Stepping aboard a boat while wearing black-soled street shoes will earn you the ire of whoever has to swab the resulting black streaks off the deck. If that swabber is your host, you can probably say bon voyage to any chance of a future cruise or fishing trip aboard that boat.
In the meanwhile you may find you have trouble maintaining your footing atop an oft-wet and ever-shifting deck, which is why shoes with special nonslip soles were created for boaters in the first place.
It wasn’t long ago that boaters had but one choice in footwear created specifically for recreational sailors, cruisers, and anglers, allowing Connecticut-based Sperry to dominate the market with their popular Top-Siders line of moccasin-style shoes.
Narrow slits in the rubber soles of Sperry’s boat shoes have a squeegee effect: they squeeze out water and allow the rubber to maintain contact with the deck, offering a grip that stifles slippage.
Sperry still holds top-sole honors among boaters worldwide, but their success has earned competition from across the seven seas, and boaters now have dozens of sole designs and countless upper options to choose from.
Here are some recommendations to help you keep your sea-legs while enjoying a variety of activities from the deck of a boat.
The 9 Best Boat Shoes of 2021: Outdoor Empire Reviews
- Best for Anglers #1: Simms Currents
- Best for Anglers #2: Sperry Ultralite Billfish Chukka
- Best Overall for Men #1: Sperry the Gold Cup
- Best Overall for Men #2: XTRATUF Ankle Deck Boot
- Best for Women: Sperry Top-Sider Angelfish
- Best for Walking #1: Sebago Clovehitch
- Best for Walking #2: Harper Shoes Blue Berry EASY21
- Best Waterproof: XTRATUF Men’s Waterproof Slip-On
- Most Comfortable: World Wide Sportsman Lakefront 2-Eye
|Category||Best Angler||Best Overall||Best Walking|
|Product|| || ||
|Upper Material||Mesh, TPU welded||Leather||Leather|
|Closure||Bungee drawcord||Slip-on or lace||Lacing system|
|Sole||Non-marking rubber||Non-slip rubber||Rubber|
|Available Colors||- Black|
- Black/ Amaretto
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best Boat Shoes For Fishing #1: Simms Currents
Fishing is enjoyed at least once a season from 70% of recreational powerboats in the US, so chances are you may be considering wetting a line from a deck this year.
Fishing presents special challenges with regard to footing because anglers move around on a deck that may be wet or smeared with any manner of slippery stuff left there by bait, chum, or previous catches.
The angler often carries a rod and reel and is occupied with fooling, hooking, fighting, and landing whatever is at the end of their line. To do that, they must take for granted that their footing will be maintained through it all.
Simms Currents model deck shoes offers several features important to anglers, which include excellent deck-gripping soles, uppers that drain and dry quickly and are seam-free and line-catch-resistant, and a lacing system that remains comfortable over a long day of fishing.
Anti-odor technology is a built-in bonus and important in active footwear that is often damp.
- Seamless, welded quick-dry uppers
- Bungee lacing system for flexibility and comfort
- EVA insoles
- Nonmarking siped soles for a sure grip
- Agion anti-odor technology.
- Excellent Non-slip sole
- Seamless, quick-dry uppers
- Bungee lacing
- Odor control
- Drop heel may stretch out over time
- Flexible bungee lacing may not offer or maintain the snug fit some boaters may be used to
Simms Current boat shoe is a good choice for anglers over a variety of warm-weather boating conditions, offering good comfort, water shedding, and nonslip attributes.
Fly fishermen especially will appreciate the seamless uppers and low-profile, knotless lacing that resists catching by a stripped fly line that may gather on the deck around the angler. See simmsfishing.com for details.
Also check out our full hands-on review of the Grundéns SeaKnit Boat Shoe for deck fishing!
2. Best for Anglers #2: Sperry Ultralite Billfish Chukka
The line of classic boat shoes from Sperry has withstood the test of time on the feet of sailors, anglers, charter boat captains and their mates, and recreational boaters who want to remain stylish while keeping their feet beneath them.
Most people are familiar with the classic Sperry Top-Sider moccasin-style boat shoe, also known as the A/O or Authentic Original line.
There are dozens of styles, colors, and materials represented in the current Sperry line of A/O models, and the Billfish has become a favorite among anglers for their draining capabilities and breathability, as well as for how well they stand up to the constant drenching and draying process that boat shoes weather in everyday use.
