The Politically Incorrect Blade

John Chatterton Commercial DiverOnce upon a time, I was working as a commercial diver on a job in Newark Bay, in New Jersey. The company I was working for was an established heavy construction company, but this was their first marine construction project. We were installing a gas pipeline from one side of Newark Bay, to the other, it was winter, and I was the first commercial diver the company had ever hired.

Because of pollution concerns around digging into the Newark seabed, they were using directional drilling technology from the oil fields as opposed to just digging a hole and plopping the pipe in it. They were going to drill a hole from one side to the other, and pull the pipeline through it across the bay. Anyway, I had made my first dive for this outfit, and was standing around on deck in my drysuit because the dockbuilders were moving the barges around. One of the barges was being relocated, and the tugs were just getting it underway.

As could be expected with a company new to marine construction, someone was not on the same page as everyone else. One of the drillers had tied a 2" hawser line from an equipment trailer on the departing barge directly to the stabilizer of the crane on the spud barge. As the departing barge was cut free, the line to the crane was missed because there was so much slack it was laying in the water between the barges. As the departing barge is moving off, the offending line starts to tighten, and it is first noticed by the Project Super. He starts yelling, guys are pointing, people are running around, and the now tightening line cannot be untied from the crane stabilizer, and the tug cannot stop the departing barge.

The Dockbuilder Foreman is standing right next to the line, the Super is still yelling, the line is getting really tight, radios are crackling, and the situation is really not good. Something is going to give, either the line, the trailer on the departing barge, or (hopefully not) the crane? The directive is, "Cut the line!! Cut the freaking line!!!", which of course is the correct answer. However, after a pocket check, the next words out of the Foreman's mouth are, "Someone give me a knife??" Now practically all commercial divers and most dockbuilders carry folding knives, but it appeared that no one had an available knife, folding or otherwise, to cut the 2" hawser.

John Chatterton's BFK on legI never liked folding knives for hardhat diving. Everyone from dive school on down had folding knives, even guys I really respected as divers. I often carry a folding pocket knife, but for diving I like big knives, also known affectionately as BFK's, for Big Freaking Knives. BFK's are tools suitable for all sorts of hammering, prying, chiseling, measuring, and cutting stuff that commercial divers, and wreck divers, may need to do. Aside from that, when attached to my thigh, I am able to deploy it quickly and easily, even with cold hands, without the fumbling around necessary to open a folding blade in the water. BFK's have always made sense to me, besides they are sexy. 🙂

Back on the barge as the end of the world is nearing, everyone has their palms to God while I sprint the 10 yards to the crane stabilizer, while pulling my BFK out from the sheath on my thigh. Sliding like I was coming into second base, I place my knife blade to the tensioned 2" hawser line... and it cuts it like a hot knife through butter in two strokes; in about half a second. It was beautiful.

The disaster was averted, and of course the Super wants to know who I am? In 20 years of commercial diving, I never made more money on a job than I did on that one. The Super loved to keep me around. It was all because I had a sharp knife within reach when I needed it.

I still dive with a BFK on my thigh, within reach, and yes, I get lots of kidding about it. References to rogue sharks, Crocodile Dundee, sword fights and all sorts of other good natured teasing are routine with people who do not know, or understand me. If you dive without gloves, and don't touch anything, then you don't need much of a cutting device. However, that is not me. IMHO, wreck diving is a contact sport by its very nature.

BFK's all in a row.  Including the cute blue one...that belongs to MeganDiving the way I do, I prefer a BFK on my thigh for a bunch of reasons. First of all, access is imperative. If you cannot easily access and stow your knife, then you are less inclined to use it. The relationship is directly proportional. Wrecks are full of monofilament fishing lines, trap lines, nets, cables, and all sorts of other potential entanglements. I am inclined to cut anything that poses an entanglement threat, because I keep my knife sharp, and I can deploy and stow it easily, without even looking. I not only regularly cut entanglements, but I do it quickly and easily, usually on the fly. You are welcome. 🙂

Now, some divers carry neat little cutty devices in cute little holsters that may save their lives in an entanglement emergency, but are they easy to use and to stow? Nice for caves, not for wrecks. There are other divers whose knives are stored away like the crap they keep in their basement, just for emergency!! By the way, an emergency is probably not the best time to use something that you never use otherwise.

On more than one occasion, I have gotten a little bit lost out in the sand between wrecks or reefs. On other occasions, I knew where I was but I had to search for something that was lost on a featureless seabed. With my BFK, I can stick it into the sand, tie off my reel, and do a little search pattern. I have also had a problem with sticky shackle pins, or other equipment, that needs a little hammering to make it work right. The anchor chain can sometimes cut into the wreck and on occasion it needs some persuasion to come out so you can go home. I can't do any of that with a little blade suitable for cutting my toenails.

John Chatterton Diving on Andrea Doria with his BFKThe catalogs used to call the BFK a Diver's Tool, because it is so much more than a knife. It can do any number of tasks in the hand of a capable diver. At the same time, I keep it accessible, I keep it sharp, and I keep it busy. The trend is for smaller, lighter, friendlier looking "cutting tools", which is very politically correct, but not necessarily as utilitarian as I prefer. It is not easy to even buy a brand new BFK these days, so I guess I better try not to lose this one???

