Although you could get away with wearing a pair of lightweight sneakers on board a boat, if you’re serious about sailing or you just want to wear something comfortable and secure the next time you’re on board, then sailing shoes are a must.
After all, when you’re trying to sail or enjoy yourself aboard a boat, the last thing you want is to be tripping and falling, to be uncomfortable, or to be standing there in soggy shoes. These are all realities when you wear the wrong pair of shoes on board.
Below, we’ll take you through the different types of sailing shoes, as well as let you in on the best traditional sailing shoes, modern waterproof sailing shoes, sailing boots and winter sailing boots on the market right now. We’ll also tell you what you need to look for in a pair of sailing shoes, as well as answer a couple of frequently asked questions. Let’s get to it!
Types of Sailing Shoes
There are two main types of sailing shoes. These are traditional, stylish sailing shoes that are made of natural materials and modern waterproof offshore sailing shoes. But both are practical and useful to wear aboard sailboats. Let’s take a look at these two types of sailing shoes in more detail.
Traditional sailing shoes: These shoes have been in existence for almost a century and are sometimes referred to as ‘yacht shoes.’ They are made from suede leather, and are soft and flexible. Due to being made with natural materials they’re not often waterproof but can be made water-resistant with the assistance of chemical treatments.
While traditional sailing shoes are just as much about fashion as they are utility, they can still be quite practical to wear. Firstly because they are designed to be worn on boats, and secondly because they utilize a flat sole that features a unique non-slip texture to prevent you from slipping on a wet deck.
Waterproof sailing shoes: A more modern sailing shoe, waterproof sailing shoes are made from synthetic materials to maintain traction on wet surfaces. You’ll often find members of offshore sailing crews wearing these shoes, as these shoes help them to stay warm and dry in rough weather conditions.
Sailing boots: Although not technically sailing shoes, we still believe sailing boots deserve a mention. Sailing boots are often worn with full-body foul weather gear and are made of rubber. They are similar to rain or snow boots, and are a bit clunkier and heavier than modern sailing shoes, so are normally saved for rough weather conditions. If you’re an offshore sailor, it’s good to have a pair of sailing boots to hand!
Best Sailing Shoes
A trusted and renowned brand for sailors all over the world, Sperry practically invented the 20th century boat shoe. If you’re new to wearing traditional boat shoes, we can’t think of a better place to start than with a pair of Sperry shoes.
A tan leather slip-on deck shoe, Sperry’s traditional shoe is made of a water-resistant hide and features a rubber sole. It’s a simply designed shoe, but the thick and sturdy thread used to stitch the shoe together ensures it’s going to be with you on board for years to come. Plus, its water-resistant treatment makes it simple to clean and quick drying.
This comfortable shoe is also stylish enough to be worn to any regatta or dockside event, but doesn’t forgo aesthetics for practicality. Its ability to withstand spray and slippery conditions make it a favorite among sailors and boat owners.
Another popular sailing shoe brand, L.L Bean may not be as ubiquitous as Sperry, but they’re still a reliable source for traditional sailing shoes as evidenced by the Casco Bay Boat Mocs. The slip-on design of these shoes features a low-profile shoe with a very slight heel. What makes L.L Bean stand out from the crowd is their sole design technique, opting for a non-textured material.
But the L.L Bean flat non-textured sole actually has fantastic anti-slip characteristics and is made of sturdy leather that prevents sliding on wet decks. In fact, it features slight outsole siphons that help increase grip on wet surfaces.
The leather of the L.L Bean Casco Bay Boat Mocs is durable but also flexible, comfortable, and easy to clean. There is also a leather liner on the inside of the shoe which makes wearing short socks more comfortable, although the shoe is just as comfortable without socks. This is great, as it makes taking the shoes on and off super simple! The shoes also have leather laces and a lace-up top. As this is a slip-on shoe, you only have to tie the shoes once.
The Atlantic Heritage Comfort Boat Shoe strikes the perfect balance between traditional styling and modern functionality. It resembles a modern running shoe, but also features a suede and stitched design, anti-slip characteristics, and incredible support.
Flat-soled shoes can often be uncomfortable, especially if you suffer with foot, back, or knee problems. But there’s no need to worry about that with these Atlantic Heritage shoes, as they provide all the support a modern shoe should. In fact, this shoe boasts comfort. It’s designed to be worn comfortably all day, and is easy to wear when walking along sand and gravel, elevating you in all the right places.
