[September 5th 2014: We have conducted a second extensive review of folding knives after readers have suggested new models from Myerchin, Boye and Opinel. While certain knives from each company tested very well (The Boye Boat Knife and Myerchin,Captain Pro stood out as favorites winning second and third place respectfully) our favorite knife continues to be Spyderco’s Atlantic Salt. We have also expanded this review to include knives with Marlinespikes and have selected the Spyderco Tusk as the best knife in this new category.]
If a sailor wanted to buy the best knife for seafarers I would highly recommend Spyderco’s Atlantic Salt. The Atlantic Salt is a big improvement over my previous favorite knife, Syderco’s Assist, with better rustproofing and a tighter design. Even better, you can get it for only $72.89 on Amazon today. There are bigger and badder knives out there, but for my money Spyderco’s Atlantic Salt is the safest and most reliable boating knife on the market.
What Makes A Good Knife
All sailors know that tools and equipment aren’t made equal. Even more, there aren’t floating hardware stores out at sea that we can use to replace broken equipment. So for me, the most important thing about the tools I use is reliability, and this is where the Atlantic Salt delivers most. Another important consideration is safety. With unavoidable uncertainty of sea life, having a knife that won’t injure you or your fellow sailors is essential. The Atlantic Salt’s sheepfoot blade will keep you from cutting yourself open while working in pitching seas.
Why The Atlantic Salt Is My Pick
Quite simply, the Spyderco Atlantic Salt is the safest, most durable and easy to use knife for sailors.
Let’s start with the most important part of the knife, the blade. Spyderco has outfitted the Atlantic Salt with start of the art non-rusting H1 steel. The H1 steel separates the Atlantic Salt from other knives, as it’s a precipitation-hardened steel that contains nitrogen instead carbon in its steel matrix, which cannot rust. As a result, the blade does not require heat treatment and gets harder and tougher with use. I haven’t had to put a drop of oil on my blade and it’s still rust free. Additionally, all the other steel components of the Atlantic Salt have been specially treated to make them impervious to rust and pitting, making it the perfect knife for fresh and salt water.
And even better, you have the Spyderco brand standing behind your blade. Spyderco has free sharpening for life and a broken blade will never cost you more than $25 to replace. It’s also fairly easy to keep sharp using a leather strop.
Like I mentioned before, the Atlantic Salt’s sheepfoot blade allows for safe, efficient cutting in difficult conditions. It features a hollow-ground serrated edge (SpyderEdge) blade. If you ever find yourself needing to cut yourself free from a tangle of line, the sheepfoot blade will prevent you from cutting yourself along with the rope. If you look closely at our image of the knife, you can see the ridges on the back of the blade and again on the front of the handle. With the Atlantic Salt, you can open the blade just enough to get a line in, and then squeeze the blade against the handle to very safely cut the line. And if the knife ever hits the deck, you won’t ever have to worry about piercing your foot. It also comes in handy when you’re trying to cut really close to something fragile.
It is said that the sheepfoot blade actually originated with sailors because commanding officers didn’t want their crew carrying around pointed when blowing off steam in port after months at sea. So, sailors looking for a weapon to protect them in the dark alleys of a foreign port should look elsewhere, as the Atlantic Salt was designed to save lives, not take them.
In addition to the great blade, the Atlantic Salt is incredibly safe and easy to use. With its molded fiberglass reinforced nylon handle and Volcano Grip pattern, the knife is easy to grip with wet hands or with gloves on. It also comes equipped with a reversible titanium pocket clip for right or left-handed use. The knife also has a high-strength back lock mechanism with David Boye Dent that ensures safe, secure blade lock-up. You can also store the knife very inconspicuously in your pocket.
I recommend threading a thong or lanyard cord through the lanyard hole for backup retention around water, because if you drop a knife at sea, it is often lost or irretrievable.
Here are some specs (inches):
- Length: 8.25”
- Closed Length: 4.625”
- Blade Thickness: .125”
- Blade Length: 3.687”
- Cutting Edge: 3.188”
- Handle Material: FRN
- Blade Steel: H1
- Weight: 2.75 oz.
What Do Other People Think of The Atlantic Salt?
For starters, Kevin Kelly, former founding editor of Wired and author of What Technology Wants featured the Atlantic Salt on his Cool Tools blog and included this glowing review from reader John Brown:
“I Work on a tugboat where a sharp knife is important. Rusting is also an issue. I have had my Atlantic Salt model number FRN-C89YL for two years. This knife has not shown any sign of rusting yet. I just bought my second one due to losing the first one.
The H1 stainless steel is amazing. I love this tool.”
And even better, this knife has twenty-seven reviews on its Amazon page, twenty-six of them being five star reviews. Here’s a sampling of some of them:
“I am a professional mariner. I manage sailboat races. I purchased one of these knives several years ago replacing a stainless steel knife that lasted the normal 2 years before rusting out. (I’m bad about rinsing things every time I go out)
After more than 3 years, never having been rinsed off and regularly kept in a damp place, there is not one spec of corrosion on this knife.” – J. Zarwell
“This is a real commercial deep-sea dive knife. In the Gulf of Mexico, commercial divers regularly dive to inspect/repair/construct oil platforms. This is the knife that 90% of them carry on their harness.
