A good set of knives might be even more important in a boat galley than ashore. With fewer prepared foods, I find I do far more chopping, slicing, boning and filleting. And good knives sure make the job easier. But I’ve also found that I’ve added a few criteria for what’s a “good knife” when I think about using it onboard.
I just discovered the Victorinox Fibrox knives and blade covers and love them for use anywhere, but particularly on a boat. What makes them so much better than other knife sets you ask? In two words, features and price. NOTE: I don’t own these, but I’ve used them and they’re what I’d buy if I had it to do all over again.
- Made by the same company that makes Swiss Army knives.
- Sharp cutting edge that can be easily sharpened.
- High quality stainless so the blade won’t be rusting in a saltwater environment (just the salt in the air will quickly dull the edge of a steel knife).
- A non-slip handle so that you’re not likely to drop the knife if your hand’s wet and the boat moves a bit (this was a HUGE problem with the knives I had — if you’re not already living aboard, don’t underestimate this!).
- Well-balanced knives that are well-designed for their intended tasks.
- Priced less than half the price of other “quality” knives (don’t compare the price to the ones in the discount store in a plastic package — those aren’t nearly the quality of these).
- AND a perfect system for storing them in a drawer on a boat — the BladeSafe, shown at right. These can also be used with other knives — more details below.
My choices for a basic set of knives (there are far more sizes available if you’re looking for something else — this is what I’d think of as a good combination to start with):
- Victorinox Cutlery 8-Inch Wavy Edge Bread Knife, Black Fibrox Handle (they also make a 10-1/4″ bread knife, but I find the 8″ blade is long enough and it’s easier to find a place to store it — this is also good for slicing tomatoes)
- My favorite fillet knife (you are going to catch some fish, aren’t you?) is the Rapala Fish’n Fillet — it is wickedly sharp and thin enough to do the job right. It also works well for boning other meat, such as chicken breasts, pork chops and beef. We were given one as a “bon voyage” present, and like it so much that we bought a second one so that we could each be using one at the same time!
My thinking is that it’s not nearly as important to have a huge selection of knives in a variety of sizes as it is to have good knives in a few basic sizes. And with the limited storage space on most cruising boats, it’s even more important. These knives, along with a good sharpener (below) are an excellent core collection.
The only truly safe storage for knives on a boat is in a drawer — and preferably one that locks, with the knives in a sheath that isn’t going to come off accidentally. Knife blocks and magnetic strips simply don’t work to fully secure knives against the motion of the boat, and it is extremely dangerous to have an unsheathed knife flying around the boat in rolly seas or a squall.
That’s why I like the BladeSafe. It has a locking mechanism so it won’t fall off the knife — a problem with using most sheaths (the cardboard sheaths that came with my knives quickly disintegrated in the humidity on board). These were designed for traveling chefs, who need to transport numerous sharp knives. The knives don’t get nicked, the sheaths don’t take up a ton of room, and you don’t get stabbed trying to get one out — or if the drawer opens at a bad time and one flies out. And the BladeSafe is more budget-friendly than a lot of other storage options, at $2 to $6 per knife. It’s made by Victorinox and designed for their knives, but it will work with others as well.
I’m a fanatic about keeping my knives sharp — the BladeSafe definitely helps protect the edges, but you’re still going to have to give your blades a quick sharpening/honing periodically. There are two sharpeners that I like — I’ll tell you the differences and you can make your own choice.
This is a diamond sharpener, and can sharpen serrated blades as well as straight. Most people prefer the “fine” sharpener to the coarse or very fine. Read more about this sharpener and even see a video of how to use it to sharpen a serrated knife.
Diamond sharpeners are “extremely effective” and the problem with them — if you want to call it that — is that you really only need to make one pass or you’ll just be taking off metal without further improving the blade. If you’re used to a traditional steel or whetstone, you have to re-train yourself!
This sharpener is also quite compact (5″ closed), and the folding handles protect the sharpening surface when stored. Instructions are included. It costs about twice as much as the ceramic sharpener below (about $20 vs. $10) — in my opinion, it’s worth it for the smaller size and to be able to sharpen serrated knives but if your budget is more limited, the ceramic is a very good choice.
This ceramic sharpener looks very similar to a traditional sharpening steel and works the same way. It works very well — most people think that it puts a better edge on a blade than a steel. Further, this one is cheaper than most steels and reviewers give it high praise. In case you’ve never sharpened a knife, the Sharp Stick also comes with instructions.
Note that the sharpening rod alone is 8″ long, for a total of about 13″, so make sure you have sufficient room to stow it.
Whichever sharpener you choose be sure to get one to keep your knives in top condition. On board, you’ll be cooking with fewer prepared foods and good knives make the cutting and chopping a breeze.