Sperry’s Ultralite Billfish Chukka has all the features that make the traditional Billfish boat shoe popular and more, with over-the-ankle protection.
The chukka features hand-sewn construction in soft nubuck for day-long comfort with or without socks, atop a full-length footbed with an EVA heel cup, and Adaptive Wave-Siping on the sole to disperse water and reduce slippage.
- Sperry’s proven Wave-Siping sole design
- Over-the-ankle height for added protection and warmth
- Comfortable EVA heel cup
- Famous slip-proof sole design
- Can be worn with socks for comfort in cooler fishing conditions
- Lightweight for a chukka design
- Longer drying time than boat shoes with mesh uppers
- Can hold water when drenched
The Billfish Chukka is a good choice for anglers whose shoes will likely remain reasonably dry and who want footwear offering more protection from the elements and the option of wearing them with socks to keep their feet warm. Visit sperry.com for more information.
3. Best Overall Boat Shoes for Men #1: Sperry the Gold Cup
Guys can be tough on boat shoes and short on care. Leather has been the material of choice for boaters for a generation or more.
The hide can withstand the rigors of deck work and protect their contents, and if treated correctly at the manufacturer’s end and by the consumer during use, it can remain supple yet secure through countless wet and dry episodes.
Materials used in the manufacture of boat shoes have improved in recent years, both for uppers and soles. When deciding on the best boat shoe, guys need to consider when and where they will be boating.
Fair-weather boaters can get by with a traditional moccasin style that can be slipped on or secured with laces through a few eyelets, and worn without socks. There are even sandals designed for boaters offering nonslip soles and slip-off convenience when barefoot is the way to go.
The best shoes for boaters who may face cooler temperatures will be more waterproof, cover more of the foot, and be designed for use with socks. The best choice may even be rubber boots in super-wet deck conditions.
Sperry’s original leather boat shoes are classics, and the top of the Sperry line is the Gold Cup collection — and for good reason. The Maine-crafted shoes feature old-world tanning techniques using premium Horween leather, hand-puncturing, and hand-stitching, resulting shoes that are one of a kind.
- Hand-sewn and assembled in Maine
- Made using premium Horween USA leathers
- Hand-punctured and hand-stitched for unique yet controlled detail and quality
- Decorative, hand-sewn stitching in white, red, and blue to signal US craftsmanship
- Made using premium Vibram outsoles for optimum comfort, traction, and durability
- Lined with leather and perforated for added breathability
- Premium leathers inside and out
- Vibram outsoles
- Proven nonslip sole design
With a retail price of $375, the Gold Cup is targeted toward boaters who place a premium on their footwear and have the means to pay a premium price for a top-quality shoe. Be it for fashion, function, or both, these top-of-the-line Sperry’s fit the bill.
Sperry the Gold Cup is also available at:
4. Best Overall for Men #2: XTRATUF Ankle Deck Boot
XTRATUF is a brand of boat boot that originated in Alaska with a half century of commercial use underfoot, and now they are a popular choice among boaters in cooler climes and harsher water conditions.
While they now offer traditional boat shoes, XTRATUF earned their popularity with their rugged rubber boots that can be found on the feet of America’s Cup competitors and Alaskan crab fleet crews.
The commercial-grade version of the waterproof Ankle Deck Boot is a top choice for boaters who may stand on deck 12 hours or more a day in conditions that can cause feet to swell. The upper is reinforced in high-wear areas, such as the toe and heel, for maximum durability.
The boots also feature an EVA-PU blend insole for all-day comfort, and an oil resistant, SRC-rated outsole for the best traction available. Since the Ankle Boot model is built slightly wider, XTRATUF recommends that those seeking half sizes order down a size.
- 100% waterproof construction for comfort and performance
- Commercial grade, providing a slightly wider fit
- Made using a dual-density, extreme-comfort insole with built in channels help keep feet cool, dry, and comfortable
- Reinforced upper at the toe, with added heel and pull-on tabs for maximum durability
- SRC-rated outsole that provides superior slip resistance and is nonmarking and oil resistant
- 100% waterproof
- Ruggedly built with commercial-use standards
- Reinforced in key areas
- Superior slip resistance
- Low enough for easier donning and doffing than traditional calf-and-higher boat boots
- Can be worn with thick socks for warmth in extreme conditions
- Can collect water if submerged
- Not drainable or breathable
- Can get stinky if not dried between uses
- Not a good look when worn with shorts
XTRATUF Ankle Boots are great for guys who need to keep their feet warm and dry in extreme water atop slick, shifting decks. The option of wearing them ashore is a fashion statement that screams, “I’m a serious boater!”
