March 12, 2024

13 min

Equipment reviews

Transform Your Sailing Experience with 2024’s Best Boat Shoes!

best sailing shoes

It’s important to keep safe and comfortable while sailing, which means not only wearing the right clothing but also the right shoes. Whether you’re going on a gentle day sail or a longer trip, you want to make sure that you’re comfortable, protected from the elements, and have decent grip.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the best types of sailing shoes, as well as some casual streetwear shoes that can also be worn when sailing. We all want to look great but remember when choosing the right shoes, we have to prioritize purpose, fit, and comfort over style. That being said, there are plenty of great-looking shoes that should meet all your needs.

Some areas of sailing equipment are simply not worth spending money on, but shoes are different. Investing in a good pair of boating shoes is really worthwhile, and there are many options on the market. In this article, we’ll answer common questions about sailing shoes and provide key thins to consider when buying a pair. We’ll also highlight some of the best footwear available and the features that make them so popular.

Key Takeaways

  • Sailing shoes are essential for safe and comfortable movement on deck, featuring non-slip soles, quick-drying materials, and durability.
  • The right footwear can be both stylish and functional, offering a range of options for men, women, and kids that suit both sea legs and shore strolls.
  • Proper care of sailing shoes is crucial, including washing off the salt, drying, and storage. This will extend their life and improve safety.

Navigating the Waters: Choosing Your Ideal Sailing Shoe

Sailing shoes on a wooden deck

Stepping onto the deck of a boat is like entering a new world, and one where the ground beneath you is constantly moving. Here, your choice of footwear is paramount – your footwear is an essential tool that can mean the difference between an effortless day on the water and a slip-up that leads to a man-overboard drill. Because of the need for grip, even in wet conditions, and the issues of teak decks and such like, a proper deck shoe is going to be pretty essential. They’re specifically for life onboard, to cope with the elements and to keep you protected and comfortable, no matter how choppy the seas! With features like non-slip shoe soles, effective water management, and cushioning for extended periods on your feet, you’ll find that the right sailing shoes are your best ally.

Essential Features for Safety and Comfort

When we talk about ‘essential features’, we’re looking at what makes a great sailing shoe. For example, imagine being on the edge of a wet, slippery deck, healed over while hauling on a genoa sheet – you want your feet to stick to the deck like barnacles, right? That’s where a good quality non-slip, rubber sole comes into play. The secret here lies not just in the rubber used but in something called siping technology, which cuts thin slices through the rubber to offer that octopus-like grip. It can be a real lifesaver and helps in reducing accidents on wet decks. So accepting now that sailing shoes are different from those we use on land, here are some essential features of a great sailing shoe:

  • Non-slip, rubber sole with siping technology for superior grip on wet decks
  • Quick-drying materials to keep your feet comfortable and dry
  • Breathable construction to prevent sweaty feet
  • Reinforced toe and heel for added durability and protection
  • Adjustable laces or straps for a secure fit with socks and without.

These features will ensure you have the best possible experience on the water and stay safe while sailing. But it’s not just about staying upright; it’s about staying comfortable too. Some extra features therefore to look for in your shoes are:

  • Memory foam insoles, which provide arch support and padding for comfort
  • Shock-absorbing sole, to provide extra cushioning and support

One example of a shoe that meets these criteria is the Columbia Castback TC. It features tough upper material, padded collars for comfort, great grip in the wet and a shock-absorbing sole, making it a great choice for those on their feet all day.

Style Meets Functionality

So functionality is key, but who says you can’t look good while out on the water? Sailing shoes have come a long way since the cringe-inducing styles that marked the 80s and 90s. Take the iconic Sperry Authentic Original 2-Eye boat shoe for instance – it’s great for wandering ashore but also a good choice for a day out on the water. They are a classic example of how you can form and functionality, with a moccasin-like style and non-slip siping rubber soles perfect for a wet deck.

Material Matters: Leather vs Synthetic

The material use is key. Leather has long been the go-to for its durability and ability to withstand water, salt, and the rigors of sailing, especially when treated with oil, such as the Sebago Portland Lea. Maintaining leather shoes is not too disimmilar to caring for a sail; with the right cleaner and lotion, they’ll stay soft, strong and comfortable in the face of the elements.

While leather has long been the material of choice, synthetic materials are definitely becoming more common in deck shoes. They’re light, they dry faster than a spinnaker in the trade winds, and they offer some really comfortable options, perfectly suited for the challenges of a wet sailing environment.

The Best Boat Shoes on the Market

Top view of men's sailing shoes

So, let’s dive into our views as to the best boat shoes in 2024. From the XtraTuf Women’s Sharkbyte 2.0 Eco to the Sperry Gold Cup Authentic Original 2-Eye Boat Shoe, these are the cream of the crop, offering everything a sailor could ask for in terms of performance and style.

