Boat shoes are more than a lifestyle choice. Sure you want to look cool and quietly let everyone know you love the boating life, but your final choice needs to be functional and long lasting in addition to looking good.
Like any shoe, for any walk of life, you’ll want to start with a good fit. There needs to be just a little bit of wiggle room around the toes; the heel and general width need to be tight enough that they won’t slip out of position or allow your foot to slide around; the sole must be durable enough for the terrain to be covered, and the outer shell suitable for variable weather conditions. Arch support must be sufficient, too.
There are differences between work shoes, dress shoes, play shoes, sport shoes, relaxing shoes and others, too. All of this is common sense by the time you’ve learned to tie a double-knot that keeps your laces from unraveling if you aren’t wearing some form of slip-ons, loafers, flip flops or shoes with Velcro closures.
But what happens when it comes to giving boat shoes as gifts? What do you need to look for to ensure the receiver will not need to make a return? How do you find the “right” fit for a foot to which you are not personally attached?
“In the boating world,” says Andrew Rowsom, “you need shoes and boots that can handle the marine environment, but you need to take an especially good look at the sole traction, too. Rowsom should know. As proprietor of Preston’s Chandlery in Greenport, NY for over 30 years, he’s sold thousands of boat shoes both in person and over the internet.
“There is a wide range of boat shoes to choose from these days, and many are quite solid,” says Rowsom. “Extra-Tuff, Huk and Sperry are among the leading brands. With any of these, some of the things you’ll want to consider are the materials being used and how well the components are stitched or glued. Examine how tightly all the parts come together, and just how ‘grippy’ the soles feel on the floor or deck. Some boat shoes are heavier than others, too, which can be a consideration. Most serious boaters seem to prefer something that’s a little on the lighter side yet still has the supportive feel of a shoe as opposed to a sneaker.”
There is one other area you’ll want to check into and that’s sizing. Not all boat shoes are sized exactly alike, which can be a spur in the gift-giving world since having to make returns takes some of the fun out of the game.
“Sperry Top-Siders ($95) are an especially good choice if you’ll be giving boat shoes as gifts,” believes Rowsom. “They are probably the most consistent shoe in terms of matching up with standard foot sizes. In addition to having great gripping power, feeling comfortable and looking good. You simply can’t go wrong with the iconic Authentic Original Moccasin style that has been around for decades. You can wear them on the boat or on the street. For simple summer wear, standard brown is fine. If you want something a little dressier, consider the darker Amaretto. It goes as well with summer shorts as it does with a suit.”
Turns out these shoes also have a cool backstory, having been developed by Paul Sperry after he noticed how well his Labrador retriever’s paws gripped slippery surfaces. Sperry tried to create a shoe with the same texture as his dog’s paws and Top-Sider was born.
“If you give Top-Siders as a gift,” says Rowsom, “offer them with this little bit of advice: ‘Wear them on shore, too.’ It’s been my experience that the slight scuffing of the shoe bottom while walking on the street refreshes the rubber soles. In the long run, that helps a lot when it comes time to grip the deck.”