XTRATUF Ankle Deck Boot is also available at:
5. Best Overall Boat Shoes for Women: Sperry Top-Sider Angelfish
The best boat shoes for women must meet the same demands as those intended for men: slip resistance and quality construction using premium, marine-grade materials that stand up to the elements experienced on the deck of a boat.
The best boat shoes used in milder cruising conditions are going to be different than the shoes that do a better job in cold weather.
Popular features found on the best fair-weather boat shoes, beyond the basic resistance to slipping on a wet deck, include those that protect the feet from the elements and hazards on deck and provide comfort for a long day aboard.
These shoes should also be wearable without socks, be easy to slip on and off, maintain suppleness after countless wet-dry episodes, and be able to drain and dry quickly on and off the foot.
Sperry’s Top-Sider Anglerfish Boat Shoe is a flat-style, slip-on model with a combination leather and mesh fabric upper for support, self-draining capabilities, and breathability.
A quick-dry fabric lines the upper for comfort, and a memory foam footbed and 360-degree lacing allow for a secure fit and nautical look.
- Mesh fabric and leather upper with fabric lining
- Classic moccasin-stitched toe and traditional boat shoe lacing
- EVA midsole
- Proven Top-Sider rubber traction sole
- Supple mesh and leather upper concealing a fabric liner
- Slip-on design
- Nautical look
- Top-Sider nonslip sole
- Multiple colors and combinations
- Flat-style design does not offer full foot protection
- Offers minimum warmth in cool conditions
Sperry’s Angelfish model boat shoe is a good choice for women who want stylish, quality comfort in a traditional boat shoe for cruising in moderate weather conditions where foot warmth is not an issue.
6. Best Boat Shoes for Walking #1: Sebago Clovehitch
Who wants to have to change shoes every time you reach your waterfront destination? Any boater who has attempted any amount of trekking ashore atop a pair of thin-soled, poorly supported deck shoes has suffered that lesson.
For boaters who want to be able step off the deck and onto the boardwalk, beach, or dock and keep on going without suffering the pains of single-purpose footwear, a boat shoe that offers nonslip features aboard and comfort features ashore is the way to go.
Sebago’s Clovehitch line of boat shoes are comfortable aboard and ashore, thanks to a hand-sewn boat moccasin-style upper made with full-grain leather that’s both oiled and waxed.
They feature breathable Dri-Lex Hydrofil mesh panels for draining and breathability, and a functional lacing system the brand is known for. The sipped rubber sole is sidewall-stitched, slip resistant and nonmarking.
- 100% leather upper and liner
- 100% rubber outsole
- Choice of three colors: Navy, Tan, and Cinnamon
- All-leather, premium-grade, full-grade upper offers good protection and support
- Thick sole cushions the foot while walking
- Leather lining
- Lacing system is easy to cinch and snug around foot
- Bulkier that traditional thin-soled deck shoes
Sebago’s Clovehitch boat shoes are an excellent choice for boaters who plan to do some walking once they reach their destination and want the convenience of a functional deck shoe to wear while underway that also will serve as a comfortable walking shoe when ashore. Sebago-USA.com
7. Best for Walking #2: Harper Shoes Blue Berry EASY21
Harper Shoes Blue Berry EASY21 model for women is a lace-up, flat-style, slip-on boat shoe with a rubber sole underfoot for traction on deck, and a mesh and fabric upper for a light weight and fast drying time.
- Fabric lining
- Soft rubber sole for comfort and traction
- Quick-dry and breathable mesh fabric upper
- Easy slip-on, flat-style design
- Low Cost
- Quick drying
- Easy to slip on and off
- Available in a range of colors
- Nonslip rubber sole
Retailing for about $15 on Amazon, these boat shoes for women are a great choice for occasional use in moderate conditions where durability is not essential but nonslip and nonmarring qualities are. The low price allows the option of owning multiple pairs to match boating attire.
8. Best Waterproof Boat Shoes: XTRATUF Men’s Waterproof Slip-On
XTRATUF boat shoes are an extension of the company’s line of traditional rubber footwear and are a popular, proven choice among a generation of Alaskan commercial fishermen.
