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.
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.
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.
Style: Performance wet/dry Sole: Geometric, siped Best Application: Paddle sports, river rafting, beachcombing
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.
Style: Performance Sole: Geometric, unsiped Best Application: Street casual, boardwalk
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.
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.
Style: Rugged leather, oxford Sole: Rugged, siped Best Application: Cool-weather cruising, inland fishing, street casual, boat shows
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.
Style: Leather moc, rugged Sole: Geometric, siped Best Application: Street casual, wet or dry decks
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.
Style: Performance Sole: Semirugged, siped Best Application: Street casual cool, river rafting, paddling
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.
Style: Rugged leather, oxford Sole: Rugged, siped Best Application: Street casual, dry decks, boating wet decks/special boating dry decks
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.
Style: Leather moc, performance Sole: Smooth, siped Best Application: Wet or dry decks, occasional dunking, street casual
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.
Style: Leather moc Sole: Siped Best Application: Street casual, dry decks
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.
Style: Performance wet/dry Sole: Rugged, siped Best Application: Wet or dry decks, wade-fishing, paddle sports, rafting
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.
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.
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.