What Are Your Favorite Boat Shoes?

Feet are a very important part of sailing.   That’s right, the stinky, useful, sometimes painful appendages that are attached to the bottoms of our legs.

If you’re a one design racing sailor, they’re imperative to hook under hiking straps so you don’t fall out of the boat.   On the other hand, if you’re a cruiser, like us half the year, you don’t really have to hang on your feet to stay in the boat.

Cruising we noticed right away that shoes became very optional.  In fact, we were barefoot almost all the time — we put on “shoes” to go to town …. well, most times.

David once forgot to take his shoes to walk a mile between immigration and customs in Big Creek Belize … on a cinder road … luckily someone took pity and gave him a ride to immigration… but then he walked all over Independence to grocery stores and veggie markets.  Come to think of it … imagine trying to go in to immigration or customs or a grocery store or ANYWHERE here in the US in BARE FEET!  Think you would be allowed in the door?  Apparently Belize officials don’t worry so much about shoes and feet as US officials.  Hmmmm…..

So back to feet… on the rare occasion we felt the need to wear shoes aboard, our preferences changed through the years.  When we sailed in Florida and the Keys, our favorite was the traditional Sperry type “deck shoe”.  But a couple months in the Western Caribbean the leather “deck shoes” turned green and smelled worse than feet!

Sperry Leather Deck Shoes

Sperry Leather Deck Shoes

Next we were aficionados of Keen’s sailing shoes.   We bought the first two pairs when they were introduced … from Fawcett Boat Supplies on the water in Annapolis, MD.  White webbing, white non-marking soles.  No choice of colors or styles, but the originals were the most comfortable boat shoes I had ever owned – for walking, for sailing, for wading, for anything.  Plus they had the added advantage of a clunky toe guard … for those of us that have a tendency to jam or break toes while aboard.

And for hooking my feet under a hiking strap in 20 knots of wind and planing conditions in a Y Flyer, they are still undeniably the best.

The Keen’s did have one major drawback … they STUNK!!!   I tried washing them which worked for a few wearings, but in the long run, they still stunk.  I’ve noticed new Keen’s now have “anti-microbial” insoles, and they are better, but the stink is not completely eliminated.

Fortunately shoes aren’t required often.   And we notice our feet are more and more comfortable without shoes.  It got to the point that putting ON shoes was a major event … and not one that we liked.

Keen's - Hanging on a Y Flyer Hiking Strap

Keen's - Hanging on a Y Flyer Hiking Strap

Fast forward a hurricane season … we left the white Keen’s aboard Winterlude in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala.  After all, we had fashionable colors back home.  When we returned to Winterlude after six months, we were dismayed to find that the rubber on the soles of the Keen’s had turned rigid and slick.

In the meantime, everyone in the marina that wore shoes was wearing crocs.  We both thought crocs were the ugliest shoes in the history of the world and refused to even consider actually owning a pair.

Fast forward 2 years to Bocas Del Toro, Panama.  In the little surfing shop in Bocas they had “fake” crocs for $6.  I figured for $6 bucks maybe I’d see what all the fuss was about.  Damn if these ugly shoes weren’t comfortable.  I walked all over Panama City when we played tourist on the way back to the US from the boat … the canal, everywhere and the only casualty was  a slight rub spot where the fake crocs hit the top of my foot.   But my feet weren’t hot even in the tropical summer and the fake crocs didn’t stink.  I was intrigued enough to want a pair of “real” crocs.  Maybe they wouldn’t rub the top of my foot.

David decided I wasn’t the only one that should be embarrassing myself wearing these ridiculous plastic shoes … he jumped in with both feet — orange crocs and blue crocs.  Mine were boring neutral stone color “real” crocs.

Crocs might be ridiculous, but the shoes didn’t stink, our feet didn’t stink, they FLOATED if we happened to lose one off a kayak, we could hop in the water with the crocs to pull the dinghy up to shore, we waded up rivers with crocs securely protecting our feet, and I could walk for miles without blisters or discomfort, and relatively speaking, they’re cheap.

We wore those crocs so long there was no tread on the bottoms.  Time to upgrade.  Horror of horrors, my husband who loves orange, discovered that crocs are no longer manufactured in orange!  What are they THINKING???

Very Sad, No More Orange Crocs

Very Sad, No More Orange Crocs

A hint if you don’t already know.  Crocs are not acceptable in the “real world”.  You WILL embarrass your kids if you wear them when you come back.

So we’re back to square one … when we wear no shoes and go barefoot for months at a time, our feet don’t hurt, they’re comfortable, we have fewer knee, leg, hip and back traumas.   Recently my son made me read “Born to Run” … the start of the new barefoot running phenomena. …  we’re not runners, but our experience seems to support the barefoot is better for the physique theory … so ….

we’re starting a trend  — wear no shoes!    SAIL NAKED — feet only, of course!


So what are your favorite boat shoes?


  1. Candy Ann Williams via Facebook says:

    Barefoot is our ‘shoe’ of choice…and in 63 yrs. they haven’t wore out yet! We did wear croc sandals on the Rio Dulce when we would go to ‘town’-lol

  2. I wish I could go barefoot but I need help with orthotics. I use a combination of sperry sneakers, merrill(mostly inside) clog type shoe and keen sandals. We heard that mouth wash will help with the smelly keens. My husband is going to try that soon.

  3. Tom McNulty says:

    Crocs Coves are my favorite. Unfortunately they have changed them and call them the Cove Sport now. My feet stay cool, I find they do not slip on the deck, and they look like boat shoes.

    • Isn’t that frustrating! I just find something I love and the company changes it! Grumble! Glad the Cove Sport’s are similar. We love our crocs — had them on for drinks with friends tonight before heading back to the boat on Sunday — then it will be crazy getting to the yard, hauling, new bottom paint, figuring out what depth transducer will work with our obsolete Autohelm Tri-Data T50 system … because not having a reliable depth sounder is not an option for this winter’s Key’s gunkholing….

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