Safety in Hand
Safety in Hand
Some offshore races are now requiring knives on deck and worn by each crewmember, so if a personal safety knife isn’t already in your sea bag, it’s time to blade up. "Gear" from our May 2012 issue.
There is no survival tool older or more utilitarian than a knife. Prehistoric man survived thanks to crude versions of them, pirates used and abused them, and today dinghy sailors to professional ocean racers are required to carry them. So, you’ll likely need one this season, if you don’t have one already. Search the Internet and you’ll discover plenty of makes and models, but the challenge in selecting one for personal use is that there’s no such thing as the perfect knife. Selecting the most appropriate knife comes down to individual choice, environment, type of boat, and your expected use.
The requirement of a cockpit knife has always existed for most offshore and inshore races sailed under the ISAF Special Regulations. Regulations usually require a knife to be kept in the boat’s safety grab bag as well. These rules mandate the on-deck knife be accessible, secure in its scabbard, and made of a quality steel alloy that can withstand environmental abuse. In 2011, however, several studies conducted following two high-profile accidents each recommended all sailors carry a personal knife. Consequently, the 2012 Mackinac [Race] Safety Requirements (MSR), used for the Chicago-Mac and Bayview-Mac races now require every crewmember to carry a knife while on deck, and always readily available (i.e., on the outside of your gear or PFD). None of the regulations, however, require a specific type of knife.
There are three primary types of knives applicable for sailing—the folding-blade style, the straight-blade style, and the emergency cutter. Blade sharpness is obviously the key consideration with all three types. Wear-ability is next. Consider whether it can be worn safely all the time, yet readily available. A knife’s functionality is defined by its intended use: Do you need a pointed 5-inch razor-sharp blade or a multipurpose blade that’s safer to handle in extreme conditions?
In terms of blade construction, steel quality and type is the most important variable. Most modern blades are steel alloys, primarily iron alloyed with different unique elements (i.e., carbon for strength or chromium for corrosion resistance). For the short-blade knives that are recommended for racing sailors, a harder rather than softer alloy is better because it will be more resistant to wear, and thus require less frequent sharpening. Many knives are treated with different elements or polish techniques that can improve strength and/or corrosion resistance, and the complexity of treatments ultimately dictates the knife’s price.
A serrated knife has a blade edge that acts like saw teeth when cutting. This makes it very effective for ripping through tough materials such as high-tech rope or a nylon tether. Many knives have a blade with serration along the throat-half of the blade while the tip portion is straight edge, which makes for a more effective swipe or cut. Note that sharpening a serrated knife involves a special sharpener and a lot more time, as you need to sharpen each serration individually.
Blunt-tip knives are intended to make a knife “safer” to handle. A pointed tip is a potential hazard in rough conditions, and is not ideal for youth sailors for obvious reasons. A blunt tip makes most sense if you expect to have the knife at hand by yourself or others, or around materials you don’t want to cut—like an inflatable PFD or sail.
One-handed operation of a folding knife, combined with innovative lock mechanisms to keep the blade open, is an essential feature, especially when you need one hand to steady yourself on the boat, up the rig, or in the water. There are many brands and models from which to choose, but the key thing to look for is how you can attach it to your gear: a belt attachment, a sturdy clip or eye, or all three. A lanyard is essential.