These divers are not scuba divers. They wear surface supplied gear (heavy helmets with a hose attached to the surface air supply) and dive as deep as 1000′ of sea water.
The Atlantic Salt plain edge or serrated edge models are both common pace among divers. I own 4 various models and colors (black and yellow). The steel used in the salt series is in fact virtually rust proof. Where other steel will rust and seize quickly in the offshore environment, the Spyderco Salts will last a long time if properly rinsed after each dive.” – B.R. Kmack
If you’re looking for crazy tests – like the one’s you see in infomercials, check out this review, which tests the Atlantic Salt on everything from wood to car tires and tomatoes, with incredible results!
Spyderco Builds Boats Too!
If you have any doubts that Spyderco has the experience necessary to build products for the marine environment then check out Sage Marine‘s S17 Pocket Cruiser, a small, safe and seaworthy sailboat built by Gail and Sal Glesser. For thirty years Gail and Sal have operated Spyderco. The Glessers willingness to experiment with and market new and innovative designs make Spyderco a world leader in manufacturing innovative and customer focused products. In 2010 Gail and Sal decided to move their focus from knives to sailboats when they began marketing the Sage 17’s, a modern pocket cruiser coming from a classic design heritage.
At 8 1/4 inches long this is a big with a long blade. The length of the blade is important when cutting line because it gives you more pulling distance and allows you to cut thick rope with fewer strokes of the blade. I wear medium sized gloves and this knife feels good in my hand and, when we asked friends with x-tra large hands to use the knife, they also reported positive results but friends with small sized hands reported that the Atlantic Salt felt cumbersome and too big.
For this reason we recommend that people who wear small or x-small gloves purchase the Spyderco Saver Salt which – with an sheep footing, serration and H1 steal – is a nearly identical knife only smaller. The Saver Salt’s overall length comes in at 7.188 inches… about an inch shorter than the Atlantic Salt. We asked a friend with x-small hands to test the Saver Salt and she reported that it felt comfortable in her hands.
What About A Marlinespike And Shackle Key?
For splicing traditional three strand line you’ll need a traditional marlinespike (unless the rope is brand new and made of synthetic fibers like Nylon which are flexible enough to splice without the use of tools). buts technology improves traditional three strand rope continues to be replaced with exotic fibers like Dyneema and Vectran which require the use of long thin splicing wands (our current favorite is Brion Toss’ Splicing Wand). For this reason we don’t think a marlinespike is absolutely necessary on a modern vessel. A shackle keys, however, might come in handy unless you race sailboats where heavy shackles have been replaced by Dyneema Soft Shackles. For this reasons, and because the added cost of a marlinespike equipped folding knife, we suggest you forgo the extra features and spend your money on a quality knife with only one feature; a killer blade. But, for those readers who work on Tall Ships, or just have extra money to burn, we suggest the Spyderco Tusk, a stainless knife with integrated spike and key.
Sal Glesser first sketched out the Tusk’s unique design in the early 1980’s and more than 25 years later, his son Eric picked up the project and made it a reality. The Tusk’s handle is precision machined from two slabs of solid titanium. One end houses a Plain Edged blade ground from LC 200 N steel—a nitrogen-alloyed tool steel that offers extreme toughness and superior corrosion resistance—and locks open via a sturdy Reeve Integral Lock (R.I.L.) mechanism.
At the other end of the Tusk’s handle is a 300-series stainless steel marlinspike, which features a unique round-to-square cross section for increased leverage when loosening knots. A milled slot in the marlinspike’s body and the gap between it and the handle also serve as shackle keys for unscrewing and tightening threaded shackles. To allow the marlinspike and its shackle key to withstand extreme leverage during use, it locks securely in place with Spyderco’s patented Ball Bearing Lock mechanism containing a special ceramic ball.
A Note On Safety: The TUSK is a straight-edged knife with a pointed tip so we can not suggest it’s use as a safety knife on deck. In our opinion this knife is a working knife, good for everyday tasks on deck but, when the wind starts to pick up or conditions otherwise sour, we suggest you put this knife back into the draw trade it for an Atlantic Salt clipped to your PFD, work vest or harness.
There is obviously more than one knife on the market that can make a sailor happy. But for my money, the great design and ease of use of the Sypderco Atlantic Salt is the best for boaters and professional mariners alike. With the Atlantic Salt, Spyderco has combined amazing blade steel with a sheepfoot folder design that creates a versatile mariner’s knife that is completely at home in fresh or salt water. Spyderco’s knives have long been favored by sailors, and their safe, durable design has been embraced by rescue workers, EMT’s and ranchers all over the world.
For those with small and x-small sized hands we reccomend buying the, nearly identical but smaller, Saver Salt knife and for those looking for an integrated marlinespike and shackle key we suggest the Spyderco Tusk. For those looking for more features read our review titled The Best Multitool Knife.