Posted by: towmasters | June 5, 2010

Knives!? We Don’t Need No Stinking Knives!

This is one of those “stop the madness” moments that comes along periodically, so I have to take advantage of it. Starting last fall I ran a 3-part series (Part I, Part II & Part III) on the numerous types of knives that may be useful to working mariners, along with various sharpening implements to keep them sharp and functional. Knives are one of the oldest known tools invented by humans, and have been carried and used by seafarers for as long as we’ve been putting to sea. We need knives, and they must be kept sharp because a dull knife is ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. Everyone should know this by now…..

During the time that I was writing those posts I found several discussion threads on the gCaptain forums about the fairly widespread company policies in the Gulf of Mexico forbidding the possession of any edged “weapons” on board their boats and drilling rigs. I have to admit I was surprised by this, and also disgusted that the state of affairs for seamen had gotten so bad that we were now being systematically stripped of one of our most useful and traditional tools in the name of safety. “What the hell is the matter, has everyone lost their minds?”, I thought.

Since then there’s been a horrible “accident” in the Gulf of Mexico, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and ongoing oil gusher (the term “spill” is both technically and rhetorically inaccurate) in Mississippi Canyon Block 252, roughly forty miles off the southeast Louisiana coast. In the course of following this tragedy I watched the coverage afforded it by CBS’s 60 Minutes. On their website was a 2:41-long video “extra” that tells in searing detail the recollections of Mike Williams, Deepwater Horizon‘s chief electronics technician, who survived the explosion and fire, and was one of the last people to make it off the rig alive. He describes how the last life raft full of survivors almost didn’t escape the burning oil slick under the doomed rig because no one had a knife to cut the sea painter with due to Transocean’s no-knife policy. WTF???!!!

Here it is…..

Yeah, I know that life rafts are supposed to be equipped with knives in their emergency equipment package. Was it missing, or there all along and they just couldn’t find it quickly enough when they needed it? Did they locate it but find it to be useless? Who knows? Given the scale of the disaster I have doubts that this small aspect of it will ever be looked at as closely as it ought to be. Regardless, if most everyone was carrying a knife in their pocket or on their belt someone would surely have remembered it in time. Redundant, back-up safety systems…..

Knives are simply tools that we need to do our jobs and, not least, to potentially save our own lives when things go badly wrong. Like all tools, they can be abused, but that is insufficient reason to do away with them. I’m well aware that sometimes humans hurt themselves, and others, with knives. Most of the time accidentally, but some of the time intentionally. But a no-knives policy for mariners and maritime workers is just stupidity of a higher order than we normally see. I wish the safety manager or management executive at Transocean that dreamed up their policy was in the liferaft that night, experiencing firsthand what happens when you are barred from having the tools you need by people who should but apparently don’t know any better, whose personal physical safety isn’t directly at stake, but are still in important decision-making positions nonetheless. Working on the water is no joke…..and at the risk of sounding extreme I would say that mariners faced with being stripped by company policy of their otherwise-lawful work knives should seriously consider wide-scale “civil” disobedience of those rules. This shows just how far the stupidity has permeated both our society and our profession.

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Responses

  1. Working as a Chief mate aboard tugs, ships and square riggers for many years, I cannot express more strongly the importance of having a good sharp knife on your person at all times. I require all in my crew to have a knife. It can save your life or someone elses as the above video shows. I’ve seen it to be true! I’ve seen things get caught up in lines and you need to cut them away fast or there will be serious consequences. I cannot believe a company would have as part of their policy a no knife policy!

  2. i wouldn’t allow a deckhand to work for me without the proper equipment. especially a good knife.

  3. “No knife” policy, insanity.

  4. One of the only reasons I felt slightly safe at times on my last boat was because I always had my Spyderco Harpy knife clipped to my belt during the day and under my pillow at night. These corporate yahoo policy makers are just crazed.

  5. Didn’t realize idiotic companies had this policy. Have to say, I would ignore it. No way would I go to work without a knife on me. I don’t carry one of those 6 inch ones, but a good ole Buck pocketknife. Its the most useful tool I have.

  6. You work on the water [ or above it – oil platforms ] and you can’t carry a knife ! ?
    Get real , get practical carry a knife.
    Been working on the water since 1974. CG , public sector and back again to the govt.sector. Always carried and still do at work a knife. Its like wearing shoes. You just do.

  7. […] more » […]

  8. The reason they didn’t go for the life raft knife is that it wasn’t in their muscle memory. There is a reason the military and police train as they fight. In a fear situation, your reasoning and logic shut down. A knife in a kit or an EPIRP on a mast that you’ve heard about just doesn’t make it into your consciousness in an emergency. A knife on your belt or pocket that you’ve handled every day even if it is just to adjust it to be more comfortable will be in your muscle memory. If knives are banned, the idiots imposing such a policy should be required to supply a device such as those for cutting seatbelts but modified for the size of life raft painters to each and every person and require they carry it.

