Legal Issues of Carrying Knives for Fishing

Legal Issues of Carrying a Knife

With knife crime a major issue throughout Britain in recent years there has been a great deal of attention on the legalities of carrying a knife. High profile incidents have created public concern and led to the police clamping down on people carrying knives in public, and across the UK there have been increased penalties and prison sentences for those found carrying knives. All of this has led to some confusion and uncertainty about where anglers stand when it comes to carrying a knife for fishing purposes.

Knife Crime Campaign Poster
Knife crime is currently a major issue in Britain. This poster from West Midlands Police is aimed at raising awareness of the harm that can be caused by knives and the following legal implications.

What UK Law Currently Says

At the time of writing (Spring 2015) the following is illegal under UK law:

  • Sell a knife to anyone under 18
  • Carry a knife in public without good reason [emphasis added]
  • Carry, buy or sell any type of banned knife
  • Use any knife in a threatening way

Possessing a knife without good reasons can lead to a four year prison sentence and a heavy fine. However, it is legal to carry a knife with a folding blade off less than 3-inches/7.62cm (i.e. a Swiss Army knife).

Source: website

Angling and Good Reason for Carrying a Knife

While it is ordinarily illegal to carry a knife around it is not illegal if there is good reason to have the knife. For example carrying knives to and from a place of work or taking knives to be displayed in a museum would be considered good reason to have them. Knives can also be carried for religious reasons (i.e. the Sikh Kirpan). If a police officer stopped an angler travelling to or from a fishing session they would almost certainly consider the angler to have good reason for carrying a knife and no criminal offence would be being committed. The good reason approach is designed so that common sense can be applied to the police and knife crime – if someone has a knife and good reason to carry it then no criminal offence is being committed, but if they do not have good reason to have the knife in their possession then they are indeed committing an offence. However, there are no hard and fast rules to this and it is up to the individual to prove they have good reason for carrying the knife.

Related article: Sea Fishing Knives

Essentially, it is an issue about context. If the police stopped an angler who was carrying a rod and reel along with a tackle box containing hooks, line, rigs and a whole range of fishing equipment including a knife they would almost certainly accept that the angler had good reason to have the knife in their possession. Anglers can make life easier for themselves by keeping a knife packed away in a fishing box or bag when travelling to a fishing mark as this makes it clear that it is a fishing tool and not something that is being carried for any other purpose. Similarly, when fishing a knife should be kept stored away in a closed box or bag and only taken out and used as needed – again proving that it is simply a fishing tool. Anglers keeping a knife in a jacket, pocket or around a belt where it is easily accessible may have more difficulty in using the good reason argument to the police, as would anglers keeping their knife separate from the rest of their fishing gear (i.e. in the car glovebox when the rest of their fishing gear was packed away in the boot).

Other Issues – Banned Knives and Weapons

Banned Knives

There are a wide range of knives which are banned under UK law and could get anglers into trouble if they are taken fishing. These include push daggers (number 1) a type of knife that has no use other than to inflict injuries to people (the one pictured is a particularly nasty variant as it includes a ‘gut hook’ to cause maximum damage as it is pulled out of the body) and gravity knives (number 2) a type of knife which has a blade concealed in the handle which slides out under the force of gravity – hence the name. In addition knives which have a blade that can be unfolded and then locked in place are illegal to carry in public under UK law, as is any type of knife which is disguised as another item, such as number 4, which is a knife disguised as a pen.

Flick knives, also known as switchblades, are banned under UK law.

Flick knives (also known as switchblades) are also banned. These are types of knives where the blade is concealed and pressing a button or switch causes it to shoot out of the handle. Butterfly knives, where the blade is hidden between a handle which splits in two (like the wings of a butterfly) are also illegal under current British law. It is an arrestable offence to be in public with any knife on the banned list, and using them for fishing purposes is no excuse. It should be noted that the official UK government web page on buying and carrying weapons states that it is illegal to “carry, buy or sell any type of banned knife.” It is legal to own these types of knives in a private collection, but, in the context of sea fishing, it would not be legal to take these types of knives fishing, or walk around with them in public (without good reason). This list of illegal knives above is not exhaustive and the government officially advises anyone unsure about the type of knife they have to contact their local police for clarification on whether or not it is legal.

Under 18s and Knives

The law is incredibly vague when it comes the legality of people aged 17 and under using the good reason approach to carrying a knife. The government websites are unclear on whether this applies to under 18s, and since it is illegal for anyone under 18 to purchase any kind of knife (including cutlery and kitchen knives) it could be argued that it is illegal for them to carry one under any circumstances. If people aged under 18 are going fishing with a group of people which includes older people it makes sense for the older members of the group to carry any knives which are needed.

Illegal Weapons Leeds Armouries
A display of weapons such as push daggers, gravity knives and flick knives at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, West Yorkshire. All of these weapons are illegal to carry in the UK without good reason.

Please note – all information on this page is included for guidance only and does not constitute legal advice. If you are unsure about the legalities of carrying a knife you should consult a legal professional or law enforcement agency for clarification before purchasing or travelling with a knife.