Their Men’s Waterproof Slip-On Boat Shoe is the lowest of their rubber footwear offerings and protects against water entering from below and above via a snug upper fit.
The shoe features a neoprene and rubber upper, XTRATUF’s famous Chevron outsole design (for slip resistance) and an XpressCool Lining material inside. Designed for use with socks, it is recommended that boaters order a half size larger than their regular shoe size to accommodate.
- 100% Waterproof design
- Combination neoprene and rubber upper
- Slip-Resistant Chevron Outsole
- Pull tab for easy wear
- XpressCool Liner for comfort and breathability
- Excellent skid resistance
- Easy on and off for a rubber boat shoe
- Good foot protection
- Lacks the protection of over-the-ankle models
- May not be comfortable for warm weather use
- Not suitable for extreme cold-weather use
- May not be comfortable for extended walking
The XTRATUF Waterproof Boat Shoes are good choice for boaters who want to keep their feet completely dry on decks that may frequently be awash without having to wear a boat shoe or boot extending higher than the ankle.
9. Most Comfortable Boat Shoes: World Wide Sportsman Lakefront 2-Eye
World Wide Sportsman’s Lakefront 2-Eye boat shoes have oiled leather uppers that are ventilated and bonded to non-marring, slip-resistant, flexible outsoles.
Their slip-on design features functional lacing through corrosion-resistant, bronze-finished metal eyelets, and the footbed is deeply padded with memory foam.
- Supple leather upper
- Comfortable footbed
- Flexible, slip-resistant, nonmarring outsole
- Slip-on design
- Fashionable design
- May be worn with or without socks
- Not waterproof
- Laces may need to be loosened for easy slip-on/off
- Long drying time
The Lakefront 2-Eye boat shoe is a good choice for casual boaters who want a fashionable, traditional-deck-shoe look to wear aboard and ashore in moderate to cool conditions. For details, visit basspro.com.
Why Choose Quality Boat Shoes?
Boat shoe quality is determined primarily by a shoe’s slip-resistance on damp, shifting surfaces, as this is the specialty footwear’s primary purpose.
When you must keep your feet under you when facing such conditions aboard, it will become clear why a quality deck shoe with a premium nonslip sole and snug footbed is called for. On calm, clear warm-weather days aboard, you may get by wearing no shoes at all and suffer no consequences.
On the other hand, a dramatic shift underfoot can happen when you least expect, even on a flat calm sea. The boat may be hit by the wake of another vessel, and traction will be called for to keep your feet. Sea conditions aren’t the only threat to the well-bring of boaters on deck.
But the first time you slip on some spilt piña colada, stub your toe on a cleat, or drop a boat hook or rod butt on your foot, you’ll wish you had been wearing the best foot protection you can afford.
Beyond that, quality is a matter of durability and comfort in the upper. On one hand, that can mean 100% waterproofing in some boating conditions or, in other cases, the ability to perform and remain comfortable and drain quickly when soaked through.
Most premium boat shoes in each use category strike a balance between those features to meet the demands of customers, combining proven design with quality marine-grade materials and construction.
And even if the watercraft you board never leaves the dock, your host will appreciate your donning high quality boat shoes with nonmarring soles to keep the decks looking shipshape.
Features to Consider When Boat Shoe Shopping
Since the primary function of a boat shoe is maintaining traction on a wet and shifting deck, the first consideration when selecting footwear to wear aboard a boat is the sole and its slip-resistant qualities, followed by its non-marring attributes.
“Siping” is a common term used by deck shoe manufacturers to describe a popular nonskid design that features slits in the sole to ‘squeegee’ excess moisture out and allow the rubber to grip a wet surface.
Siping was introduced in boat shoes by Paul Sperry in the late 1930s with his Top-Siders line, but it was John Sipe who developed and patented the design in 1920, albeit for automobile tires.
Today there are many sole designs that are offshoots of the siping feature and do a good job of providing traction on deck.
While many shoemakers have entered the boat shew business and offer such qualities, it’s tough to go wrong when selecting a pair made by manufacturers that have a proven track record of offering quality deck shoes, including Sperry, Sebago, and XTRATUF, to name three of the most popular.
Beyond traction qualities, a boater in the market for a boat shoe should weigh the climate and condition in which their shoes will be used. The right boat shoes used in milder cruising conditions are going to be different than the shoes that do a better job in cold weather.