    On board, I had a knife and a flashlight on me at all times or in the clothes I would grab when I awoke.

  9. Another problem is the Horizon had no FRB of it’s own!!

  10. […] […]

  11. When I was in college everyone on campus in a marine licensing program carried a knife. I remember thinking to myself “This must be one of the only schools that doesn’t prohibit students from carrying blades”. That wasn’t just tradition, it was a safety measure when half of the school week was on, in or near the water.

    I’m not sure if that policy has changed with all the new security measures in place around collge campuses but if I am ever restricted from carrying my Spyderco at sea I’ll start sending my resume to Starbucks.

    Half a dozen of my friends work for Transocean and are entrusted with operating multi million dollar exploratory drill ships but are not allowed to carry knives? That is absolutely asinine.

    I think a lot of good things could come out of the intense scrutiny the O&G industry in the GOM will undergo in the next few months. I pray that one result will be the realization that when you try and take all the risk out of seafaring with robust and voluminous safety managment systems you may actually end up endangering those that have to live with the system.

    Writing, delgating, enforcing and auditing SMS policies has created a lot of jobs ashore but let us not forget who pays the price when the system becomes unreasonable in the name of risk reduction.

  12. […] Protect us from those who would protect us from ourselves: In the course of following this tragedy I watched the coverage afforded it by CBS’s 60 Minutes. On their website was a 2:41-long video “extra” that tells in searing detail the recollections of Mike Williams, Deepwater Horizon‘s chief electronics technician, who survived the explosion and fire, and was one of the last people to make it off the rig alive. He describes how the last life raft full of survivors almost didn’t escape the burning oil slick under the doomed rig because no one had a knife to cut the sea painter with due to Transocean’s no-knife policy. WTF???!!! […]

  13. As a scuba diver and a swift water rescuer, a knife is considered part of your gear. Silly to be without one.

  14. A knife is just a tool, but The Delusional mindset is shamanistic and attributes magical qualities to things they hate. Of course, that knife is going to jump up and stab you! Or rot your mind so you go beserk!

    My summer fiun is yacht racing. I can think of at least three deaths which can be directly attributed to the lack of a knife, and one of them was a child *who had been forbidden* to carry the knife he usually kept in his gear.

    In the meantime, this:
    http://www.botachtactical.com/benreshook.html

    does not *look* like a knife and is almost as useful. Especially as it has a bottle opener built in!

    My daily carry is one of these:
    http://www.crkt.com/KISS

    About 30 years ago, one day, I found myself kneeling on the port-side hull of a 33 foot sailboat, hanging onto the lifelines, from the outside. It was a wicked broach and the masthead was in the water. The main was pinned to weather by a preventer (rigged to stop the main gybing by accident). I had to cut the stopper knot off the end of the line.

    Damn, it is HARD to open a pen-knife with your teeth. From that day forward, my requirement for a carry knife has always been that you can pull it out and it’s ready or you can open it *with one hand*. For a long time, I carried a small fixed-blade (much like the Becker Remora, but a little shorter). I lost it. I think someone stole it! Replaced it with the KISS.

    I must admit I kinda like freaking out someone every once in a while by being able to reach into a pocket and open a package while they are still thinking about what to use to do that!

    And wouldn’t a knife come under the Second Amendment, if you happen to be in the USofA??

  15. My heart goes out to the men on the Deep Horizon and their families. I have carried a pocket knife with me for the last 45 years, since I was a kid. I have also started carrying a small flashlight as well. It is always better to have it and not need it rather than need it and not have it. I pray that as a nation we can regain the common sense that we seem to have lost over the last few decades or we are fools.

  16. […] the afore-mentioned blogging seafarer also just commented on my last post about Transocean’s moronic no-knife […]

  17. […] […]

  18. wow… the great post today. thank you.

  19. my uncle once cut himself and a crewman out of the command and control center on a DE after a kamikaze attack in the pacific.

  20. […] by preventing them from cutting the rope that attached the life boat to the drilling rig. Details here, from Towmasters. Some additional details here from the 1:30 p.m. report by the New Orleans […]

  21. […] For Mariners: A Clarification On June 5th I posted about the trouble that survivors from the Deepwater Horizon disaster had during their evacuation of […]

  22. […] by preventing them from cutting the rope that attached the life boat to the drilling rig. Details here, from Towmasters. Some additional details here from the 1:30 p.m. report by the New Orleans […]


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