These shoes also have a patented anti-slip sole that is designed to leave no marks as well as provide traction, and despite not technically being waterproof, they hold up to water well too.
The Riomar Deck Driver Stingray perfectly combines traditional styling with a modern non-slip grip for use in wet and dry sailing conditions. What makes these shoes stand out is their sole that features a series of protruding, flexible rubber buttons that adapt and conform to the shape of the ground to give you the best grip.
These shoes are also non-marking – good news if you’re wearing these shoes on boats with polished white fiberglass deck spaces. These shoes are not just flexible but comfortable too, and can be worn with or without socks.
Riomar is known for producing excellent marine shoes and the Deck Driver Stingray is no exception. If you’re looking for sailing shoes that are stylish and attractive but are practical too, look no further than this modern sailing shoe.
The DLGJPA Lightweight Aqua Water shoe is not your ordinary traditional boat shoe, as this woven pair is designed for grip and to be worn in wet conditions. When it comes to water-resistance, DLGJPA went a bit out of the box with their design.
These shoes are not designed to keep water out, but instead to let it flow around and inside the shoe. If this seems very strange and counterintuitive, the woven design of the shoe is so quick-drying that you won’t even notice your shoes getting wet in the first place. This is because the bottom of the shoe is perforated so it drains water quickly.
The Aqua Water shoe was designed for warm climates with wet tropical environments and for water sports. These shoes would be ideal if you’re launching boats and you need to get in the water to guide the vessel.
These shoes are super lightweight and breathable, making them a comfortable option when warm weather sailing.
The SWIMS Waterproof Penny Loafer is another unique shoe that is comfortable, modern, stylish, and machine-washable. It is a modern twist on an old design and is again a great option for warm-weather sailing. It is also totally waterproof and holds up well in wet conditions, and even in particularly rough and terrible conditions its antimicrobial materials help you to stay sanitized.
The shoe also has a traction sole design with scoring and anti-slip details. It’s great for walking around fiberglass or wooden decks and even when the deck is wet maintains traction.
Inspired by penny loafers, these shoes are both stylish and comfortable and can be worn with or without socks, although they are designed to be worn without socks ideally.
If you’re anticipating rough weather these modern deck boots are sure to come in handy. The clue is in the name, after all. They’re extra tough!
But they’re also comfortable, waterproof, and slip on without any laces. But the missing laces are not just for convenience’s sake, but for safety’s sake too. Laces can be dangerous on a sailboat, as they can easily get snapped on a cleat or trip while walking around the deck. But with the Xtratuf 6 Ankle Deck Boots you don’t have to worry about that.
These stylish shoes are sure to look great with foul-weather gear, and are a bit larger than standard fishing boots (see also our article on open-face reels). They also have a lower-profile than most foul weather boots which make them great for fair and inclement weather.
They only reach about halfway up the ankle, and are made with a waterproof rubber material that isn’t just durable but comfortable and easy to clean too. They also have flat non-slip sole for traction when walking around the deck.
Another well-known brand, Rugged Shark produced a line of premium deck boots that are a life-saver in foul weather but are ideal for all sailing weather conditions. These heavy-duty Great White deck boots mean business, and have plenty of great features that come in handy when rough weather strikes… or even when conditions get a bit damp and unfavorable.
These boots are not just waterproof but spacious, allowing you to comfortably wear warm insulated socks without feeling too cramped or worrying about waterlogging. They work well with standard foul weather gear and are high enough to keep water at bay if the cockpit fills up.
The anti-slip sole features corrugated scoring and the anti-slip surface is similar to traditional deck shoes. These premium boots truly strike the balance between durability and flexibility.
While we’re on the subject of boots to wear in rough weather, we should probably mention a couple of boots designed specifically for use in winter. The classic design of the L.L.Bean Shearling-Lined Winter Boots has remained practically unchanged for a century, and many have long relied on these shoes in the harshest and wettest conditions.
The original boots were designed in Maine, and were worn both in deep snow and on lobster boats in the harsh, New England winter. They’re now made with waterproof leather and feature a non-slip rubber sole and are lined with shearling wool for the best wet or dry insulation, keeping you dry no matter what the conditions.
These shoes are also extremely durable and will probably be the only pair of winter sailing boots you’ll ever need. Their tall design makes them ideal to wear in wet conditions and they’re easy to re-lace. Plus, their puffy wool interior lining means they can be worn comfortably with or without socks.
