The marine group Tech Editor, Fox Morgan gives their essential buyers guide advise on the best boat knife for a variety of uses around your boat
The best boat knife will be a life saver and a constant sailing companion for years to come. Make sure you find the right one that suits you and what you want from it.
A blade that can slice through lifejacket harness webbing may not be suitable for severing a 12mm mooring warp that has become stuck around a bollard as you descend a lock.
A knife that can saw through a polypropylene fishing line wrapped around your prop may fare less well faced with a Dyneema halyard jammed in a riding turn.
Almost every cruising yacht has a knife or three rattling around in a chart table drawer. Some skippers have a knife in a sheath attached to a point in the companionway or somewhere else easily reached. Many sailors also carry a knife in the pocket of their foul-weather gear. We sailors really do need a multitude of knives.
The decision making process behind each one though can take time and we don’t always get the chance to test a knife in a shop as they’re locked away for safety.
As an offshore sailor I have a boat load of knives I have tested and plenty that have been loaned to me on friends and customers boats in moments of urgent need. Here’s my top choices of best boat knife for a variety or purposes.
Best boat knife
Gerber EZ-Out Rescue Safety Knife – Best boat knife in test
This is a single blade with a rounded tip and no other tools or features. Although the blade remains safely sprung closed, it is easy and safe to open one-handed.
The 7.8cm-long blade is serrated, but not so heavily that the knife grips a rope when it should be cutting it. We found the EZ-Out Rescue the most effective cutter in our test. Whether faced with the tough Dyneema halyard, the webbing or the awkward polypropylene line, this blade scythed through in a few seconds at most.
The blade locks well and is easily returned via a push point on the rear. At 73.7g, the EZ-Out Rescue is very light and there is a lanyard point as well as a pocket clip.
That bright yellow, reinforced thermoplastic handle is mottled for grip and Gerber has boosted this with a raised black rubber lip on each side. The overall unit is relatively thin but perfectly comfortable to use.
This knife comes with a lifetime warranty.
Price: £44 / $69
Buy the E-Z out from Amazon UK
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Gerber River shorty
The Gerber Ruiver shorty has a blunted tip and is a fixed blade with a sheath ptotector. This knife is ideally suited for being a reach for in case of emergency kind of boat knife.
You’d strap this to the binnacle leg or attach it to a safe point within reach of the helm or alternatively keep it in a grab bag or emergency pack.
The handle is grippy with extra lips to gain purchase when sawing away at something urgently.
The holes in the handle lend themselves perfectly for attaching a lanyard to avoid this being lost over the side.
A big thumbs up from me on this knife as it’s visible and easy to use with or without gloves on.
Price £40 / $44
Buy Gerber River Shorty Amazon UK
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Victorinox Skippers Knife
The best boat knife is the one you always carry with you. This Victorinox has been by my side for years and got me out of some scrapes as well as helped me to fix a few things on the go.
The built in additional tools make this more than just a knife. So yes, it’s a bit heavier and fatter than a knife that s solely a knife.
Probably the best knife I ever used on a boat.
Price £52.90 / $103
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Gerber strap cutter
The Gerber strap cutter and glass breaker is a neat but powerful tool that can get you out of trouble fast.
Ideally worn about the person, either stowed on or near your lifejacket or for use in a liferaft or other emergency grab bag.
It has a really sturdy grip and fits well in the hand, whether you have gloves on or not.
A great bit of kit, especially if you find yourself needing to cut webbing in a hurry, or smash glass for any reason.
Buy Gerber Strap cutter via Amazon UK
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This is a tool designed specifically for slashing through a safety tether in a hurry, if the tether is under load and can’t be released. Spinlock says that ‘by providing a means of disconnection, anyone wearing the Cutter satisfies ISAF and ORC recommendations’.
If that sounds unlikely, remember cases where the victim has been held under a capsized boat by a tether, or a tethered MOB has drowned while being dragged through the water. The S-Cutter comes in a protective sheath and a pouch and is small and light enough to keep in a foul-weather jacket pocket. There is also a lanyard hole if you want to keep it on your lifejacket full-time.
The tool features serrated edges for added grip in the wet. On test, we found the tool uncomfortable and difficult to get a useful purchase on. The device performed poorly in our cutting test, needing a significant amount of concerted sawing before it severed our safety tether webbing.
Buy it now from Amazon
Gill Harness Rescue Tool
This is another device designed for cutting safety tether webbing in a hurry. The blade lies on the inner corner of a U-shape in the design, which is too narrow to accommodate all but tether webbing or thin dinghy line.
