Cutting with Your Sailing Knife

All of the things listed above are common sense uses for a yacht knife. But when you search for a true sailors knife, what you see will look much different. This is because, in sailing, a knife is also an emergency tool when battling let’s say some severe storm conditions on a boat.

If you set out to design a knife for nothing but emergency use, you will come up with something like what Gill and other outfitting companies have. These will be simple, quick-to-access blades optimized for slicing through rope or webbing. They will generally be blunt-tipped to reduce the risk of injury in churning seas and cut the chance that it could accidentally puncture an inflatable liferaft. And their grips will be rubber and secure for use in wet conditions or even underwater.

These tools are designed as a sailor’s last line of defense. Should a sailor become entangled in rigging on deck, or worse still–dragged under after a capsize or going overboard–that knife might be the only thing that stands between surviving the incident and spending all of eternity in Davy Jones’ Locker.

The harnesses that sailors wear offshore have quick release clips designed to be easy to get off in such an emergency. But there have been boat accidents where the sailor could not get free, and cutting their way out was the only option.

Knives are required in many offshore situations. For example, some regulations require the yacht to have a mounted knife in the cockpit and each sailor to carry their own. In addition, liferafts come with a floating survival knife, usually mounted so that the raft’s painter can be cut free from a sinking yacht.

sailboat rigging knife

What to Look For in a Nautical Knife

Here are a few tips and things to look for if you want a new boating knife. Knives are tools–and tools are built with a purpose in mind. So start with what you want to do and how you want to use your knife. Then answer some further questions–where will you keep it, do you need any specialty tools, and what are the most common features you’ll want to use? Most importantly, are you purchasing a survival-only tool or an everyday tool?

Smooth or Serrated?

Most sailing knives have a combination blade, but the most important part is the serrated part. The fine-edge blade can be handy, but when cutting through thick lines and webbing, nothing can beat a really good serrated blade.

However, the disadvantage of a serrated blade is that you cannot sharpen it easily. So while you might be able to right a fine-edge blade with a knife steel or whetstone and get pretty good results at home, a serrated blade will need a trip to a professional to come out working like new.

NRS Co-Pilot Knife Yellow One Size

Pointed Tip or Flat-Head?

A flat-head blade adds a layer of safety for survival knives and rough conditions. These knives reduce the threat of injury to yourself or others when you’re on the pitching deck of a boat at sea. If you find yourself struggling in the water while following your points of sale, you’re less likely to injure yourself or puncture your liferaft.

This doesn’t mean that you must have a flat-tipped knife, though. On the contrary, you can use any knife at sea with care. But if you are finding yourself in serious conditions on a serious ocean, having a safety knife is a good idea.

Ease of Use and Access

Speaking of that serious ocean, the best knife in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t get to it. Of course, you might carry your multitool on a belt clip or in your pocket–but what if that’s suddenly buried under three layers of foul-weather gear the moment you need it for survival?

For this reason, you should carry something attached to your harness or lifejacket when working on the deck that is easy to get to. Maybe it’s on a tether or in a mounted sheath. Whatever you decide, you should be able to have access instantly no matter where you wind up.

Fixed or Folding?

To this end, it’s important to choose between a fixed or a folding blade. For survival knives, the more complicated the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. So keep it simple and opt for fixed blades or purpose-built harness cutters that need no fiddling.

A folding blade makes the most sense for multitools that you’ll carry often. They are safest in your pocket and offer the greatest versatility.

Comfort, Safety, and Attachments

How will you carry your knife? As described above, you should keep survival and rescue knives in a quick-access mounting outside your harness.

But what about your everyday knife? Will you keep it in your pocket? In a holster? In a sheath? On a carabiner clip or tether? Size and comfort matter a lot just like when choosing any piece of everyday gear on a boat like the best marine binoculars

Magnetic Interference

If you stand watch, consider your knife’s magnetism. Anything within a few feet of a yacht’s compass can cause a few degrees of error. Most of us rely on remote autopilot flux-gate compasses now, but this is the sort of thing that you don’t want to learn the hard way on an offshore trip when the boat autopilot has failed.

Corrosion Resistance

Finally, always consider longevity and the materials used when purchasing a sailing knife. Many knives are made with stainless steel blades, but not all stainless steel is created equally. Plus, you often can’t tell what the rest of the knife is made of. Parts like the locking mechanism, hinges, and pins might be made of materials that can easily corrode.

