The Best Shoes to Wear on a Boat in Comfort and Style

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This article gives you the characteristics of what the best shoes to wear on a boat all have in common. We will cover the history, features, what to consider, and a few recommendations for you to choose from.

Brown or tan loafers were the “thing” during the days of your grandfather. He probably wore his best boat shoes when weighing anchor or trying to hook herring or tuna. Fashion on the high seas always has a place for traditional dock shoes, but today, you’ve got a lot to choose from. 

The best shoes to wear on a yacht or any kind of fishing boat are “boat shoes.” They’re also great for exercising in the coastline of your favorite beach; they’ll work great on any wet surface. However, if you buy a below standard dock shoe, your safety may be compromised. You won’t just waste your money, but you’ll also put your life in danger. 

Read our full review about the best shoes for sailing in 2021.

Comparison Chart

Sperry Mens 7 Seas 3-Eye-Sneaker
Best Boat Shoes For Men
Mishansha Unisex Water Shoes
Best Unisex Water Shoes
71bZA8q2fcL. AC UX695
Sperry Women’s 7 Seas 3-Eye Boating Shoe
Best Boat Shoes For Woman

What Are Boat Shoes?

You exactly know the purpose of boat shoes, but can you picture one in your mind? What are they made of? And, what’s best for you and your hobby? 

When summer comes or it’s that time of the year for fishing, they’re inescapable in cities and college campuses. Boat shoes don’t become the trend of the season, but they’re essential and fashionable when you’re in the seas. 

Boat shoes are made of leather or canvas. High-quality ones are impenetrable by water unless you submerge your foot under the sea. The non-marking rubber soles of dock shoes are perfect for use on a boat. 

Siping patterns are cut into the soles. This provides a powerful grip on wet, slippery deck. The leather construction of high-grade boat shoes and the application of oil ultimately prevents water penetration. You can even wear a pair without socks!

The best features of boat shoes are as follows:

  • Durable upper made from high-quality leather or canvas
  • Uppers are treated with oil to be stainproof and water repellant
  • Top-stitched or hand-sewn
  • Should have 2 to 3 eyelets
  • Moc-to construction
  • The laces are made from the same materials as the uppers. 
  • Available in conventional laces
  • Features a 360-degree lacing system
  • Rubber soles should be non-marking
  • Herringbone patterned soles
  • Shock-absorbing heel cup

Purists wear classic designs, which resembles Paul Sperry’s first boat shoes. Paul Alling Sperry was a sailor, outdoorsman, and businessman. He designed the first-ever boat shoe. Now, let’s talk about the origin and history of this game-changing footwear.

The Prototype and the First-ever Boat Shoe

The Best Shoes to Wear on a Boat 1
Drawing from the patent for the Sperry Top-Sider, 1937

Soft leather loafer-style, moccasin-toed shoes have made a mark in the boating industry and in the style of American sailors and fishermen. There was a time when young and middle-aged seafarers withstood heavy boots or soaked rubber shoes, while out in the sea. Some wear flip-flops and sandals to avoid stink and athlete’s foot, but they put themselves at risk of deck accidents. 

The safety and versatility of wearing dock shoes, which you can enjoy today, hasn’t been always around in the history of mankind. This may be hard to believe, but when it did become available to the public, it has taken over the American sailing and fishing industry like an invasive species. Paul Sperry, the inventor of the first boat shoe, designed his product for sailors. 

A few decades later, men and women who made their living in the sea fully embraced the boat shoe and the benefits that it brings. The conception of this game-changing merchandise happened on one sunny day. 

Paul Sperry slipped again. His leather shoes failed him again. He was tired of it and sat on his bum, staring at his dog, Prince, like someone lost in his thoughts. He said to himself, “that dog faced no issue climbing icy cliffs and walking on this slippery deck.” 

He then inspected Prince’s paw. “What prevents this dog from slipping?” he thought. Looking at the paw of his beloved dog, Sperry noticed the tiny grooves. To mimic this design of nature, he etched deep lines on the rubber outsoles of his shoes with a penknife. This provided traction and more grip. 

The prototype for the boat shoe was born. Of course, our ancestors may have designed similar footwear, but they lacked the versatility and durability of Sperry’s boat shoe design. The sailor, who was tired of slipping on wet decks, patented his invention in 1923. 