The Gill model incorporates a shackle key which gives it a slightly more substantial body and makes it more comfortable to use than the Spinlock. The design includes a finger hole opposite the U-shaped blade so that cold, wet hands do not have trouble gripping the implement.
There is a lanyard hole and the tool is small enough, at 90mm long, to keep in a pocket or attached to your lifejacket belt. Gill has coated the stainless steel in titanium which is said to impede corrosion.
On test, the Harness Rescue Tool needed just one stroke to sever our tether, whether the webbing was stretched taut or held in a loop in one hand. On our guardrail lashing, it was equally effective, but too narrow for the ropes.
But it now from Amazon
Gill Personal Rescue Knife
This boat knife is a single folding blade that is easily opened with one hand due to a thumb stud on both sides. The jet black aluminium handle has an integrated tether-cutter, but curiously, given the success of the Gill Harness Rescue Tool, we found this to have very poor cutting power on our test tether.
The 7.8cm-long knife blade itself – titanium- coated stainless steel for corrosion resistance – is rounded at its tip and has an unusual, almost childlike, bobbly serration.
In terms of cutting power, however, it was far from childlike, and proved the second most effective on test, slicing through all of our materials in a few strokes at most, equal to the Wichard.
The blade locks out securely and is folded back only once you’ve pushed in a clip within the blade slot, an idea we’ve not seen on other models but which works well ergonomically.
The Personal Rescue Knife is fitted with a clip to attach to a lifejacket or belt, and has small lanyard holes within the clip.
Buy it now from Amazon
Gerber Obsidian Folding Knife
The biggest plus point of this model is its locking mechanism. A thumb-operated clip locks the blade shut or open, while an additional thumb-button
is pressed before it can be closed.
It sounds picky, but it’s not and with the thumb studs, the blade can be opened one-handed. Once halfway open, our test model could be flicked open all the way.
This 7.8cm-long blade has a 2.8cm-long serration at its base. The rest of the blade is smooth. We found the serration was not long enough to saw effectively at our lines and was prone to sticking.
On the guardrail lashing, the Obsidian performed well, but overall, we found it required more strokes than the other knives on test to cut through our thicker lines and tether webbing.
There are four other tools kept in the back of the handle – two screwdrivers, a bottle opener and a small file. A lanyard and pocket clip should ensure this knife does not go overboard.
The glass-filled nylon handle is smart and very comfortable to use but felt quite slippery compared to other models on test. It was also relatively heavy, at 130g.
The Obsidian comes with a lifetime warranty.
Buy it now from Amazon
Wichard offshore knife
I love this knife. It given to me as a gift over 10 years ago and it’s still sharp and still a reliable tool that I keep by my chart table.
It features a marline spike, bottle opener and shackle key as additional tools to the 7.5cm-long blade. The body glows in the dark which can make it easy to find or a fun way to have a potentially lethal glow stick party if you’re an old school raver like me with a black light. Anyway I digress.
The chunky plastic handle is utilitarian rather than showy It’s clearly tough, but unlike some knives on test, has no sharp or jutting edges that might mark
chart or saloon tables. There is a lanyard hole for this 132g model. I made my own lanyard out of a bit of cord.
It’s quite a tight opening which can mean gripping it to open with cold hands is a bit difficult. To close the knife you have to half pull out one of the other tools.
The knife is pretty good, though as it’s serrated it is trickier to sharpen.
Wichard have updated this knife to integrate the shackle key with marlin spike which lightens the tool by having a bit less metal on it.
Price £46 / $43
Buy Wichard offshore sailing knife from Amazon UK
Buy Wichard Offshore Sailing Knife from Amazon USA
Although the Leatherman Wave has become popular with sailors for its wide and well-judged array of tools, for price reasons we chose a relatively conservative multi-tool, the Leatherman Fuse, with only 12 features additional to the knife.
It has a lanyard that needs to be deployed from within the body, but the 170g weight of the Fuse means you would not want it dangling too loosely around your person – better in a pocket.
The 6.8cm locking blade was extremely effective and easily deployed from within the Fuse’s body, not from the outside as on some other Leatherman models.
It sliced through all our ropes and the webbing without any problem. With pliers, wire stripper, three screwdrivers, scissors and a bottler opener, this multi-tool would cater for a lot of jobs on board with aplomb.
With none of the tools on the outside, you need both hands to use the Fuse, perhaps not ideal at sea, but the design was straightforward and all the tools easily accessible. The stainless steel body looks slippery but the Fuse fits nicely in the palm and even when wet offers solid grip. It comes with a 25-year warranty.
Buy it now from Amazon
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