A multitool is a toolkit in your pocket for when you need it the most. We put some popular models to the test
The multitool is as synonymous with the sailing world as salmon coloured smocks are to fishermen. As I regularly travel around with just hand luggage I am not able to travel with my own for security reasons I often rely on those loaned to me on the boat I’ve landed on.
Over the years I’ve coveted quite a few of those little treasures handed to me as we attempt to make running repairs with just the small device proffered from someone’s belt holster.
These aren’t really designed to replace full sized tool kits, but are the thing you reach for in an emergency when speed, agility or plain convenience is what you need the most.
There are so many multitools suitable for boating to choose from and all have different features and uses. Some are also better for sailors than others, so we selected a few popular models to see how they cope with life on board to find the best multitool for sailors.
Note: Under Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, it is illegal to carry a folding knife with a blade longer than 7.62cm (3in) in public without good reason. See more on knife law at the bottom of this feature.
Best multitools at a glance
The best multitool for boating: 10 tested
Best for powering through tough jobs
Specifications: Make: Gerber | Model: Dual Force | Weight: 310g | Blade length: 74mm | Closed length: 115mm | Locking blade: Yes | Features: 12 | Singlehanded use: Yes
Reasons to Buy: Powerful adjustable hex pliers | Useful array of tools | Good quality build
Reasons to Avoid: A little heavy | The pliers aren’t designed for dainty tasks
This multitool has four swivel out tools: a sharp smooth blade, a wood saw blade, a file and a centre drive screw driver. The main tool is the multi grip powerful pliers/jaws that can be butterfly revealed.
These are the biggest and most powerful pliers available in a multitool that we know of.
The centre drive screwdriver takes standard bits and with it’s central position, you can really get some force behind it. Obviously you wouldn’t want to be doing a massive job with this as you’re hand would become sore after a while but the balance and position of tools offered make this a really useful bit of kit to have in your inventory.
It comes with a decent belt holster too.
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Best on test
Read our hands on test review of the Gerber Center-Drive Multitool
Specifications: Make: Gerber | Model: Centre-Drive / Center-Drive | Weight: 265g | Blade length: 74mm | Closed length: 116mm | Locking blade: Yes | Features: 16 | Singlehanded use: Yes
Reasons to Buy: Excellent single-hand action | Can direct plenty of force through screws
Reasons to Avoid: Need to ensure the carbide blade remains salt-water free
Spring-loaded needle nose pliers that slide out of the mutltitool with a single handed action. I’ve used these up a mast and balanced precariously on the end of a boom fishing out a bit of trapped reef line. These are really really handy pliers!
Tucked near the pivot of those pliers is a rotatable carbide wire cutter, which is pretty handy too.
The center drive arm rotates to allow a more natural and direct force behind screws. Rather usefully it takes standard sized bits too, so it’s versatile.
Tucked away inside there’s a pry bar, nail puller and awl. So levering off that tin of paint or jabbing a hole in a tin was never so easy. In the rotate out tools, there’s a fine, coarse sided file a serrated blade and a smooth toughened blade. That smooth toughened blade is easy to sharpen and maintain. Though do keep an eye on making sure you don’t leave salt water all over it, it won’t like it.
Gerber Center-Drive deals
Leatherman Wave LT650
Specifications: Make: Leatherman | Model: Wave | Weight: 241g | Blade length: 72mm | Closed length: 100mm | Locking blade: Yes | Features: 17 | Singlehanded use: Yes
Reasons to Buy: Plenty of locking blade options | Excellent wood saw in particular
Reasons to Avoid: Scissors can become damaged when folding
This knife has four main blades: straight, serrated, wood saw, and metal saw with coarse and fine files, all of which can be locked open.
The wood saw was easily the best on test and ferociously sharp. Both cutting blades can be opened singlehanded.
It has good needlenose pliers, with wire cutters and strippers incorporated into them.
There’s a small reversible screwdriver fitting for flat/cross head screws (other bits are available) as well as a fine reversible screwdriver.
Care needs to be taken folding the scissors; they can be easily damaged.
There’s a lanyard loop, but using it impedes the screwdriver.
Currey Lockspike Captain
Best budget buy
Specifications: Make: Currey | Model: Lockspike | Weight: 140g | Blade length: 62mm | Closed length: 93mm | Locking blade: No | Features: 4 | Singlehanded use: No
Reasons to Buy: Relatively inexpensive | Stainless steel holds up well to salt water
Reasons to Avoid: Fewer instruments than others on test
A good, solid – and weighty – traditional knife.
