“What kind of shoes should I wear when I’m out on the boat?” Might seem like a dumb question, but yes, they do make footwear specifically for boating—really.
Didja ever notice that most fiberglass boats have bright white floors (decks, in nautical-speak)? And that these gleaming testimonies to the miracles of plastic usually have some sort of raised texture (often tiny diamond shapes) on them?
There’s a reason for both: light colors tend to make enclosed/semi-enclosed areas seem larger, and the texture (called non-skid) is there to provide traction, even when wet. Very good things, from a practicality standpoint, and key considerations when it’s time to buy shoes for your next boat trip.
“Do I really need shoes on a boat?” Yes. The same non-skid surface that’ll prevent you from slipping on a wet deck will also wreak havoc on bare feet. Running around on a non-skid deck can remove the flesh from the bottom of your foot in a surprisingly short period of time.
One of the most important features of any shoe that’ll be stepping on a boat is non-marking soles. As the name implies, a non-marking sole won’t leave an ugly black streak on a boat’s deck—captains, skippers, and others won’t hesitate to forcibly eject anyone who mars their boat with street shoes.
Keep in mind that your feet will probably get wet while boating, so you want to wear shoes that dry quickly—you definitely don’t want to squish around all day with water in your shoes.
Tennis shoes (athletic shoes, sneakers) and the traditional moccasin-style “boat shoes” seem to be equally popular with those on the waves. Sneakers are readily available (everybody already has a pair), and you can hose them off or put them in the washing machine periodically to keep ‘em fresh.
Moccasin-style boat shoes are very comfortable, they look good, and if anyone questions if you actually go boating, you can always point to your boat shoes as proof. In our experience, the downside to leather boat shoes is that since we boat sans-socks, the leather takes on a distinctive aroma after extended use—not offensive to your shipmates (because their boat shoes stink, too), but you may be asked to check your footwear at the door once you return home.
Sandals and thongs (flip-flops, not the men’s bathing suit, eeewww) are great for boat wear, because they’re comfy and due to their open design, water drains immediately from around your feet. Just be careful that you don’t stumble if one of these minimalist pieces of footwear fails (as Jimmy Buffet says “I blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop-top…”).
In recent years, we’ve seen, for lack of a better term, water socks soar in popularity. Their neoprene uppers and soft, flexible soles make these “shoes” an excellent choice for wading—your feet are protected from rocks and submerged debris, without feeling like you actually have a pair of shoes on. A very good invention, in our opinion.
You ought to wear shoes of some sort when you’re boating, but the choice of what kind is up to you.