Best Kayak Fishing Safety Knife? (My #1 Pick)


Best Kayak PFD Knives for Fishing

So, you already know you need a kayak PFD knife when you’re out on the water paddling, but aren’t sure which one to choose? I field-tested a number of knives, and here’s what I found.

The best kayak PFD knife for fishing is the Gerber River Shorty. It’s lightweight and has a handle that fits well in your hand. The grip is indexed better than other knives I tested, so you know exactly where the cutting edge is. Made in the USA, this is the best handling knife to carry on a kayak.

Hey, I bought and tried several other popular kayak knives along with the Gerber River Shorty, and they were all excellent knives. I’ll give you a breakdown below on each of the top four blades, and let you know why I chose the water rescue knife I now carry.

If you’re looking for a Made in the USA kayak PFD knife, the Gerber River Shorty is your go-to blade and the one I’d recommend. It has all the qualities you need in a water rescue knife compared to other knives.

The Gerber Shorty isn’t currently available on Amazon, Bass Pro, NRS, REI, Austin Canoe & Kayak, or other regular sites. You can view similar kayak safety knives here on Amazon or take a quick look at the Gerber.com site to see if one is still available.

Which Water Rescue Knife Made the Cut?

After much review and speaking with other kayakers, these are the four kayak PFD safety knives I chose and tested while paddling on the water.

  • Gerber River Shorty
  • NRS Co-Pilot
  • NRS Pilot
  • Stohlquist Squeeze Lock

Listed in the table below are the basics of each knife for a quick comparison. As you can see, they are some differences in length and weights, and I’d love to be able to take the best attribute of each one and create the perfect kayak knife!

CompanyModelTotal LengthWeight w/Sheath
GerberRiver Shorty6.73″4 oz
NRSCo-Pilot5.75″4.6 oz
NRSPilot7.38″5.5 oz
StohlquistSqueeze Lock6.5″3.3 oz

The Gerber River Shorty Knife is My Top Choice!

Gerber River Shorty Knife
The Gerber River Shorty Knife

Well, after field-testing and using these four knives for several fishing trips, cutting through anchor line and paracord multiple times, the Gerber River Shorty was my top choice, hands down! And here’s why!

There is a lot of moving around with casting and reaching for items in my kayak and probably yours as well. I was looking for a kayak knife that would be out of the way but readily accessible when needed, fit well in my hand, and easily do the job required.

The Reasons I chose the Gerber River Shorty Knife

The River Shorty remained out of the way while fishing. It also attaches nicely to your PFD, can easily be removed and attached to a belt to backpack strap when needed.

The main reasons I chose the River Shorty over the other three water rescue knives I tested – was in the handle!

The handle on the River Shorty is well designed and exceptionally lightweight. What I really liked more about it more than the other knives, was it filled my hand better. The handle is quite a bit wider than the NRS Pilot and Co-Pilot.

The handle is made from glass-filled nylon material and also has notches built into it. The grooves and width allow it to be gripped more securely, in my opinion, than the other three knives.

Another feature of the River Shorty is its excellent indexing. A knife’s index is the ability to hold the knife and know which side of the blade is the cutting edge. There are two extended “bumps” on the bottom of the handle, which quickly tells you where the cutting edge is in relation to your hand.

The stainless steel blade on the Shorty is serrated on one edge, and it cuts through anchor rope like butter. Like many of the other high-quality water rescue knives, the tip is blunt so as not to poke a hole in a raft or pierce your skin.

The River Shorty cut through anchor line and paracord with ease and felt good in my hand. It performs in every way you would want, or need, a water rescue knife to perform. It is my #1 Top Pick for a kayak fishing knife!

The NRS Co-Pilot – A Close 2nd and Backup Knife!

NRS Co-Pilot Water Rescue Knife
The NRS Co-Pilot Knife

I also liked the NRS Co-Pilot Knife, and I’ll be carrying one of these along with me as a backup knife. This knife has some great features and also fits the bill when it comes to a water rescue knife, in my opinion.

First of all, it is a shorter blade length, which was an essential consideration in my choice of knives. A shorter knife stays out of the way more than a longer blade. On the plus side, it’s almost an inch shorter overall than the River Shorty! The shorter blade did have me leaning toward the Co-Pilot.

The blade itself is sharp and cuts anchor line and paracord easily. There is a section of serrated cutting edge as well as a smooth section of blade.

Some of the features of the Co-Pilot Knife which you might like are the following:

  • It has a Bottle Opener
  • There is an Oxygen Tank Valve Wrench
  • A hole for a Lanyard is built-in
  • The blade has both Serrated and Smooth Cutting Edges
  • Sharpened on only one side
  • Blunt-tip for Safety (Can also be used as a makeshift screwdriver)
  • The handle has a built-in Glass Breaking Tip

The NRS Co-Pilot Knife Dislikes

Just as the Gerber River Shorty was my top choice because of their handle configuration, the NRS Co-Pilot fell short because of theirs. But I should tell you it wasn’t by much! The Co-Pilot is still a great knife if you’re looking for a water rescue knife! Though the handle and grip just didn’t feel as good working in my hands as the Gerber.