Honestly, we all know size is not everything, and a BFK is not for everyone. Add to that, what is big to one diver is not necessarily big to another diver? Maybe you have short thighs, or maybe you don't take teasing well? Regardless, whatever you are carrying for a cutting tool, it needs to be sharp, you need to be familiar with it.  Wherever you carry it, it needs to be ready for when you really need it. Feel free to translate this concept into your real life, not just for diving.



18 Responses

  1. [...] Also, my friend John uses a big knife too. Which happens to be the topic of his latest blog. The Politically Incorrect Blade | Shadow Diver | John Chatterton What do you [...]
  2. Timothy Lyons
    Great article about knives! Nowadays the BFK is relatively shunned, but I'm glad to see some actual usage of such a tool (other than making up for shortcomings, that is)
  3. Joseph Rouse
    Good stuff. As a relatively new diver it appears as if BFK are looked down upon. It is good to see someone come to their defense. They are a knife, crowbar, and hammer all rolled into one
  4. Great article John, as usual. To a certain extent the size of the knife doesn't matter, as long it is big enough to do the job at hand and you can reach it either hand. A BFK strapped to your calf isn't that place as far as I am concerned as you won't be able to reach it with the diagonally opposite hand in the same side hand is snagged. In addition, having read the full accident investigation details of a fatality when the BFK snagged the weight-belt as it was ditched during a panicked OOG, it shows that you need to make sure you clear any potential snag hazards wherever you mount your cutting tool. Regards Gareth
    • Should add, that I use a blunt tipped Green River knife mounted on the waist band of my harness which goes through webbing like a very sharp thing (as proved on a recent rescue weekend) as well as a Trilobite cutting tool mounted on the back of my light head
    • John Chatterton
      True, snagging is definitely a consideration for a knife, or any piece of gear, however the panicked OOG event would seem to be the real problem, not the failed emergency response. OOG is totally avoidable, and always accompanied by an uncomfortably high likelihood of a bad outcome. Diver runs out of gas, and something bad happens, is not a unique story line, IMHO. Thanks for the feedback. JC
  5. Simon Gurney
    Well I carry the little bitty 2 blade one mid waist, and the big one inner thigh - mainly for flatties.
  6. Well, you've just managed to convince me to add a BFK to my wreck diving set up.
  7. [...] Also, my friend John uses a big knife too. Which happens to be the topic of his latest blog. The Politically Incorrect Blade | Shadow Diver | John Chatterton What do you use? I carry a [...]
  8. Kevin
    John, how do you mount that blade? I have a nice one, but can't find the "sweet spot" for it. Always looking for good tips and tricks.
  9. Nisbet Patfield
    On a recent trip to Bonaire we were lion fish hunting. After spearing the fish you are meant to dispatch them by sticking them through the head with your knife. At the time every one was using the little knifes that are so popular now. My blade was the new safer flat chisel tip design. Went to stick it through the head which was thick on this large fish.The blade did not penetrate just peeled of some fish skin due to the flat tip. So my hand slipped and I was stung in three places on my hand in ninty two feet of water. So after a short stay in the local hospital. .....My dive buddy found a BFK at one of the local dive shops. Now we both have BFKs. Much safer and boy do they go through fish heads easy. BFKs rule. Nisbet Patfield PADI 299482
  10. Jerry Landrum
    My first knife (1965) was a military bayonet which costs $1.50. I then got a US Divers knife for about $6.00. When upgrading to a more expensive one, I chose one (Buck Nemo) that was so sharp the salesman cut his finger really badly while showing it to me. I have carried smaller knives (secondary) but have always preferred BFKs for all around use. I have never been in a knife fight underwater, but I have used them for cuting lines and ropes, digging, prying, hammering, etc. Now there are places that won't allow any knife to be carried.
    • John Chatterton
      God bless those that can go diving without gloves or knives. I wish them nothing but calm seas, and safe diving. However, that is not the way I dive. :) JC
  11. Sam Moyers
    I'm an "Old School" diver and still carry the king of BFK's the "Wenoka Pro". 8" x 2" x 1/4" blade with a big grip and hammer head on it. Still dive with, because it ALWAYS works and you don't need to open it.
  12. BFK's definitely have their place. Most of my diving is purely recreational shore stuff, and some Open Water classes, so I don't think I've ever felt the need to haul out my gnarly old US Divers "Tool" - but it's good to know it's an option in case of the occasional James Bond Villain assault..... :P
    • John Chatterton
      If you are diving or teaching in the Ocean, and carrying a LTK, I hope it at least is sharp and accessible? :)
  13. […] The diver even used the phrase "Big Freaking Knives" to describe his preferences on a blog post. His name is John Chatterton. He has more than 25 dives, […]
    • John Chatterton
      Jajajaja Stay cool Snowflake. :)
      • In returning to diving after a long departure I was wondering what was up with all those dinky little knifes… I always had a big knife with a heavy striking pomel. When I ordered my custom wetsuit I asked for a bellows pocket on my left thigh and knife pocket on my right thigh and the guy taking my order told me no one dose that any more. And why would you want a knife there anyway…I walked out.
        • John Chatterton
          Jajajajajaja Well, I do not wear a BFK on my thigh. I wear a BFK on each thigh, and I use my knives as tools all the time. The old knife pocket is a long gone artifact of the past. However, I put pockets on the thighs of my suits, makes no difference if it is a wetsuit or dry suit, but if I put the pocket on the side of my thigh, I only glue the pocket to the suit on the sides of the pocket. Then I can slip the knife sheath behind the pocket, held in place with a single bungee at the top of the knife. Is this clear? JC

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