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A knife is also the most important survival tool, next to knowledge. If you are suddenly thrown into a situation where you have to survive in the elements until you can be rescued or until you can find your way back to civilization, you need a good knife. A knife will enable you to make tools that will aid you in making a fire, securing food, making a shelter, making an improvised crutch and any number of other necessities. It will also provide a measure of self defense as well as a means of making other weapons, such as a spear. A knife is better than nothing when attacked by a bear or mountain lion, but a six foot wooden shaft with a sharpened end would afford a better chance of fending him off while keeping him from reaching you with those sharp claws and teeth. A knowledgeable person with a reasonably strong knife can make an amazing assortment of survival tools and therefore stands a better chance of surviving.
In my opinion, anyone engaged in any outdoor activity should have a knife with them. Boating is no exception. Wherever there are boats, there is rope, cord and bungee cord that may need to be cut. And if you are a fisherman, there is also fishing line.
In addition to the utility uses for a knife, there are more serious situations where a knife might save your life. In the event you happen to capsize in rough water or in a fast moving river and get tangled up in rope, cord, fishing line or even your PFD hung up on a part of the boat, a knife may be the only way to free yourself before you drown. In situations like this, things happen quickly and there is little time to try to untie or untangle a cord that is holding you under water.
I personally carry four knives when kayaking; a small pocket knife in my left front pants pocket for utility use, a large folding knife with a locking blade and a pocket clip in my right front pants pocket, a neck knife around my neck and a sturdy folding knife with a locking blade in my survival kit.
My philosophy for carrying so many is: (1) It is always possible to lose a knife, (2) If you are in a emergency situation and you only have one knife, you may not be able to access it. For example, if you are hanging upside down in your capsized boat and your knife is in the bottom of your front pants pocket, you may not be able to get to it. Also, you have to consider the possibility of one of your hands/arms being injured or tangled in cord making it difficult or impossible to reach your only knife. (3) It's better to have multiple knives in different locations so that you can reach at least one of them. It is also preferable to have one knife that can be reached with either hand, which is the advantage of the neck knife.
It is much faster to pull a fixed blade knife from its sheath than it is to open a folding knife, especially if you only have one hand available. And being in a stressful situation like the one above, there is a good possibility of losing your grip on a folding knife while trying to retrieve it from a pocket and open it under water.
I have carried a neck knife for years. It is light weight and comfortable to wear, either under your clothing or on the outside. It can be accessed equally by either hand and, because it is a fixed blade design, it doesn't require the blade to be opened before use.
The knife I carry is made by Smith & Wesson. They make it in two different blade styles; a modified tanto with a black oxide finish and a clip point with a bead blasted satin finish. The overall length is 7" with a 3" blade and a weight of .91 ounce. The knife is a full tang steel with a skeleton pattern to minimize the weight and to provide a better grip. An indexing notch is cut into the top of the blade for the thumb and another on the bottom for the index finger. These allow for a better grip and also to help keep your hand from slipping up on the blade when the knife is wet. The sheath is made of molded zytel and it incorporates a notch that mates with a protrusion on the handle of the knife to form a secure locking mechanism. The knife locks securely in the sheath simply by pushing it hard enough to open the form fitting notch. To remove the knife from the sheath, you simply get a good grip on the handle and give it a yank. There is no strap or thumb break to get in the way. When it's locked in the sheath, there is no way that the knife will accidentally fall out.
The knife comes with a black ball link chain which is comfortable to wear. The chain can be replaced with para-cord if you prefer. The knife and sheath are impervious to water, although it's a good idea to rinse them off after exposure to salt water and to blow the water out of the sheath before storage.
The Smith & Wesson neck knives have several features that make them a good all around boating knife. They have a sturdy enough blade for most applications and they are reasonably sharp. They are waterproof and easy to maintain. The one feature that Smith & Wesson knives have that no other neck knives have is that they have a whistle molded right into the end of the sheath where the chain is attached. The whistle is the type that does not have a pea and therefore it is also waterproof. Not only is the knife readily accessible to either hand, but the whistle is too.
I have carried my knife for years as a backup defense weapon. When I first bought it, I thought that the whistle was kind of silly because I did not expect to need a whistle on my knife sheath. Needless to say, that was before I bought a kayak. Now I realize that getting a whistle as an added bonus to a great knife is a good thing. A whistle isn't something that I would buy or carry as a rule, but since it came with my knife, I don't mind having it along. After all, I'm sure that someone would hear that a lot further away than they would hear me yelling for help.
Another advantage of these knives is that they cost much less than comparable knives. They retail for about $25 and they can be found at knife shops or on the internet. (Search Smith & Wesson neck knives)
Both blade styles of the S & W knives are functional, but the clip point blade is probably the better choice for general use. It has a thicker blade than the tanto and therefore it is probably more durable. The tanto blade is designed more for self defense and it has a thin cutting edge that would probably chip or break under normal use. Of the two knives, the clip point would definitely be the best for an actual survival situation.
There are many knife manufacturers who produce neck knives; some are good designs and some are not. Some models are designed strictly for self defense and have odd shaped blades with little utilitarian potential, while others have inferior sheath designs. The Smith & Wesson knives have conventional designs that are well suited for utility purposes as well as for self defense.
All things considered, the Smith & Wesson neck knives are a handy accessory for the paddler. Just put it on when you head out and forget about it. It's always there when you need it. And you never know when it might just save your life.