Stepping out to sea: choosing the right sailing shoes

Stepping out to sea: choosing the right sailing shoes

Choosing the right footwear for your boat will keep you safe and comfortable on board, ensuring a fantastic sailing experience.

Whether you're enjoying a leisurely sailing holiday or competing in a yacht race, you should always wear appropriate footwear. If you plan on spending your summer vacation exploring Croatia on a yacht, most of your time will be spent in sneakers or boat shoes. But in harsher conditions, waterproof boots or wetsuit boots will keep your feet warm and dry. And non-slip soles are essential. So, how do you choose the right sailing shoes or boots?

Sailing shoes are not just a fashion accessory

Sailing, whether for leisure or racing, has its own fashion and style of dress. Yachting apparel and footwear combine elegance, practicality, and functionality. The right sailing shoes can save you a lot of bother and discomfort. Even on beautiful summer days — when the sun is shining, the wind is light and the weather is pleasant enough to go around barefoot or in flip-flops — it is best to wear closed shoes. On board, there are numerous ropes, knots, pulleys, handles, and other hazards that can easily scrape a foot and stub or break a toe.

sea rope and boots in the harbor port

When sailing, proper footwear is a must. Non-slip soles provide stability and a firm step even when heeling, amid waves, or on damp decks. As a result, you'll be able to focus on the movement of the boat and your activities without being distracted by where to step — this is crucial when assisting with manoeuvres. The shoes will also come in handy while arriving at port and anchoring, leaping ashore, or being dropped off on a rocky beach.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Proper footwear is useful not only on board and in port, but also for other activities during or after your sailing holiday. Check out our Top 12 fun activities to do on a sailing holiday

How and why to choose sailing shoes?

There is a well-known saying that "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes". And anyone who has experienced demanding weather conditions knows that this is doubly true at sea. When choosing your footwear for sailing, you should consider several things. Beginner sailors who go to sea only a few times a year, or those who spend a week of summer on a boat, will have different requirements than professional sailors who must contend with harsh conditions.

It also depends on what time of year you are going to sea, where you are going and what kind of weather you are expecting. If you plan on exploring the most interesting sailing destinations on the Adriatic or Mediterranean in the summer, sneakers or boat shoes, that you can walk around the harbour in, will be enough. In case of showers or strong winds, you can pack low, lightweight boots just in case. For longer crossings where you'll spend more time in your boots, or when you know you'll be facing cold weather and rough seas, choose boots specifically designed for the sea. Neoprene boots can be used for all kinds of sailing, especially if you plan to swim in places where you might injure yourself on sharp rocks or step on a sea urchin.

Shoes on the deck of the ship with the rudder in the background

The most popular brands of sailing shoes

All types of shoes come in versions for leisure and for professional sailors. At first glance, the most noticeable difference is in their price, which is determined by the material used, the functional design, and the manufacturer's brand. Some of the most popular brands among sailors are Helly Hansen, Gill, Gul, Henri Lloyd, Ronstan, Zhik, Musto and Dubarry. It is definitely not worth trying to save some money by using regular everyday shoes instead (especially sneakers or wellies) — regular footwear, unlike shoes specifically designed for being at sea and moving around on deck, are just not fit for purpose.

More sailing tips:

What should I look for in sailing shoes?

Whether you sail professionally or just for fun, all sailing shoes should meet a few basic requirements that will make your stay on board more comfortable and easy. The absolute basics are non-slip and grippy soles that let you move around the boat in a stable and safe manner and the sole should be made of a material that does not leave streaks on the deck. When renting or chartering a boat, never return it with a dirty deck or with marks made from your soles. If you're interested in learning more about proper boating and marina etiquette, check out our guide to yachting etiquette.

Shoes with white soles

Footwear should be waterproof and breathable. While shoes are supposed to have some waterproofing, boots should be completely waterproof. Choose functional materials that are breathable, such as Goretex or properly treated leather over rubber. Boots should be made of quick-drying materials, and it is best if they have a replaceable liner. All of these characteristics are essential for keeping your feet dry and warm during your voyage. Special wool or neoprene socks are an excellent winter accessory.

Protective neoprene boots

Protective neoprene boots

Sailing footwear should be as light as possible so as not to restrict movement and be a perfect fit to remain comfortable even after a long day. It is also a big plus if it is quick and easy to take off and put on, which is crucial in rough weather when a crew resting below deck might have to run back on deck at a moment's notice. You'll find yachting shoes and boots for men or women, as well as unisex ones in a variety of sizes.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Have you already purchased a life jacket? If not, you'll need to work out which one is best for you. Take a look at our article Life jacket: do you need your own? to find out what life jackets are on the market, what the right ones should have and do, and what amount of money to spend.

Boots on a fishing boat


Even in marinas, yachting boots are reasonably priced

In marinas and harbours, you will find a number of yachting clothing and footwear shops, often featuring top brands at very competitive prices. 

Trying to choose a sailboat for your holiday? I will be happy to advise you.