There are four knives in the range, each offering different features based around the original 1940 Lockspike Bosun design.
We tested the Lockspike Captain, which has a straight unserrated blade, a shackle key/ bottle opener and an excellent marlinspike that locks open – great for when you’re trying to prise open a really tight knot.
Its all-stainless- steel construction fared the best in the saltwater test.
The curved marlinspike makes the top of the handle when using the knife. It comes with a neat knotted lanyard.
The fastening loop on the knife locks the marlinspike.
Gerber Bear Grylls compact
Specifications: Make: Gerber | Model: Bear Grylls Compact | Weight: 85g | Blade length: 45mm | Closed length: 64mm | Locking blade: No | Features: 10 | Singlehanded use: Yes
Reasons to Buy: Super-small and lightweight
Reasons to Avoid: Feels a little flimsy | No locking blades
With the feel more like a novelty toy than a multitool, we were surprised how useful this little multitool could be.
It’s not the most robust of tools so don’t expect too much from it; our heavy-handed test team managed to bend the pliers while testing.
The screwdrivers were easy to use but the chassis of the tool twisted as we used them. The small blade handled the thinner rope well but had a harder job with thicker line.
It is, however, very compact and although small, the blades worked well.
None of the blades locked, so you’re free to carry the knife in your pocket with impunity, as long as you don’t try flying with it.
This is a handy tool to have with you to sort out small problems, but don’t give it too much to take on.
Specifications: Make: Wichard | Model: Offshore – single blade | Weight: 85g | Blade length: 80mm | Closed length: 115mm | Locking blade: Yes | Features: 4 | Singlehanded use: Yes
Reasons to Buy: Really comfortable grip | Good blade
Reasons to Avoid: Feature-light
Wichard sent us their range of knives (available in many variants and colours), but we lost the Offshore with blade, shackle key and spike version in the River Medina (and it doesn’t float).
The version shown is the single-blade Offshore.
Both blade and spike/ shackle key/bottle opener can be opened singlehanded and lock into place; a button on the top of the handle unlocks each blade – a two-handed operation.
This version had a semi- serrated blade to aid cutting modern UHMWPE ropes.
The grip was comfortable and the best on test.
Not feature laden, but a good simple knife.
Specifications: Make: Victorinox | Model: Angler | Weight: 113g | Blade length: 60mm | Closed length: 91mm | Locking blade: No | Features: 18 | Singlehanded use: No
Reasons to Buy: Plenty of features for the size
Reasons to Avoid: No locking blade | Insides prone to corrosion
The Angler fits easily into a pocket and doesn’t fall foul of the law, so you can keep it with you day in and day out.
It has all the features one would hope to find like various screwdrivers, small pliers, a reamer, bottle opener and a corkscrew.
It features a large and a small blade but like all blades on this knife, none of them lock open, so care is advised while using the reamer, corkscrew and screwdrivers as they can fold while in use.
The blades polished up nicely after its month in a wet ‘pocket’, the interior parts less so.
Not the most robust of knives, but it is small and light enough to be with you all the time.
Victorinox Swiss Champ
Specifications: Make: Victorinox | Model: Swiss Champ | Weight: 185g | Blade length: 60mm | Closed length: 91mm | Locking blade: No | Features: 33 | Singlehanded use: No
Reasons to Buy: Loads of features | Decent wood saw
Reasons to Avoid: No single-hand use | Many features on the small side | No locking blades
I doubt there isn’t a boy scout in the land who wouldn’t swap an armful of badges for this Swiss army knife.
However, what’s good for the Swiss army and boy scouts doesn’t necessarily make a good knife for sailing.
The blades came through the saltwater test shining, but the insides of the knife were less corrosion resistant.
None of blades lock open.
The only time this was a problem was when applying pressure while screwing – the driver blades can fold on to your hand.
The pliers are okay for small jobs but aren’t big.
This knife has all the blades one could wish for, and while it has pliers, we missed a shackle key.
Specifications: Make: Gerber | Model: Crucial | Weight: 142g | Blade length: 58mm | Closed length: 109mm | Locking blade: 91mm | Features: 9 | Singlehanded use: Yes
Reasons to Buy: Compact | Very comfy in the hand | Great single-handed blade opening
Reasons to Avoid: Body flexes under load | Not the best screwdriver head
This Gerber was one of the comfiest knifes to use.