A sailing knife is very likely to wind up soaked in seawater from time to time. Maybe it’s in your pocket when you wind up in the drink, or maybe you simply pulled the tender ashore and got much wetter than you had planned in the process. A good yacht knife should be able to handle these occasional mishaps and survive with no damage. It’s always a good idea to give them a freshwater rinse and some oil every once in a while, of course.

Best Multitool Sailing Knife Reviews

Gerber Suspension NXT Multitool

Many features set this multitool apart from its competitors. It might not be the right choice for everyone, but I’ve used this tool for several years on my boat, and it has never let me down.

First off, Gerber makes incredible products that don’t break. Their corrosion resistance is second-to-none. The Gerber hasn’t missed a beat where other tools have corroded closed, or fallen apart.

Secondly, the pliers on the Suspension NXT are the most useful I’ve found. They are spring-loaded, which is a rare feature in itself. The grips are large enough to use substantial force, and the head is perfect for both general and locking shackles.

All of the other components of the NXT are just right, too. Everything locks for safety. There are multiple screwdrivers, including a dedicated Phillips head. The knife is ultra-sharp, and half of it is serrated. And finally, the whole package is a comfortable weight to carry while onboard or in your pocket on shore expeditions.

Features

  • Large, spring-loaded pliers with needle-nose pliers, standard pliers, and wire cutters built-in
  • Half serrated locking blade
  • Combo can opener/bottle opener
  • Three flat-head screwdrivers
  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Scissors
  • Awl
  • File
  • Belt clip and lanyard or key attachment

Victorinox Skipper Swiss Army Knife

The runner-up has to be this little Swiss Army Knife–which is actually a mid-sized Swiss Army Knife. If you like Swiss Army Knives and want one made specifically for a life at sea, this is worth a look. One of its most interesting features is the flat marlinspike-like tool. It’s not rounded like a traditional marlinspike, but its low-profile shape gives you the functionality in a much smaller tool. Plus, the hollow center makes a superb shackle key. The Skipper also includes a set of pliers, but they’re so small that you can only use them for small pieces of wire or tiny shackles.

Features

  • Locking serrated blade
  • Small pliers and wire cutters/crimper
  • Combo mini marlinspike with eye and shackle key
  • Combo can opener and small screwdriver
  • Combo bottle opener, flat-head screwdriver, and wire stripper
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Awl
  • Corkscrew
  • Mini tweezers and toothpick
  • Lanyard or key ring attachment

Victorinox Swiss Army Knife RangerGrip Boatsman

If you like the Skipper but want something a little larger, the Boatsman will be right up your alley. This is one of the largest folding knives that Victorinox makes, and it’s loaded with features. This is the only Swiss Army-style knife with a useful set of pliers. It also includes a bit driver built into the handle.

Features

  • Large needle-nose and regular pliers
  • Locking 3.9-inch half-serrated blade with easy-release eye
  • Combo mini marlinspike, shackle key, and ruler
  • Combo can opener and small screwdriver
  • Combo bottle opener, flat-head screwdriver, and wire stripper
  • Awl
  • Corkscrew
  • Bit driver
  • Sheath with bit holder
  • Lanyard or key rind attachment

Best Marlinspike Sailing Knife Review

Myerchin Sailors Tool Linerlock

Myerchin has a brand name built on more than a century of experience. This folding multitool is pretty slick, with its colored aluminum handle and built-in regular pliers.

Compared to other tools that feature a full-sized marlinspike, the Myerchin incorporates some great features. The pliers built into the Sailors Tool are some of the most useful you’ll find on a multitool of this sort.

Features

  • Pliers (marlinspike doubles as the pliers handle)
  • Locking, combo serrated and smooth blade
  • Marlinspike
  • Lanyard or carabiner attachment loop
  • Sheath

Myerchin Generation 2 Captain Pro Wood Handle

Here’s a classy and traditional pocket knife that features a full-sized marlinspike. Its wood handle hints at the traditional design and old-world craftsmanship that sets Myerchin apart when it comes to sailing knives.

Features

  • Locking, combo serrated and smooth blade with shackle key
  • Marlinspike
  • Lanyard ring
  • Belt clip
  • Sheath

Gill Multi 7 in 1 Marine Tool

This small folding knife combines Gill’s sailor-built serrated safety knife with a marlinspike and a folding multitool. Its functionality is limited when compared to other knives on our list, however, since its blade has been purpose-built for use at sea on ropes and webbing. It cuts these fast, but not particularly cleanly–and it doesn’t work very well on anything else.

