BoatingLAB Tests: Boat Shoes

Learn what to look for when considering a new pair of boat shoes.

Boat shoe casual is becoming street smart, but savvy boaters know there is more to the heart of a good boat shoe than a Relax Away Bay fashion statement. And even though the look of boat shoes is changing from oiled-leather moccasins with razor-siped rubber soles that will flatten a soldier’s feet in a quarter-mile, certain traditions are based in boat craft sensibilities. A fine tread is needed to squeegee water away without picking up grit. The shoe should drain fast and dry quickly and never leave a rubber scuff on deck. And it doesn’t hurt if it looks good on the boardwalk either.

How We Tested
Test 1: Drainage
We poured one cup of water in each shoe and gave it two minutes to drain.** **

Fastest – 3 points, drained fully in less than one minute
Fast – 2, drained fully in two minutes
Slow – 1, drained partially in two minutes
None – 0, shoe did not drain at all


Test 2: Dunk Tank Drying
We dunked and drenched shoes, and then they dried in the sun while we measured moisture using an electronic moisture meter. We averaged the highest and lowest measurements from various points and at 15-, 30- and 60-­minute intervals.

Fastest Drying – 3
Fast Drying – 2
Slow Drying – 1
Damp – 0

Test 3: Puddle Surf
Trying to slide-surf on a puddle on polyethylene is not the same as trying not to, but the action is comparable to trying to stop forward momentum. Longer slides got lower scores.


Sticky – 3
Less sticky – 2
Slippery – 1
Slipperiest – 0

Test 4: Puddle Jog
Boat shoe treads are engaged by rolling them heel to toe, so we jogged across the surf puddle and noted slippage. All the shoes performed much better here than in the puddle-surf test.

Sticky – 3
Less sticky – 2
Slippery – 1
Slipperiest – 0


Test 5: Scuff
We dragged the sole over white gelcoated fiberglass looking for signs of smudges. They scuffed or they didn’t.

No smudge – 3
Smudge – 0

Total score: We added ratings of 0 to 3 in each test for a total possible score of 15.

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Sperry Kingfisher

Sperry Kingfisher Sperry

Style: Performance
Sole: Smooth, siped
Best Application: Wet or dry decks, regular dunking, street casual

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Sperry detail view. Sperry

Top Line: Sperry’s second-­generation ASV performance shoe with shock-absorbing soles. It works. Also, the comfort and dry time are definitely improved over previous styles.

Wins: Exhibited fast draining and drying, superior traction on wet surfaces in our puddle-jog test and no scuffing against a white fiberglass deck.

Losses: Poor puddle- surf score in our test, but it proved above average overall.

Finish Line: Boat-smart performance of this street-casual looker earned the top score in our boat shoe test.

boat shoes
Sperry stats. Boating Mag
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Adidas Climacool Boat Lace

Adidas Climacool Boat Lace Adidas

Style: Performance wet/dry
Sole: Geometric, siped
Best Application: Paddle sports, river rafting, beachcombing

boat shoes
Adidas detail. Adidas

Top Line: Performance styling coupled with speedy drainage makes this a great choice when frequent drenching is apt to occur. The mesh fabric is breathable and comes in more masculine colors.

Wins: The synthetic tongue material was comfortable and retained little water in the dunk tank test. The drainage system emptied the shoe in seconds.

Losses: The nylon mesh over the drainage ports made this a slippery shoe and interfered with the grippier rubber. In spite of the fast drainage, it dried slowly.

Finish Line: A great choice for rocky beaches, paddling and rafting.

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Adidas stats. Adidas
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Adidas Boat Lace Deluxe

Adidas Boat Lace Deluxe Adidas

Style: Performance
Sole: Geometric, unsiped
Best Application: Street casual, boardwalk

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Adidas detail. Adidas

Top Line: The upper was of synthetic canvaslike material reminiscent of Red Ball Jets mated with retro Adidas runners.