The main issue I had with the Co-Pilot knife was it’s thinner handle and grip. The thinner width of the handle does make it lay flatter than the River Shorty, but the River Shorty felt better, a little “beefier” and more secure in my hands.

The other consideration I had was the indexing on the knife handle. The Co-Pilot’s indexing is comprised of very small grooves in the rubberized grip encompassing the metal tang section. For me, if I were to drop the knife in an emergency and reached for it, it might take a second or two, or even longer, to know where the cutting edge is.

Plus, it simply felt too “thin” in my grasp.

The Gerber River Shorty, if dropped and reached for, you would immediately feel the more substantial indexing. The indexing would either be pressed into the palm of your hand (cutting edge toward you). Or felt by the fingers in your grip (cutting edge away from you).

The fact it has an Oxygen Tank Valve Wrench built-into the blade material would make it my number one choice if I were a scuba diver! And I can see how the bottle opener may come in handy, although my beverages are pop-tops or screw caps!

Overall, the NRS Co-Pilot would be an excellent knife to choose for paddling. And again, this is mostly a personal preference thing as far as the indexing and feel of the handle go.

I plan on keeping the NRS Co-Pilot knife with me as well. It’s a great knife, and NRS is a great company and produces quality water rescue gear. If you like a little flatter profile on your kayak fishing knife, take a look at the NRS Co-Pilot pricing on Amazon, where I purchased mine.

The NRS Pilot Knife

NRS Pilot Water Rescue Knife
The NRS Pilot Knife

If I were a charter boat fisherman or working on a fishing deck, the NRS Pilot might be knife I’d carry! Being almost an inch and a half longer than it’s little brother the Co-Pilot Knife, makes it too long for my needs. It does have all the same features as the NRS above!

I can tell you it is probably one of the most carried knives on the water and for good reasons. But for me, it has the same concerns as the NRS Co-Pilot above. The thin handle, smaller indexing, and this model is longer than I need to carry as a water rescue knife.

One issue I did have with it over the other knives were when I lashed it to my NRS Chinook PFD, and the handle did get in the way of the pocket. Not a huge deal, but it was rather annoying having to work around it.

If you are looking for a larger knife then the NRS Pilot might be the one you need! Click here to check the pricing on Amazon!

The Stohlquist Squeeze Lock Knife

Stohlquist Squeeze Lock Knife
The Stohlquist Squeeze Lock Knife

Out of all four knives I purchased and field-tested, I felt the handle on the Stohlquist, and it’s locking mechanism was the best. The Stohlquist also cut anchor line and paracord material quickly.

The handle was nice and beefy and felt the best in my hand while using it compared to the other knives. There was also a hole built into the handle in case you wanted to install, or tie a lanyard onto it.

The locking mechanism seemed almost fool-proof. I have heard others mention the Gerber River Shorty tends to fall or pull out easily, though I never had that issue. It does take a solid tug to pull my Gerber from its sheath.

To pull the Stohlquist free, you must depress both sides of the knife (red part of the handle on each side), and the blade slides from the sheath easily. I found this type of quick release to be my favorite over the others.

The only drawback I had on using the Stohlquist on my fishing kayak was the fact both edges of the blade were sharp. For a kayak fishing safety knife, I want only one side sharp and to be the cutting edge.

The Stohlquist is an excellent knife too! See the Squeeze Lock Knife for yourself on Amazon.

In Summary

All four kayak fishing safety knives I field-tested are quality knives, and you really cannot go too far wrong with any one of them. I chose as my #1 Pick, the Gerber River Shorty, as it met all the criteria I look for in a knife.

Chiefly, it has to feel good and fit comfortably in my hand when I use it. The handle, the length, the indexing and the ability to cut rope quickly was paramount.

KnifeHandleIndexingLengthCutting Ability
Gerber River ShortyXXXX
NRS Co-PilotXX
NRS PilotXX
Stohlquist Squeeze LockXxX
Click on Knife to see Amazon Pricing

The NRS knives are great water rescue knives and used by thousands of people on the water. The Co-Pilot will find a home with me as it’s an excellent knife and will be an outstanding backup to my River Shorty.

The Stohlquist was a tad thin on the blade material end compared to the other three blades. But for a kayak fishing safety knife, I only want one side to be a cutting edge.

So there you have it! Any of these four blades will be an excellent addition to your fishing kayak! I tend to lean and like the River Shorty for the handle and indexing, and it’s cutting ability.

Thanks for checking in and stay safe on the water!

Mike Rodman

Mike enjoys fishing all year round, from fly fishing small streams in Wyoming's higher mountains to kayak fishing the lower altitude lakes and reservoirs. Mike also has a passion for ice fishing and is a member of Clam Outdoors Pro Staff. When he has spare time, he'll be found building custom fishing rods.

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