Features

  • Serrated blade
  • Marlinspike
  • Combo webbing cutter, shackle key, bottle opener, small flat-head, and single-sized wrench
  • Lanyard attachment

Victorinox Skipper Pro

The Skipper Pro is a slightly newer and updated version of the Skipper. Instead of the low-profile multipurpose marlinspike found on the Skipper, the Skipper Pro includes a full-sized marlinspike that takes the place of a few of the other tools found on the Skipper.

This is a great pick if you’re looking for a knife with a full-sized marlinspike and lots of other functionality. It would be better if it had a shackle key, however.

Features

  • Locking serrated blade with easy-release eye
  • Marlinspike
  • Combo can opener and small screwdriver
  • Combo bottle opener, flat-head screwdriver, and wire stripper
  • Awl
  • Mini tweezers and toothpick
  • Lanyard or key rind attachment

Davis Rigging Knife Deluxe

One hundred percent stainless steel and dead simple, this rigging multitool is inexpensive and has just what you need. Its compact folding design feels just right in your pocket and is perfect if you’re doing occasional ropework.

Features

  • Smooth knife blade
  • Combo large shackle key and deck plate opener
  • Full-sized marlinspike
  • Lanyard attachment

Best Simple Knives for Boating

Gerber Paraframe I Serrated Blade

The folding knife has a one-hand opening design and all-stainless construction. Its minimalistic design is modern and easy to carry. It’s available with either fine edge or serrated blades, but you can’t go wrong since the serrated option is half serrated and half fine-edged. The overall length of this knife is seven inches, but if you need something smaller, Gerber offers several similar designs.

Features

  • Locking combo serrated and fine edged blade
  • Belt clip

NRS Pilot Blunt Knife

This fixed blade knife–as in not folding–survival knife has many features for such a seemingly simple object. NRS is a popular maker of watersports accessories, although the brand is not that well-known in sailing.

The Co-Pilot knife is designed for being mounted on a PFD in the included hard-plastic case. It’s about 5.5 inches long. The similar Pilot Knife is longer, and the Neko is even shorter. All of the NRS knives are available in titanium for the ultimate quality and longevity.

Features

  • Blunt-tipped blade doubles as a flathead screwdriver
  • Serrated cutting edge
  • Smooth cutting edge
  • Bottle opener
  • Rubberized grip
  • Hard-plastic PFD-mounted case with lock

Best Purpose-Built Rescue Tools for Sailors

Gerber EX Out Rescue

This folding rescue knife measures just under five inches when folded. The blade is blunt-tipped and serrated–perfect for work at sea or around inflatables.

Features

  • One-hand open serrated blade with blunt tip
  • Rubberized grip
  • Lanyard hole

Gill Personal Rescue

Gill’s safety knives are built for cutting through tough sailing ropes, webbing, and rigging. The scollops of their serrated blades are wider than others, giving them a unique functionality that works quickly on any type of sailboat. But, unfortunately, that same functionality limits its uses for anything else.

Features

  • Titanium-coated stainless blade with one-hand open design
  • Aggressive textured plastic grip
  • Lanyard hole

Gill Harness Rescue Tool

Gill’s harness rescue tool has a fixed tool design that doesn’t fold, but it’s still loaded with features. That makes it one of the best sailing knives if you’re looking for simple one handed operation, a sharp knife, and corrosion resistance. It’s small, too, at only five inches (127 mm) long, so you can easily slip it in your foulie or shorts pocket. The design can be used safely in extreme conditions, but it’s still handy enough for everyday use.

Features

  • Hook-style safety cutting tool
  • Serrated cutting edge
  • Shackle key
  • Aggressive textured plastic grip

Sailors Knives FAQs

Do sailors carry knives?

Yes. Knives are an important tool to have on hand. They’re convenient when working on deck, but they’re also an important safety tool. Sailors carry knives in case they need to cut a line quickly to release a jam that will break something, or worse still, to get themselves out of a tangle or entrapment situation. For this reason, it is a requirement on many offshore yachts that there be a knife mounted in the cockpit, and each person carries their own, as well.

Do nautical knives have tips?

There are two styles of knives used on boats, one with a tip and one without. Safety tips are handy, as they can be used in a pinch to pry or even as screwdrivers.

By Matt C

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.

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