Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Boat Shoes

Photos by Salt Water New England
Questions about boat shoes typically include:

1. Who makes boat shoes?

2. What makes a shoe appropriate for boats?

3. Can you wear boat shoes with socks?

4. Can you wear boat shoes as everyday shoes?

5. Are Sperry Boat Shoes still the standard, and how do the various boat shoes compare?

1.  Who makes boat shoes?

Some boat shoe providers are:

2.  What makes a shoe appropriate for boats?

Boating Etiquette: Wear non-marking non-skid shoes. You are not required to have expensive boat shoes, many white soled sports shoes work fine. A note on shoes: not all non-marking are white, but in deference to the skippers nerves please don’t show up in black soled shoes even if they are non-marking. NO HIGH HEELS! Leather soles are also bad as they are slick. (Comment)
We always ask our guests to bring a second set of shoes for Tigris so that they don't bring any grit aboard from ashore. We keep a basket at the point of entry. (Gavin)
White, Non-Marking Soles

 3. Can you wear boat shoes with socks?

I have been wearing top-siders for 50 years and its only the last few years that these twits have been talking about "you can't wear Top siders with socks." Have they never been on the Ocean in the spring or fall? (Comment)

When on a boat in spring or fall, it can be quite cold and the last thing one wants are bare ankles.   In addition, boat shoes are comfortable and easy to wear on land, and as long as there is not two feet of snow on the ground, one can alternate between these, camp mocs,  and blucher mocs.  (Some have several pairs of boat shoes and buy up a size for sock wearing.)

Two casual socks that work well, the Wool Ragg sock, and the old fashioned tennis sock.

4. Can you wear boat shoes as everyday shoes?

I still find Sperry AO's to be a good value and they hold up well for me. I no longer sail as we live hundreds of miles inland and little sailing goes on in our local waterways. However, old habits die hard and I've been wearing AO's as my casual footwear for over 30 years. Living inland doesn't stop me.
I love my Sperry Topsiders, even here in land locked Colorado! (We do have a lot of nice lakes here. (Orange Fiji)

5. Are Sperry Boat Shoes still the standard, and how do the various boat shoes compare?

Some opinions:
Our bowman on our Newport to Bermuda bound race boat swears by his Dubarry boots for a secure safe grip on a wet foredeck, warmth in cold weather, and dryness; they are light enough in weight to assure his nimbleness as well, Those leather mocs that Sperry makes are comfy ashore or out for a day sail on a perfect summer day, but many sailors change them at the dock before boarding for more rugged sailing shoes that both dry quickly when wet with salt water (leather shoes take forever to dry) and are also less slippery. As soon as you wear those Sperry mocs ashore you degrade the sole, they take a beating on gravel or pavement and are soon unreliable. I like the Sperry ASVs, others swear by Rugged Sharks and Harken, Musto, Gill, and Henri Lloyd all make excellent boat shoes. (Hearthstone Farm)
I wear Sperry Billfish now but mainly for their versatility. For true boating wear, I don't think that these are any better than the old Tretorn canvas pair that survived my tennis. The Converse All-Stars were great shoes but not the best on wet deck where the Tretorns pulled through just fine. I should get another pair of those.:) (James)
The [Sperry] Gold Cup are certainly more comfortable than the original AOs (blame the tautology on Sperry, not me).  Rancourt is another good company for shoes made in Maine; worth spending time with either company discussing sizing before placing an order. (John G)
I worked in various yacht related jobs for over 30 years, so deck shoes have always been my normal. The best ever were the original Timberlands from the early 80s. I always wore lace up athletic shoes when racing dinghies as I was usually on the wire. I moved into Harkens when they came around. For work I wore various Topsiders and Sebagos but moved to Merrel Jungle Mocs for a while. They became the standard around boat yards. Now I wear Dunhams. They are great. Dunham is owned by NB and they fit my orthotics. They are actually sewn together. They look like Billfishs.  (David Cooper)
Sadly as wonderful as they are, Sperrys can be slippery. Last year I tried an experiment. I bought ASICS GEL-Cumulus 17 running shoes. They are super comfortable, dry fairly quickly and aren't as slippery as Sperrys. Their soles don't degrade as quickly and they come in narrow widths unlike many other shoes these days. So they are now my go to sailing shoes--as odd as it sounds. 