These boots are still made in the USA and are backed by a great warranty.
In the very worst winter sailing conditions, you need a genuine pair of foul weather boots like the Grudens Deck Boss boots. They’re ideal for frigid sailing and are designed specifically for open-cockpit boats that are exposed to the elements.
They feature a patented ‘Hercules Grip’ rubber compound in the sole that provides incredible traction no matter how wet or slippery the deck. This is a particularly pressing concern in the winter, when falling in the water can be more perilous than usual.
The Grudens Deck Boss boots also feature a long top, giving you plenty of room to tuck in your foul-weather pants above the point where water could reach them. Or, you can tuck the boots into your pants for the extra length to give you a protective weather seal.
These rubber boots are both waterproof and windproof without any special chemical treatment needed. Their extra-thick material also increases their durability, and these roomy boots give you enough space for thick insulation socks.
If you’re new to sailing it can be hard to know what shoes to wear on board and there are a couple of things to consider. Most importantly, you’ll want to wear shoes that have non-slip and non-marking soles. Non-marking soles are normally made of rubber, while leather soles are more likely to leave marks on the deck.
Of course, proper sailing shoes/boots like we have listed above are the best choice, but if that isn’t an option, sneakers with light rubber soles are the next best thing – as long as they don’t leave any marks!
Basically, a good pair of sailing shoes should provide good grip on deck, not leave any marks, and protect your feet from water, cold, and injury. But we’ll go into detail about some of the features to look out for when buying a pair.
Size: Finding the right size sailing shoes can be tricky as they don’t follow the sizing conventions of regular shoes. So it’s very important to measure your feet and pay close attention to the manufacturer’s size chart, especially if you’re buying your first pair of sailing shoes.
Material: The most common materials used to make sailing shoes are canvas, leather, suede and other synthetic materials. What material to choose will depend on the conditions you’re most likely to encounter, what type of sailing you do, as well as personal preference.
Non-slip sole: Boat decks are naturally wet and slippery, and so shoes with non-slip soles are an essential. Rubber outsoles are probably the best for providing secure, stable traction on boat decks.
Uppers: The uppers of sailing shoes are also important to consider, and the best sailing shoes normally have leather, mesh and synthetic uppers. Leather is a softer and more comfortable material, while mesh is breathable, drains quickly and dries well, while synthetics are also fast-drying.
Non-marking: It’s important to wear shoes on deck that leave no marks as decks are pretty difficult to clean. Some fiberglass decks use grip paint which gives them a rough grid and makes cleaning rubber skids especially difficult. Plus, it’s just common courtesy to do your part to keep the deck clean by wearing the appropriate footwear.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I not wear when sailing?
When it comes to what you shouldn’t wear on a sailboat, there are a few types of shoes to absolutely avoid. Shoes with metal zippers should be avoided because of the risk of corrosion, and for longer excursions try to avoid canvas too.
It probably seems a bit obvious to say that you shouldn’t wear high heels on a boat. For one thing, it’s harder to keep your balance and most high heels don’t have the non-slip soles required for sailing. Plus, high heels are more likely to scratch and mark the deck, which is a big no-no.
Shoes with any kind of zipper will also be uncomfortable, as zippers won’t give when your feet become wet or when they’re hot and swell up.
Canvas may be okay for shorter excursions, but can become moldy over time. They lose their ability to dry out and will start to smell after a couple of weeks. The look of your shoes can become affected, quickly discoloring on open waters.
Leather soles are a no-go too as they can leave marks on the deck, and you should also try to avoid wearing flip-flops or going barefoot where you can. Going barefoot is fine if you’re sailing in steady, easy waves but the weather can change quickly and so it’s good to be prepared and have your shoes on at all times.
How do I clean and take care of my sailing shoes?
To take good care of your sailing shoes and to make sure your shoes stay with you for a long time there are a few tips and tricks to maintaining them.
Firstly, try to keep your shoes free of dirt and salt residue. You can also machine wash your sailing shoes on a gentle cycle if your shoes are machine washable. If not, make sure to clean your shoes following the manufacturer’s washing instructions.
When cleaning leather sailing shoes, use non-alcoholic polishes like creams and pastes. Meanwhile, for suede shoes use cornmeal. Simply rub the cornmeal into the shoe and then rub it off.
To dry your shoes after cleaning, air-dry them at room temperature. If there are any lingering odors on your shoes you can get rid of them using baking soda, rubbing alcohol or white vinegar.