The Sailing Knife

I think it is the idea of traveling around the globe is what brings a certain mystique to the sailing knife. When I come across an old sailing knife I try to imagine who might have used it, where they may have gone, what they may have been through. When getting a new one I wonder where it may go, what it maybe called upon to do and how other like-minded souls will put it through its paces and test the steel of its blade and spike. The sailing knife just seems to naturally exude adventure and daring unlike that of any other knife.

What is a sailing knife? It is a knife designed for use onboard a boat or ship, especially a sailing vessel; with a primary purpose to cut line, untie knots or any other day to day job while at sea. While I’m primarily interested in the traditional folding "rigger" this site will look at the variety of knives used by people who spend their lives on or around a body of water. The sailing knife goes by several names, some you may have heard, while others may seem obscure. Here are some of the more popular terms:

  • Rigger, Rigging Knife
  • Clasp Knife (1,2 or 3 piece)
  • Mariner's
  • Rope Knife
  • Marlin Spike Knife, Spiker
  • Sailor's Knife, Sailor's Jack
  • Sailing Tool
  • Yachter, Yachtsman
  • Boater, Boat Knife
  • Off Shore Tool or Knife
  • Bos'n's, Bosun's, Boatswain's Knife
  • Shackler
  • Whaler

Most modern sailing knives can trace their roots back to the British Pattern 6353/1905 clasp knife that was adopted for service use in 1905. This was a large frame (almost 5 inches/ 120 milimeter) knife with a large spear blade, small punch and very intimidating marlin spike. The 6353/1905 pattern knife is itself similar to early rigging knives used in the 19th century. One specific variation seems to have been adopted for American Maritime service in 1942. Still other versions were adapted and modified for the civilian market. Despite the adaptions one thing remaned universal; the famiiar Z pattern the knife make when the main blade and marlin spike are moved to the half open position.

To get a better understanding of the type of sailing knives choose The Sailing Family from the table of contents on the left.

Rigging knives

From top to bottom:

  • WS&B -- British Pattern 317 Clasp Knife (1943)
  • Rough Rider -- RR577, Marlin Spike (U.S. Navy Pattern, Modern)
  • MS Ltd. XX -- Canadian MoD Clasp Knife based on the 6353 pattern clasp knife (1948-1953)
  • Myerchin -- P300, Working Tool (Civilian, Modern)

This site was updated in October 2021. Primary changes involved correcting grammar, spelling, and removing inaccurate or out of date information.