Since its debut in 1998 Leatherman’s Wave Multitool has, for good reason, been the company’s best-selling model. The New Wave, its latest addition to the line, is even better. Its made from high-quality stainless steel with an improved type of 420 high-carbon stainless for the blades that hold their edge better than regular stainless. The New Wave Multitool is well designed, smartly engineered and durable enough to perform well on commercial ships and yachts alike. However, the New Wave’s killer feature, and the reason we recommend it over solid competitors is that both the knife and serrated blades are on the outside allowing fast and simple deployment in an emergency.
I don’t believe a multitool is necessarily your best option on a boat and you can save money with a good folding knife, but at an Amazon.com price of $60, you can’t go wrong buying Leatherman’s New Wave.
Years ago, after graduating from a maritime academy, I reported to my first day of work and could not find the knife I had packed somewhere near the bottom of my overstuffed sea bag. Later that day, the bosun asked me to cut a length of line. Discovering I lacked the proper tools, he said in a rough curt voice burnt by decades of cigarettes and coffee, “A sailor without a knife is like a prostitute without a #%@*, useless!”
The bosun lacked tact, but he was right. A knife is a sailor’s most important tool, and one he should never be without. A veteran of the Korean War and countless North Atlantic winter crossings, the bosun was an expert on knives and always carried three — a sheathed fixed blade, a serrated folding blade and a multitool he had personally handcrafted in the ship’s machine shop. Today, fixed-blade knives are mostly banned from commercial ships (they were also banned then, but no one dared call the bosun on it), so we are left with two options — a folding knife and a multitool.
A good marine knife should be stainless, sharp, durable, quick to deploy and a joy to carry. Many good multitools share most of these features though I’ve yet to find one with a blade large enough to be both useful and a joy to carry. The tools are relatively heavy, thick, cumbersome, and beg to be carried in a belt holster, not in your pants pocket.
I rarely carry a multitool. When I served on large ships, I always reported to work with a knife, a flashlight, a pen, paper and a pair of channel locks. I also occasionally needed a screwdriver, but only rarely since most things are bolted, not screwed, aboard ships. I never I was missing a multitool. Our suggestion is to save your money and buy the best folding knife but, if a few extra dollars are burning a hole in your pocket, we recommend buying Leatherman’s New Wave.
As with most multitools, the New Wave houses a few items, like a saw blade, of little use aboard a boat. But you will also find must-have features that could save your hide in a pinch. The most important is quick and easy knife access. Because its four key blades are housed on the outside, they can be deployed with a quick flip of your thumb — a critical feature if you ever find yourself tangled in a line.
I have owned six different multiblade knives during the past ten years, but from the day I bought it, the Wave became my favorite. I like the New Wave even better.
There are two things I don’t especially care for about the New Wave. First is that it’s too heavy and bulky to keep comfortably in a pants pocket. Since I’ve never been a fan of belt holsters, the only times I carry the Wave on deck are when I wear a jacket with deep pockets. More troubling is that the straight and serrated blades look and feel nearly identical while they are closed, the only difference is a few small groves on the backside of the serrated blade.
This means that if I need to quickly extend the serrated edge, which is preferable for cutting line, in an emergency, I only have a 50-percent chance of selecting it without taking a few seconds to look. This is an annoying, potentially dangerous, design glitch that can only be overcome by training yourself to feel for the small grooves while unsheathing the knife.
A final challenge for any multitool is that shipboard use is hard. With so many separate tools cleverly crammed into a small chassis, something is bound to break or fail after a few months of rough service. This is why it’s important to buy a tool backed by an excellent, low-hassle warranty. In the ten years I’ve owned a Wave, I sent it in for service four times. Three times were due to a chipped blade, bent pliers and a broken screwdriver. Each time, Leatherman fixed the problem for the cost of postage.
The fourth time came after I lost the knife in the bottom of a deck locker, where for two months it swam in a pool of salt water. When I found it, a layer of rust covered most of its tools and the blades were dull and unserviceable. I fully expected Leatherman to tell me to go-fish. Instead, the company removed most of the rust and replaced the blades free of charge.
We suggest you save your money and instead purchase a better folding knife but if you have extra cash burning a hole, or don’t mind carrying around a big chunk of steel in your pocket then the Leatherman New Wave Multitool is your best option.