When he introduced his design to the market, many sailors and fishermen bought his product. And, a lot more followed the craze. The first design, however, left hard-to-remove black skid-marks on decks. Sperry revised his design and used white rubber soles. And thus, the traditional boat shoe was born. 

During that time, the footwear hadn’t even reached 2% of its popularity today. Some time passed. When the Sperry scored a contract from the navy, the popularity of his product soared. A few years later, he sold his company to US Rubber. The boat shoe’s popularity exploded further after it was featured in “The Official Preppy Handbook.” 

Today, the boat shoe is a staple for sea goers and is emblematic to East Coast summer fashion. You can go for the traditional styles or choose and modern-colored boat shoes. 

Why Wear Boat Shoes?

Men have few options when it comes to choosing summertime footwear. With boat shoes, you won’t just have a gear for your favorite sport or pastime, but you’ll also double the number of your fashion options. 

Boat shoes are lightweight and allow you to skip wearing socks. And, they match perfectly with shorts. Being a slip-on, they’re easy to wear as sandals and sneakers. With their sharp look, you can even pair them with casual and formal clothing. 

Why Avoid Cheap Boat Shoes

  • Poor design
  • Thin and weak soles
  • Made from inferior materials
  • Accident prone
  • Short longevity
  • Offers minimal protection to water and salt
  • Aren’t grippy and comfortable to wear
  • Weak traction

Choosing the Right Boat Shoes

Boat shoes are quite similar to normal shoes. But, it’s best to choose a size that isn’t exact to your size. Go for a snugger fit since they stretch out as you wear them. Go for a half-size lesser than your normal size. If you’re choosing between two sizes, choose the smaller one. 

Here are some more tips that can help you when choosing the right pair:

Look for the Herringbone sole

The herringbone sole keeps you safe. Etched with grooves that mimic the grip of dog paws, it’s the most important feature in boat shoes. On boating days, safety should be your utmost priority. You don’t want to fall off the deck because of a faulty or fake Herringbone sole. 

Consider the construction

Like any footwear, shoddy construction spells ineffective practicality and short lifespan. If you’re in for heavy labor on the boat, cheap $20 shoes won’t last that long. 


Aside from the obvious, you can wear boat shoes in various ways. As an everyday wear, they can serve as a replacement to your loafers and sneakers. 

Many are debating whether socks should be worn or not. As designed by its inventor, boat shoes were originally meant to be used without socks. They’re comfortable to wear as they are. 

However, in an urban setting, they should be used with socks. If you worry about feet sweating, then opt for a cotton insert.

Avoid waterproof shoes

Waterproof boat shoes can be useful, but since they’re waterproof, liquids from the inside can’t get out. In fact, this feature just makes boat shoes damp. Instead, you should go for water-resistant shoes or a pair with drainage ports.

Choose a pair that can last for years

Boating shoes should be rain and stain repellant, on top of being durable. It must also offer flexibility. Breathability is one of the fine features of boat shoes. Your chosen pair should be durable and flexible. Make sure that it can stand saltwater and small hails. 

Additionally, when choosing your next boat shoes, make sure that the shoes’ materials are right. The pair should be made from water-resistant and quick-drying materials, such as rubber or algae-based foam. 

Leather could be an option too. For those who wish to use their boat shoes casually, a black or brown pair can go a long way. Although it may require additional maintenance like salt treatment and shoe shine, everything will be worth the trouble.

Leather dock shoes are in fact the most durable and long lasting type. Neoprene and washable materials are the more practical option than leathery pairs. Most are being offered at cheap prices, yet their water-proofing and slip prevention features are top-notch. 

Final Words

When out boating, boat shoes can be worn in various ways. As common wear, a brown or black pair could go a long way. You can use it to eat out with your friends if paired with casual summer clothes or short jeans. You can also go to an interview wearing a pair of leather boat shoes.

Now that you know what to look for, you should start perusing the product pages on this website. You can try out the Sperry 7 SEAS 3-eye Boat Shoe. It’s one of the latest additions to Sperry’s SEAS product line, which is known for grippy, breathable, and long-lasting boat shoes. 

Read our top recommended boat shoe the Sperry 7 Seas.

Thank you for reading our article on the best shoes to wear on a boat and hopefully it gave you a better appreciation of the importance of having them.

Happy Sailing!

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