5 Properties of a Quality Boating Shoe: Dock Shoes Made Easy!
We don't often think about our shoes. We slip them on in the morning and they work all day long with barely even a second glance. The kind of shoes that you're wearing is supremely important, not just because you want to avoid a fashion faux pa but also because they can mean the difference between safety and tragedy. You might think that's a bit dramatic, but the type of boating shoes you wear can make a huge difference.
Even if you aren't worried about slipping on the deck because you've used some of our amazing no-slip boat deck cleaner, you'll still want to avoid getting your socks soaked by a rogue wave. On top of that, you'll want them to be stylish and comfortable! What makes a good pair of dock shoes? It can basically be broken down into 5 different factors, and we will go over them in order of importance.
Siping and Tread Patterns
One of the most popular tread patterns for a deck shoe is a series of wave-like grooves that make it possible to grip the deck and push water out. This design was developed by Paul Sperry way back in 1935 and the Sperry Top-sider is still one of the most popular boat shoes out there! There are many other brands that have risen to precedence as fine boat shoes, but nothing has the same degree of prestige.
When you're shopping for a deck shoe, you'll want to check the toughness of the tread or siping as well. Some rubber compounds are softer than others and these 'gum shoes' maintain a much better grip on the deck than something that is tough. Of course, the softer sole might also leave scuff marks more easily which is covered in the section on sole color. Good topsiders are a huge boon to sailors.
Wet socks are the bane of my existence, but if you're scurrying fore and aft on a boat being rocked by swells then it becomes a bit of an inevitability. The more water resistant your shoes are, the more comfortable life will be. Of course, a shoe that is completely waterproof means that no air is going to be moving over your feet either which can lead to some rather stinky situations. You'll want your chosen material to be breathable, but also capable of wicking moisture away from the soles.
Leather has been in use for as long as deck shoes have been on the market and is probably the best option if you can afford it. There are synthetic materials which do the same job and dry much quicker, but style and comfort is always a factor that shouldn't be neglected. Some people don't put much stock in that kind of thing and for them? A synthetic material will serve capably at a very nice price.
Fasteners and Buckles
How are you going to keep your shoes on? Laces are common, but I am extremely paranoid about them coming undone and causing me to take an unplanned dip. Slip-ons might do, particularly if there is some sort of internal lace around the foot or ankle. How about buckles? Well, they're kind of old-timey. You don't want to hop off the boat and have people look at you like a pilgrim disembarking from the Mayflower.
The last option is my favorite option, and that would be wonderful, reliable velcro. Velcro maintenance isn't needed often, it doesn't come undone unless you explicitly want it to do so, and best of all? Slips on and off in a flash! In emergency situations you'll be grateful for your velcro.
Is it the most fashionable thing in the world? Not by a long shot, but there are plenty of shoes out there that either hide the velcro or incorporate it well. I once had a jerry-rigged velcro pair with a set of fake laces on the back of the strap. They were hot-glued and never came undone, and you couldn't tell that the laces were just decoration without a very close inspection! I miss those shoes...
If you ever find a supposed 'dock shoe' with a sole that isn't white or tan, you'll want to walk away from them as quickly as possible. No matter what the salesperson will tell you, what you're looking at is most assuredly NOT a boating shoe. Brown or black soles will scuff up your deck to no end and are just a general nightmare, particularly if you've got many people moving with a purpose.
Whenever I see someone clomp their way onto my deck with big hiking boots I cringe internally. I know it's going to lead to a certain about of cleanup even if they haven't actually been using them for hiking. While we've got some boat scuff erasers that will make short work of these friendly reminders, why would you go through more trouble than you need to? Tell people what shoes to wear and why. If they think you're a stick in the mud, that's fine. At least my aging back will thank me.
Comfort and Style
This could be the most important aspect or the least important depending on who you're talking to. In the end it has no effect on anyone but yourself, so it gets the last spot on the list. Regardless of that, being comfortable is supremely important. If nerves in your foot are firing off they're trying to tell you that something is wrong. Never subject yourself to shoes that aren't completely comfortable because small issues can cause huge damage if you're subjecting yourself to them daily.
Style is arguably quite a decadent thing to consider, but I always find myself looking for something that suits me and doesn't scream 'I COULD BE YOUR GRANDPARENT!' You want people to know that you are a 'boat person', and a nice pair of boating shoes will speak volumes to the observant outsider. This is the primary reason that I insist on leather. It doesn't mean that I'm self-absorbed, it simply means that I take pride in my appearance and my boat's appearance.
There is nothing wrong with taking satisfaction from the finer things in life, including a nice pair of dock shoes! If you really want to get the party started check out our list of fun boating gear.