Features to consider when selecting boat shoes for moderate use and conditions include:
- foot protection from the elements and hazards on deck
- comfort for a long day aboard
- ability to wear the shoes with bare feet
- ease of putting on and slipping off the shoes
- durability after countless wet-dry episodes
- draining and drying capabilities
Mesh uppers and drain holes in leather are features to look for if the shoes are going to be worn in moderate weather and will receive regular dousings. Leather is fine as long as it has been tanned for marine use and properly treated to repel water and dry quickly while maintaining suppleness.
A combination of leather and mesh uppers is a popular choice.
The best shoes for boaters who may face cooler temperatures will be more waterproof, cover more of the foot, and be designed for use with socks. They may also include leather or all-rubber shoes and even boots for boating in super-wet, cold-weather deck conditions.
Top Boat Shoe Brands
Sperry offers, by far, the most popular line of boat shoes in the world. Since 1937, when founder Paul Sperry introduced his nonskid sole design on his famous Authentic Original Top-Sider Boat Shoe, the Connecticut-based company has been the leader in boat shoe development and sales.
After slipping and falling off his sailboat and into the Atlantic in 1935, Sperry tried to develop a shoe with nonslip qualities for boaters.
His breakthrough slit or “siped” sole design was developed based on the surface of his dog’s paws after a winter walk. Sperry noted the spaniel had no problem maintaining its footing on slick ice.
The story goes that he returned home and, with a pocket knife, carved slits similar to those he found on the pads of his dog’s paws in the bottoms of a pair of his rubber-soled shoes.
The sole-slicing worked, and Sperry perfected the design and came out with his Authentic Originals in 1927. Other shoe manufacturers have been playing catch-up ever since. For details on the Sperry boat shoe lineup, visit sperry.com.
Sebago started in Portland, Maine, with the release of the Sebago Classic beefroll penny loafer in 1946.
But it wasn’t until 1970, when they offered Docksides boat shoes, that Sebago secured their place in the deck shoe market with a hallmark model featuring traditional hand-sewn moccasin construction, slip-resistant rubber soles, and noncorrosive brass eyelets that became a classic.
They followed with their popular Portland deck shoes to earn them further respect, clout, and sales in the boat shoe market. Now, Sebago is second only to Sperry in popularity, especially among those who value the traditional “preppy” look of classic leather deck shoes.
For more information visit sebago-usa.com
XTRATUF footwear was created for use on the decks of commercial fishing boats in Alaska, where traction, toughness, and waterproof qualities can be a matter life and death.
The original Legacy Boot, introduced half a century ago, has been dubbed the “Alaskan Sneaker” and been performance-tested and proven across the toughest stretches of water, from the Misty Fjords to Kodiak, from the Bering Sea to Harrison Bay.
When the company introduced the Ankle Boot and eventually expanded into footwear for recreational anglers and boaters, the boots were an immediate hit for being 100% waterproof and offering one of the best slip-proof soles on the market.
In addition to their popularity aboard all manner of watercraft, these days XTRATUF boots and shoes are fashion statements in some commercial and recreational ports of call. xtratuff.com
Q: How should you wear boat shoes?
A: Depending on their type and style and where you will be wearing them, boat shoes are much like traditional slip-on or lace-up sports shoes. They are made of leather, nylon mesh, canvas, rubber or a combination of materials.
Some brands offer classic leather models that are designed to look more like dress shoes for wearing ashore while maintaining the all-important traction required when used atop a wet deck. Most styles are designed for use with or without socks.
Q: Can you wear socks with boat shoes?
A: With most models, yes. But a feature offered by most deck shoes designed for use when boating in mild weather is that they can be worn without socks. That serves two purposes:
First, it allows the wearer to easily slip the shoes off to drain them or to walk barefoot on the beach or below.
Second, going sockless helps keep the feet dry in the event that the shoes are breached by water and soaked inside and out. That said, boat shoes and boots designed for use in cooler weather are intended for use with socks.
Q: How do I take care of my boat shoes?
A: That depends upon what materials they are made of. Chances are the soles will be rubber and don’t require any special care other than the occasional scrubbing with a brush to remove dirt, mud, pebbles, or sand that may be caught in the siping.
No matter what the uppers are constructed of — nylon mesh, rubber, canvas, or leather — they should be allowed to air dry between uses whenever possible.
Leather uppers may require occasional retreatment with water-proofing agents or oil, as recommended by the manufacturer, but most quality deck shoes are made to stand up to the elements with a minimal amount of care.