Top Choice for Men

For the gentlemen on deck, the best shoes marry great function with just a little finesse. The Helly Hansen Skagen F-1 Offshore is a wonderful sneaker sailing hybrid that has a really sporty look, great functionality and is a choice you really can’t go wrong with.

Adidas steps into the ring with a slightly more retro looking Terrex Boat S.RDY Water Shoe, featuring Climacool technology for breathability, a Traxion outsole for stability, and a design that’s quick-drying and light – perfect for those balmy summer days on the water. It’s another one we really like.

And for those mong us seeking a more open design without sacrificing grip or having a dangerous open toe, the KEEN Men’s SOLR Sandal has seriously good grip with non-marking rubber and a really robust build.

Women’s Winner: Style and Stability

Women's sailing shoes on a boat

For the ladies, there are ever more options that we think are really impressive, matching great functionality with some real elegance.

  • There’s the bespoke sandal KEEN Women’s SOLR from Keen: even more stylish than the men’s version yet still really functional. It’s a great boat shoe.
  • Sperry Top-Sider Bluefish and Koifish are really popular with female crew. They are boat shoes that don’t just perform on deck, but look good while doing it, providing a versatile option for women who like to sail with style.
  • The Columbia Women’s Dorado PFG Shoe is a super stylish option: it may not be the most robust option here but it definitely ups the fashion ante, offering a design that effortlessly transitions from sailing to sipping cocktails at the marina!
  • FInally, Helly Hansen’s HP Foil V2 is a fantastic shoe: great stability in wet conditions, superlight construction and excellent non-marking grip.

Sailing Shoes for Kids

That’s the grown ups sorted, but let’s not forget the young crew members who also need to wear boat shoes; the future captains of our seas after all! Their footwear needs to be just as sturdy and safe as the adults’ and also accommodate the very high probability they will have wet feet. The Magic Marine Junior Ultimate 2 Sailing Shoes are fantastic as are Speedo Surfwalker Pro 2.0 Water Shoe, built with neoprene and a stretchy upper for a snug fit.

For the kids who’ll spend as mcuh time in the water as they will on deck, check out the WateLves Barefoot Quick-Dry Aqua Sock. They offer a lightweight and ultra-thin design with quick-dry capabilities and efficient water drainage, ensuring that their feet are safeguarded in all scenarios – and they look great too.

Specialized Footwear for Specific Sailing Needs

Specialized sailing shoes for offshore adventures

Sailing isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair, and neither is the footwear that accompanies it. Specialized shoes cater to the specific needs of various sailing activities, ensuring that whether you’re tackling a dinghy on a lake or braving one of Rubicon 3’s offshore adventures, your feet are well-equipped for the task at hand. For instance, more advanced, rugged boat shoes like the XtraTuf Topwater are engineered with the SRC-rated soles for the ultimate slip resistance, providing real durability and breathability for superior on-deck performance. We love them!

Great Shoes for Dinghy Sailing

Dinghy sailing has its own set of challenges, and demands footwear that’s as agile and adaptable as the sailors themselves. Gill Sailing Trainers are a brilliant option, with their water expulsion channels and really dependable grip. Another winner is the Helly Hansen Women’s Ahiga V4 Hydropower, which si a lightweight, elegant design that still delivers much-needed traction with its HellyGrip rubber soles. For sailors who prefer something less traditional, the Astral Loyak women’s water shoe is a hugely popular, quick-drying marvel, offering great grip and rapid drainage.

And let’s not overlook the NRS Arroyo Wet Shoes, which boast neoprene material, easy access and a reputationf for comfort, makign them great for all you dinghy sailing enthusiasts!

Sailing Boots for Offshore Adventures

When the seas get rough and the journey gets serious, you’re probably on a Rubicon 3 offshore adventure! Offshore sailors need boots that can keep up. The Gill Offshore Boot is a great choice, with XPLORE+® waterproof fabric and lots of thermal neoprene for warmth and reinforcing areas for extra protection against the relentlessness of ocean sailing. Another absolute winner is the Zhik ZK Seaboot. Built like a tank, excellent grip and a really cozy Merino lining to keep the cold at bay. These are both rubber boots, so while they will perform like trojans, they won’t let your feet breath, and that can make for a clammy foot. Is there a better ocean boot than the Dubarry Ultima? We’re not sure there is and it’s probably why most of us wear them! We do also love the Musto Ocean Racer boot to be fair, though it’s not quite as classy in the marina.