It also had a handy belt clip as well as a built- in karabiner for when you can’t put it down – great if working aloft.
It might not have many features, but it has the basics, and more than others around the same price.
The blade is very easy to access singlehandedly and one of the few possible with gloves on, thanks to the raised nub on the blade.
The pliers weren’t the strongest on test but did a reasonable job.
The tool gave lots of leverage when using the screwdrivers, but the flex was a little disconcerting and the screwdriver tended to strip the screw heads.
Specifications: Make: Leatherman | Model: Sidekick | Weight: 198g | Blade length: 60mm | Closed length: 97mm | Locking blade: Yes | Features: 14 | Singlehanded use: Yes
Reasons to Buy: Feels pleasingly solid in the hand | Very sharp saw blade
Reasons to Avoid: Blades are tricky to access
The polished stainless-steel Sidekick looks the business.
It has two main lockable blades: a straight blade and a wickedly sharp saw. The tool feels solid and you can use it singlehanded, but the blades weren’t the easiest to access.
Unlike the pliers on the Wave, these are spring loaded and easier to use.
There are also wood/metal files and a serrated blade, but all three are shorter than the main blade, making them a little less usable.
It has good range of tools, though some are fiddly to access. It also comes with a karabiner accessory including a hex driver hole and a bottle opener.
Best multitool for boating conclusions
All the multitools had very sharp blades and no one blade stood out for sharpness during the test period.
The only other tool that all the knives had was a bottle opener; we checked these all worked well.
You’ll have to prioritise which tools you want the most and which you will actually use.
The Victorinox Swiss Champ leads the way in the features, possibly too many – which add bulk, and while the blades lasted well in a oilskin pocket, the plates between them showed signs of corrosion.
The Wichard was simple, light and comfortable to use.
The decent lockable marlinspike, proper lanyard and build quality of the the Currey Lockspike Captain feel like the knife will survive for years and be passed from one generation to the next makes it our Best Budget Buy.
The Gerber Crucial offers the basic tools one needs, a fairly reasonable set of pliers and true singlehanded operation of the blade, with the ability to open and unlock with ease.
All this, and good value for money too.
With the exception of the scissors, all the tools feel solid and work well. It is Leatherman’s most popular knife and it’s easy to see why; it has all the tools one actually needs.
An excellent set of pliers and four good, lockable and easy-to- access blades and a variety of screwdrivers and other tools, all ready at a moment’s notice.
How we tested to find the best multitool
No one multitool had the same tools as the next, so we devised a number of challenges typical to those one might find on a fraught voyage with the Yachting Monthly team.
The best knife in the world is no good if you can’t get into it, so all the knives were opened, if possible, with one hand, two hands, bare hands and gloved.
Next, the blades were tested, cutting rope on a flat surface and looped.
Where a knife had a shackle key, this was tested; where it didn’t, we used the tool’s pliers.
All knives had to have one or the other to make our selection.
Screwdrivers were tested by driving brass screws into seasoned pine, with no pilot holes, to assess the tool’s grip on the screw and whether the driver blades would fold in.
Saw blades were tested on a 2in x 2in piece of timber. While the saw blades were short, it was good to see how they would cope in an emergency.
Knives and the law
On a boat, a locking blade is good, but carry a knife with a locking blade around in public in the UK and you could have it confiscated or face a maximum of four years in prison and an unlimited fine.
Under Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, it is illegal to carry a folding knife with a blade longer than 7.62cm (3in) in public without good reason.
Folding knifes with a locking blade are classified as lock knives.
These too are illegal to carry in public without good reason.
While both types are illegal in public, there is the caveat that you can carry a knife if you have a reasonable cause for doing so.
The wording of the law states you can take knives you use at work, to and from work. But there is no mention of use for a leisure activities such as camping, fishing and
I spoke to my local police about this and they said that sailing could be considered good reason, but it would be a decision for the courts.
Interestingly, even if you are using the screwdriver on a multitool with a locking blade in a public place, it is still an illegal weapon.
If, in your haste to make it to the closest pub your knife is still in your pocket and you are stopped by the police and searched, you are neither on your way to work nor in the act of perusing a hobby – so be wary.
However, if you are going to or from your car from your boat, it’s more likely for a court to consider this a good reason.
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