How To Pick The Right Boat Shoes

Stay safe and comfortable with these choices

September 16, 2019

Thank Paul Sperry’s dog for the legendary Sperry Topsider boat shoe. An avid sailor, Sperry was looking for a solution to slippery decks when he noted his dog race surefooted across winter ice. Looking at the dog’s grooved paws, he cut a similar pattern into a rubber sole and the boat shoe was born. Today, that original concept still exists, as do numerous alternatives. Here’s how to pick the right boat shoe for you…and your unique boating lifestyle.

Sperry Men's Authentic Original 2-Eye Boat Shoe
The classic, two-eyelet leather boat shoe is a timeless choice, fitting in everywhere from the yacht club to a water-drenched foredeck. Courtesy Amazon

The classic leather boat show will likely always remain a timeless choice, sporting a mix of form and function that has made them both stylish fashion footwear and go-to deck gear for almost 90 years. Alternatives, however, do exist, including updated versions of the classic boat shoe with more supportive, comfortable footbeds, sneaker-like alternatives with highly breathable mesh uppers, even boat-shoe variations of the infamous rubber Crocs.

Sperry Men's Billfish 3-Eye Boat Shoe
No one wants a shoe scuff to mar their pristine deck or cockpit. Quality boat shoes feature non-scuffing soles that leave no trace behind. Courtesy Amazon

Looks will always be important, but a boat shoe’s true purpose remains the same as it was way back when — to provide traction on wet decks. Many boat shoes still use Sperry’s original “siping,” the zigzag, razor-thin pattern designed to offer tenacious grip while pushing water out from below the shoe.

Sperry 7 Seas
Alternatives to the classic boat shoe include sneaker-like shoes that quickly drain water away and dry rapidly. Courtesy Bass Pro Shops

Comfort is important in any shoe, but a boat shoe has the added challenge of often being wet. Classic leather uppers may be timeless, but leather is not as quick to dry as some manmade materials. Removable insoles help when you want to dry your shoes quickly. Many shoes also incorporate mesh panels in the upper, as well as drainage holes in the sole.


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