Caring for Your Sailing Shoes: Maintenance Tips

Cleaning and maintaining sailing shoes

As any seasoned sailor knows, the longevity of your sailing gear is as much about the care you put into it as it is about the quality of the materials. This holds especially true for your sailing shoes, which can see a lot of wear and tear as they brave the elements and the deck. It’s essential to give them the TLC they deserve post-voyage.

When you’re back on land, start by removing the laces and giving them a good scrub with cold water and dish soap if they’re made of rawhide. Don’t neglect the soles.Give them a really good rinse with fresh water. Shoes hate salt. Stuffing your shoes with newspaper after a wet day then helps them maintain their shape and wicks away moisture. If you’ve got lestehr shoes, some polish will help keep them supple and soft. Finally, do remember before you step back onboard, make sure your shoes are clean and dry; it not only shows respect for the vessel but also helps to keep the deck free from any contaminants that could harm the teak or compromise safety.

If they haven’t got wet, for the uppers a dry brush is your best friend, helping to remove stains and maintain the material’s integrity. Post-cleaning, place them in a cool, dry spot away from direct heat or sunlight, and let them air dry for a full day; this ensures they’re completely moisture-free and helps prevent mold or unpleasant odors.

Speaking of odors, consider using baby powder, kitty litter, or dryer sheets to keep your shoes smelling as fresh as the ocean breeze. A protective spray designed for leather boat shoes can be the final touch, shielding them from future spills and splashes.

Storing Your Shoes Aboard: Practical Tips

Space is at a premium on any boat, so getting creative with storage solutions is key. Here are some options:

  • Hanging fabric shelves: a nifty way to keep your shoes organized and save space.
  • Bungee cord storage webs: can hold shoes flat against the bulkhead or ceiling, keeping them out of the way but easily accessible.
  • Collapsible silicone buckets: not only store your shoes but can also be used for various tasks around the boat.

The Barefoot Debate: To Shoe or Not to Shoe?

We know that the sensation of the deck under bare feet can be liberating; it’s a feeling many sailors love. The truth is, walking barefoot on a boat can increase your risk of injury from unexpected stubs or scrapes and is generally not advisable during active sailing sessions, where the chances of stumbling on deck hardware are higher. Yet, for some, barefoot sailing enhances the overall experience, providing a sense of freedom and a deeper connection with the vessel and the ocean. It’s not just about the tactile sensation; some claim going barefoot can improve grip on deck compared to certain types of shoes, particularly when the deck is wet. Our advice (& the rule on Rubicon 3 boats) is always wear a shoe! During races or in emergency situations where quick, decisive action is required, proper footwear with a consistent grip is essential to prevent slips and falls. Boat shoes also protect the feet from injuries caused by deck cleats and hardware, which is vital for safely performing various tasks on deck.

To Sock or Not to Sock?

Boat shoes and wear socks? That’s a nautical faux pas in most sailing circles. Sailing shoes are often designed to be worn comfortably without socks, especially those exposed to water, ensuring both hygiene and practicality. Going bare-ankled is the traditional way many sailors favor for its style and ventilation, but if the thought of not wearing socks makes you shudder, there are compromises.

No-show socks or shoe liners provide an extra layer of hygiene while maintaining the appearance of being sockless. And when you’re finally off-watch, relaxing in the cockpit with a pair of cozy socks can be one of life’s simple pleasures.


The right footwear is a crucial for any sailor, combining safety features like non-slip soles with the comfort needed for long stints on the water. Style and functionality can be bedfellows with modern shoes, offering sailors a bevy of options that look good both on deck and ashore. Leather and synthetic materials each have their merits, and depending on your sailing conditions, one may be more suitable than the other. We’ve highlighted some of the best picks for men, women, and kids, from classic boat shoes to more modern options, ensuring your whole crew will be well-equipped. Remember, the right shoes will make an enormous difference to your time onboard.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sperrys still in style 2024?

Yes, Sperry boat shoes are still in style in 2024 for boating, outdoor activities, and casual wear. Enjoy their classic look and practicality for various occasions.

What are the most important features to look for in sailing shoes?

The best sailing shoes will have non-slip soles, water resistance, cushioning, and durable construction

Can I wear my sailing shoes casually, off the boat?

Yes, you can wear your wear shoes for sailing more casually in different onshore settings. They are designed with style in mind for off-the-boat wear.

How should I clean and maintain my leather sailing shoes?

To clean and maintain your leather sailing shoes, use a leather cleaner and dry brush, then apply a leather lotion for protection. Let them air dry in a cool, dry place.

Is it safe to sail barefoot?

Sailing barefoot may seem nice, but it’s generally not safe due to the risk of injury from deck hardware. Likewise, flip flops are dangerous. So, it’s best to wear proper footwear when sailing.

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