Best Boat Shoes

The New Boat Shoes

An Old Sailor Looks at the
Latest Hi-tech Footwear

Until a few years ago if you wanted a pair of sailing shoes (or deck shoes as they’re known downunder) you’d go to your local chandlery and buy a pair of Sperry Topsiders. Or if money was a bit tight, you’d buy a pair of “made in china” replicas.

Then along came Timberland and Dubarry and other upmarket brands and suddenly, if you wore Sperry, or Sperry look-alikes, or heaven forbid, a pair of old runners with the canvas top and rubber soles (Dunlop Volleys in Oz) you were definitely not invited to the Commodore’s cocktail party.


Before I go on I must declare a personal bias. I have been, and still am, a Sperry man. I admit I did dabble with Timberland for a while, but it was a silly, temporary fling and meant nothing. To me the old original Sperry Topsider, the scruffier the better, is still the only boat shoe.

In fact, I used to give my new topsiders to my dog for a week before I’d dare wear them to the yacht club. No sailor I know would be seen wearing a new pair of boat shoes.

And of course I’ve never been invited to the Commodore’s cocktail party.

A hi-tech revolution

But there’s been a revolution in boating shoes over the last few years. The high tech guys, those who’ve tinkered with our sails, masts, electronics and foul weather gear, have now started on our boat shoes.

henrilloydoptThey’re not even called boat shoes any more. They’re “deck trainers”

“Deck trainers???” … sounds like something with little wheels on the side.

The problem for sailors who spend most of their life in boat shoes is that their feet spread out. My feet are like a duck’s – almost as wide as they are long and I find it hard to buy normal shoes to fit me. I need a pair of boat shoes that stretch and mould to my foot and feel like a second skin.

Which is why I live in Topsiders.

And Topsiders are so easy. Buy a new pair … put them on … stand in a bucket of water … walk around until they dry … give them to the dog for a few days … a bit of oil …perfect.

Practical tests

harkenoptAnyway, these new “deck trainers” have been tested by several impeccable groups, including Practical Boat Owner, who’ve tested several different makes on several occasions.

They found little difference in performance between the major brands. Henri Lloyd, Musto, Harken, Gill, Dubarry and Sperry were all found to give very good support to your foot with arch supports and support around the heel. The soles are made from the very latest in materials, giving excellent grip in the wet and they all have “breathable” uppers and “wickable” inners to keep your feet as dry as possible and to dry out quickly – a bit like foul weather gear for your feet.

dubarryoptAnd unfortunately they all look like something your local rapper would wear.

They even have special inner liners to stop your feet smelling

Smelly feet? – smelly feet are a sailors birthright!

The real problem

The real problem is – I’ve changed a headsail at 2 am on a cold, wet foredeck in a gale in Bass Strait. It’s no fun. It’s bloody uncomfortable to say the least.

And I’ve lost my boat shoes overboard doing it. And bare feet on a slippery deck are even less fun.

So, as much as I hate saying so, the next time I go offshore I’m going to at least look at these new “deck trainers”. At least you can be sure they’ll stay on when you need them.

The experts say a good fit is critical, and I’m not sure they’ll be as forgiving as my Topsiders, so I’ll have to try every make and model to see if I can get a pair to fit my duck feet.

And if I do find a pair that fit, I’ll hide them aboard somewhere safe, and only wear them when the wind and sea pipe up.

And I’ll never, ever wear them in the club.

And you can count on this … you could never wear them to the Commodore’s cocktail party.