Nature is a beast.

From the highest mountains to the lowest canyons, nature is constantly trying to kill you. But, if there’s one thing that strikes the most fear in me, it’s the ocean.

The ocean is a vast wasteland of the unknown. The sea is mercurial. One moment, the surface is still as glass and the next, a 50-foot rogue wave appears out of nowhere, hellbent on destroying you. That doesn’t even mention the creatures, landscape, and mystery that stretch 30,000 feet beneath you.

The high seas should never be underestimated, but one of the nightmare scenarios of any ocean navigator is the incident of a boat capsizing. That’s the situation Rob Sanford found himself in one fateful day.

Here’s Sanford describing what happened:

Basically, a storm was causing major fluctuation in the seas. He fought to keep his boat on top of the swells, but one of the motors failed, causing the boat to be overtaken by a large wave.

Here’s what KnifeNews put in their write-up on the event:

“Now, you’re standing on the roof of the boat, and the boat immediately fills up with water and everybody goes against the floor, which is now the ceiling,” explains Sanford. It was at this point that one of the most crucial pieces of safety equipment became a liability – the life jacket designed to keep him afloat outside the boat now trapped him against the floor of the cabin.

Sanford was wearing an automatic life jacket, designed to inflate instantly when dunked in water. When the boat capsized it became a buoyant shackle around his neck, pinning him against the floor and away from the underwater exit. Luckily, the rest of the crew hadn’t been wearing them and quickly escaped the now-submerged cabin. “There would have been no way to get out of the boat, if everyone had put on their life jackets,” he said.

With the life jacket stuck around his neck and his last pocket of air quickly filling with water, Sanford grabbed his Spyderco knife. He opened the blade with one hand—thanks to the iconic ambidextrous opening hole—and punctured the life jacket and swam toward the light to safety.

In the end, despite the thousands of dollars of equipment, it was one simple knife that ended up saving his life. I’m not sure exactly which model he was carrying, but it’s likely it was from Spyderco’s Salt Series, which uses H1 stainless (and, yes, actually stainless) steel.

Needless to say, you won’t find Rob Sanford anywhere without his Spyderco. In fact, he now carries two because you can never be too prepared.

For more examples of how knives save lives, take a look at our Knives Save Lives blog series.