Wins: The tread gripped well in our puddle-jogging test.

Losses: Surprisingly, the shoe was equipped with no drainage points and held moisture like a bucket. The fabric itself was slow to dry.

Finish Line: A boaty-looking shoe that goes well with jeans, but we felt it was better suited to the gangplank, thanks to its tendency to smudge the deck. It failed our drainage test and was still wet after two hours in 100-degree sun.

boating shotes
Adidas stats. Boating Mag
boating sneakers

Columbia Powerdrain

Columbia Powerdrain Columbia

Style: Performance wet/dry
Sole: Rugged, siped
Best Application: Powerboating, paddling, wade-fishing

boat shoe
Columbia detail. Columbia

Top Line: Its neoprene skeleton is covered with an attractive mesh outer layer. Drainage holes on the side won’t suck up puddled water, and a sporty, outdoorsy nautical look works on deck or boardwalk.

Wins: Fast drainage and one of our fastest to dry, this shoe also held its own in the traction department.

Losses: The shoe tongue just didn’t want to dry for some reason, and we thought this shoe would score 3s for traction.

Finish Line: An overall high scorer that we’d select for powerboating or wade-fishing, thanks to good drainage and quick-dry characteristics.

boat sneakers
Columbia stats. Boating Mag
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Irish Setter Lakeside

Irish Setter Lakeside Irish Setter

Style: Rugged leather, oxford
Sole: Rugged, siped
Best Application: Cool-weather cruising, inland fishing, street casual, boat shows

boating shoe
Irish Setter detail. Irish Setter

Top Line: This is a good-looking lace-up shoe for street or rugged boating. It’s ­durable with good arch support and ­has decent traction on deck, dock or trail.

Wins: Uncompromising tread and sipes were grippy in our jog test. It dried fast even though it drained poorly; its leather construction and removable insole absorbed little water. The treads did not scuff.

Losses: Faster drainage would have put this shoe in the top three.

Finish Line: Its sturdy design and robust looks make a great statement for Northern boaters, and its overall score was lowered strictly due to its slow drainage.

boat shoes
Irish Setter stats. Boating Mag
boat shoe

Rockport MC4

This is a handsome, tapered shoe with well-oiled leather and a semismooth geometric siped sole. Rockport

Style: Leather moc, rugged
Sole: Geometric, siped
Best Application: Street casual, wet or dry decks

boat shoe
Rockport detail. Rockport

Top Line: This is a handsome, tapered shoe with well-oiled leather and a semismooth geometric siped sole.

Wins: We ran nicely in this shoe on the puddle test, and the dry time was decent considering its slower, though not slowest, drainage.

Losses: The brass weep holes were blocked by the insole, slowing drainage, and it smudged the deck.

Finish Line: Tread design didn’t seem to work as well as parallel or roughly parallel siping. The tongue slowed the drying process by retaining more water than others.

boat shoes
Rockport stats. Boating Mag
boating sneakers, waterproof sneakers

Rockport Hydro 2

Rockport Hydro 2 Rockport

Style: Performance
Sole: Semirugged, siped
Best Application: Street casual cool, river rafting, paddling

boating sneaker
Rockport detail. Rockport

Top Line: Sleek performance style with synthetic materials keeps feet cool and well ventilated.

Wins: It earned a higher score in the puddle jog test, gripping the slippery surface well, and drained enough water for a good score in that test.

Losses: It got no points for nonscuff performance, and we were surprised at how this apparently breathable, synthetic-upper shoe refused to dry.

Finish Line: We’d give it a go for paddle sports or boating experiences in which decks stay dry, or rafting and paddling where wet feet are expected.

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Rockport stats. Boating Mag
best boating shoes

Rugged Shark Bill Dance

Rugged Shark Bill Dance Rugged Shark

Style: Rugged leather, oxford
Sole: Rugged, siped
Best Application: Street casual, dry decks, boating wet decks/special boating dry decks

boating shoes
Rugged Shark detail. Rugged Shark

Top Line: This rugged, siped sole has good arch support and padded comfort. It’s designed to cross over from nonskid hard decks to carpeted decks without losing traction on either.

