There are circumstances that you might find yourself in where the ability to literally “cut yourself loose” in a hurry might be highly desirable. Sometimes, during ship assist/escort work, the pilot will go too fast, which can sometimes cause the tug to start “climbing” up the ship’s hull. If you’ve never experienced this I assure you that it can be quite frightening. Or maybe your tow is sinking on you fast and you’ve got to let it go. Whatever the cause, the crew must be properly equipped to respond.
Conventional procedure is that, in an emergency, you either slip your ship line or cut it with a fire axe. Presumably, you’re in an extremis situation by then so the decks may be tilted considerably as well as wet (or icy) and slippery. Depending on the circumstances, slipping it may be both very difficult and dangerous as the deckhand runs a considerable risk of getting caught up in the line as it runs out under heavy tension. Or it could have been made off incorrectly and pinched or jammed on the H-bitts. Cutting it with an axe may sound good in theory but may be nearly impossible to do in practice. To do it requires having the room and the angle for a clean swing and hitting it forcefully and accurately with a reasonably sharp axe against the main H-bitt, the rail or something else solid. Otherwise it’s likely to bounce off and hit the person swinging it. Then there’s the issue of sharpness. An axe kept out on deck, even if occasionally inspected and greased, will invariably rust unless exceptional care is given to it. Will you have a sharp tool to work with when you need it? Don’t bet on it. So the two standard options may not work and no one I know ever offered an alternative. The obvious answer that I arrived at many years ago was to use a knife. Not just any old knife, but an exceptionally sharp, specially-serrated monster that is designated for emergency use only, no exceptions. It has to be wicked shahp, as they say in New England (Cali translation: hella sharp).
Say hello to my little friend!
Behold the Dexter-Russell tiger edge slicer with an 8-inch stainless blade and a comfortable soft-grip handle (Model #SG142-8TE).
The blade is very flexible and, as you can see, wicked shahp! Dangerously sharp, in fact.
So I also recommend the matching plastic scabbard. You definitely don’t want anyone waving one of these around in the liferaft.
As a deckhand I always kept it attached to the front of my lifejacket or on my belt whenever we did a ship job. I felt much more secure knowing that I could cut us loose quickly if it ever came down to it. Fortunately, it never did. It’s also a great deck knife for general cutting of the larger lines when splicing or making fenders, and makes short work of spectra too. But I always kept another one around for utility use. The emergency-only knife was kept razor sharp and oiled, on permanent standby for a potentially life-or-death moment. Anyone with a commercial fishing background has doubtlessly used D-R knives before as they’re a staple item on virtually every boat. That’s because they work well and are affordable.
You can get them directly from Dexter-Russell. I prefer the white-handled version because it’s easier to see if you drop it on the deck, but they now make them with a black handle if you prefer. At $24.10 for either one the price is reasonable. The white plastic scabbard costs $8.45 and is worth it to prevent an accidental stabbing and to protect the blade from damage.
A quick internet search turned up the white-handled version and sheath for just $18.95 and $7.95 respectively at the C.A.D. Cutlery Co., so shop around a little.