Whether you are cruising, racing big boats or dinghies, what you wear on your feet matters. As a US Sailing Instructor, our beginning classes require close-toed shoes. If you’ve ever stepped on a sailboat you probably already know why – Boats BITE! Deck fittings, winches, fairleads all seem to reach out and grab for toes and unprotected feet. Now just like with PFDs…let’s be honest…we all sail barefoot sometimes. It is just kind of the thing to do, but there are times it is not the thing to do. So what kind of footwear is out there and which one is right for you?
For the casual cruiser “deck shoes” are probably going to be the right choice. These range from your classic Sperry dockside shoes to something more athletic like a “race trainer” from Gill or the “Seven Seas” line from Sperry. In any case, they should have a good non-slip grip bottom on them and be able to shed water quickly. As a bonus, most of these look good on and off the boat so that you can save a little space in your luggage.
Shoes for racing get a little more complicated. It depends on the size of the boat and your climate as to what will be the best, but a good all-around option is some sort of low cut boot. A waterproof one for colder climates and when more stability is desired, or a neoprene one for warmer climates (and typically smaller boats). You can usually pair this with a pair of polypro, neoprene, or waterproof socks that add another layer of warmth if you need it.
If you are sailing in hot weather, there are ankle height shoes as well. Typically the wearer will be racing small boats where long hiking sessions can take their toll on the tops of bare feet. They provide a little warmth and again can be paired with a warm sock for colder sailing.
Finally, for those who love to sail cold, there are also tall boots. Reminiscent of galoshes, these boots are designed to keep water out when it is coming in over the bow, and the deck is awash. As with all boating shoes, they have some serious non-slip on them as well.
Whatever you choose, take care of your feet! When you aren’t on watch, get them dried out and warmed up. Wet feet for multiple days leads to not fun sailing.
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