Wins: It scored well in our running traction test and was even one of the “stickier” shoes in the puddle-surf test.

Losses: This shoe did not drain in our two-minute drain test, and it absorbed half the water we poured in it.

Finish Line: The shoe is ruggedly comfortable and ideal for traction on wet or dry decks. Drainage eyelets in the uppers would have made this shoe a top scorer.

boat sneaker
Rugged Shark stats. Boating Mag
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Sperry Billfish ASV

Sperry Billfish ASV Sperry

Style: Leather moc, performance
Sole: Smooth, siped
Best Application: Wet or dry decks, ­occasional dunking, street casual

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Sperry detail. Sperry

Top Line: These smart-looking leather uppers boast Sperry’s ASV design for stability and shock absorption. Traditional siping with rugged grooves gives solid footing on any deck.

Wins: It was fast to drain and dry, and because the leather uppers absorbed little water, they dried undamaged.

Losses: It was a long slider in the puddle surf, but it came in second only to the Kingfishers overall.

Finish Line: Second place is OK when your teammate Kingfisher beats you. The nonscuffing rubber was unsurpassed in the puddle-jogging test.

boat loafers
Sperry stats. Boating Mag
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West Marine Deluxe

Its glossy leather and Friday-casual looks made it a good fit for ­yachting events and casual wear. West Marine

Style: Leather moc
Sole: Siped
Best Application: Street casual, dry decks

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West Marine detail. West Marine

Top Line: This is the dressiest boat shoe of our test, with smooth, satin/glossy leather uppers and leather laces.

Wins: Though the shoe exhibited no drainage, its well-oiled leather resisted absorption, giving it a good score in our dry test. The leather also held its satin sheen after our dunk test.

Losses: Weep holes would have put this shoe near the top of our list, but it showed no sign of draining and it scuffed the deck, darn it.

Finish Line: Its glossy leather and Friday-casual looks made it a good fit for ­yachting events and casual wear.

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West Marine stats. Boating Mag
boat sneakers

World Wide Sportsman Amphibious Blue Water

Rugged soles are built for quick drainage and superior traction on various surfaces. World Wide Sportsman

Style: Performance wet/dry
Sole: Rugged, siped
Best Application: Wet or dry decks, ­wade-fishing, paddle sports, rafting

boating sneaker
World Wide Sportsman detail. World Wide Sportsman

Top Line: The Amphibious is a boat shoe designed for paddle sports and wade-fishing. Rugged soles are built for quick drainage and superior traction on various surfaces.

Wins: It’s fast to drain and sticky on our puddle-jogging test. It didn’t scuff a bit.

Losses: It was slower to dry than most of the competitors and, surprisingly, a long skidder in the puddle-surf test.

Finish Line: The side drains in the Amphibious Blue Water worked well and are less likely to capture silt when wading and more likely to jettison it, should it get in the shoe.

boating shoes
World Wide Sportsman stats. Boating Mag

Boot Up

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Sperry Sea Hiker

Sperry Sea Hiker Sperry

Sperry designed these neoprene boots for sailors who need uncompromising traction on flooded decks. It succeeded. These boots stuck in our puddle surfing so hard we almost tripped. The flexible sole ensures maximum tread contact, and the soft, siped rubber squeegees water away from each footfall. The neoprene design didn’t drain well, but the skintight fit would prevent most water from getting inside. It dried quickly in our tests.

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Rugged Shark Great White Boot

Rugged Shark Great White Boot Rugged Shark

The other answer to dry feet is to not let water in at all. The Great Whites were equal to that task. We got good traction from them in our puddle-jog test, but they were slick puddle surfers. The soles made no marks on our fiberglass surface. The insoles are removable to speed drying. They are the boot of choice for offshore fishers and boaters.