CBM's Krista Pfunder's much-loved Sperrys.

All Feet on Deck: The Hunt for a Good Boat Shoe

It is generally universally agreed by foot experts that proper shoe selection (including boat and deck shoes) is vital to foot health, not merely the brand or model, but the fit. An ill-fitting shoe can cause a multitude of problems for your feet, everything from numbness and burning to blisters and painful calluses. Too narrow in the forefoot and you get pinched nerve pain, bunions and corns. Too wide and the foot slides around causing undue friction which can lead to blisters.

CBM Art Director Nancy Lambrides’ collection of boat shoes.

None of these conditions is made better by being on a boat.

What boater isn’t interested in foot comfort onboard, dockside, Bayside, beach and well really wherever our sea legs take us? 

If it’s time for a new pair of boat shoes, you should consider things such as durability, cushioning, arch support; and for a boat shoe in particular, you need top-notch traction, quick dry and antibacterial materials. 

Prices for a good pair of deck shoes vary among brands and among various models of the same brand. There are those that have tested the waters in the not too distant past and those tried and true over time.

Do some research— if you’re a newer boater, ask around the marina or yacht club. You are sure to get a long list of recommendations.

Shoes made with quick drying, breathable fabric blended with leather means it won’t be stinky. A mesh-style deck shoe is designed to shed water with a funneling crevice down the center of the sole and screen vents so water drains on the sides—the footwear equivalent of the self-bailing cockpit. Consider soles made of materials that will withstand heavy use in other activities ashore and sufficient shock-absorbing cushioning.

There are those of full-grain leather, canvas lace-ups with molded heel cups for stability, leather uppers with mesh inserts, low profile design, and some only come in whole sizes (some large) with others also available in half sizes. Some provide both wet and dry traction, are stain resistant and have non-marking soles.

While it would be near impossible to provide an all-inclusive list, there are a few companies that are a great starting point for your journey to the perfect boat or deck shoe.

  • Helly Hansen: This popular technical sailing and skiing brand offers slip-ons and sneakers and shoes for just about all occasions onboard. 
  • Sebago: In 1970, Sebago released their most recognizable model to date, the iconic ‘Dockside’ boat shoe.
  • Sperry: Maybe more recognizable than the Sebago, the Sperry Top-Sider remains the classic deck shoe, but the company also now makes a wide range of styles.
  • Converse: A great sneaker also makes a good boat shoe and Converse comes in a variety of styles these days including the Shoreline Slip.
  • Columbia: This outdoor lifestyle brand also offers boat-worthy shoes.
  • Timberland: Seafarers may be surprised at the variety of boat shoe options here.

I personally prefer my Helly Hansen all-leather sailing shoes with the aqua/mint laces. Another lifelong boater I know prefers the iconic brand Sebago, known for their hand-sewn genuine moc construction, slip-resistant rubber sole and non-corrosive brass eyelets. What’s your go-to shoe style?

Joan Wenner is a longtime boating safety writer with a law degree and a lifelong sailor. Comments or questions are welcomed at:  [email protected]