Sperry (Past and Present)

For decades, after Paul Sperry in 1935 invented the iconic boat shoe with the "Razor-Siping" sole, no other brand would do.   Now, of course, most are made in China instead of Connecticut, and there are many viable alternatives.

Some opinions:
I'm a big fan of the Sperry Gold Cups. Their regular line along with anything from LL Bean are like walking on boards once you have donned a pair of gold cups. Go for the ASV 2-eyes over the AOs. (Darryl)
Sperry Sea Kite sneakers for racing and original Topsiders the rest of the time because old habits die hard. (Katahdin)
Sperry is making Topsiders in pink, camo, etc. While they wouldn't be the shoe of choice for a, um, mature sailor, stroll by an Opti Regatta or a junior sailing program to see who is wearing the crazier choices. (Patsy) 
Many choose either the Original Boat Shoe (in Classic Brown only) or the popular Billfish 3-Eye in Dark Tan or Dark Brown. The Billfish is arguably more comfortable despite the mesh, which is where the shoe will most likely start to come apart first.

Women's Bluefish 2-Eye Boat Shoe
In the picture of the 'Women's Bluefish 2-Eye Boat Shoe', the laces on the right shoe are tied in a Granny Knot. (Cranky Yankee)

Men's Authentic Original 2-Eye Boat Shoe

Even though they're no longer made in the USA, I stick with Sperry AO's. I feel the ones I've bought in recent years as as good as the ones I bought years ago when we actually had a sailboat and wore them when sailing in SoCal.
I like Sperry Authentic Originals. They are easy to find at a number of brick and mortar stores in my area, they fit me well, they are often on sale, and I don't worry about getting them wet like I would with a more expensive boat shoes. I coach swimming 10 months a year so I wear them pretty much year round, at least while I'm on deck. (JGH) 
Men's Original Sperrys

Women's Authentic Original 2-Eye Boat Shoe 

Men's Billfish 3-Eye Boat Shoe

Sperry Billfish cant go wrong when we are boating off Marina del Rey or Oxnard California. Cheers Mate

Bluefish 2-Eye Boat Shoe

Color: Tan

Sperry boat shoes have soles designed for traction and to be non-marking.

The one thing that the Sperry Topsider has that other deck shoes don't have is their patented razor-cut siped sole. If you are sailing and walking on decks that are awash, you want as good a grip to the deck as you can get. That said, even Sperry has modified their original razor cut sole in recent years and, in my opinion, have made it less effective on a wet deck. (Comment) 
The soles get hard and slick otherwise the shoes are like new. I've had 3 pair to do this. Is it a China made thing? (Galestorm)
Regarding Sperry soles going "hard," I speculate the cold has something to do with it - I have had a few pairs go hard (both traditional and performance styles) after the winter. The most recent pair after being left in my trunk through much of the winter. With the traditional dog paw type soles, going at them with a little sandpaper and even a sander if necessary will bring back some of the grip. (Comment) 
After a few years without, I decided to buy a new pair of Sperry topsiders over the weekend. Went to the Sperry store in Freeport, ME and had an interesting conversation with one of the employees that left me not so keen on what Sperry (like SO many other retailers) has become.
Turns out the original Sperry topsider they offer (made in Maine) is discounted to $240 (regularly $300). If you don't want to spend that much, they offer many other iterations, but all made in China, Indonesia, etc. And those are $85 to $115, not exactly throwaway pricing for this Yankee. If you want the dark brown, white sole, leather lacing model NOT made in Maine, that is only available online. Ridiculous.
After hemming and hawing (and feeling like I was buying the "cheap", made for the outlet store version) I bought the China version (ugh) in dark brown with the nylon cord lacing and had them put in new leather lacing for me. It's close enough, but why all the nonsense?
If you want pink or camo or yellow or vine print or patent, glossy (seriously!) topsiders, they have plenty of 'em. Why do the classics have to be "improved"? And why do I feel like I "settled" for a pair of $90 Topsiders? Icky. Hopefully after a few dunks in the ocean and some boat time, they'll feel like old friends and this experience will fade out of memory, but it was much too close to a Mall experience for me. (Comment)
I usually wear Sperry's. I have both the AO and the Bluefish and find I tend to go with the Bluefish most of the time. Several years ago I got a pair of Merrell sailing slip-ons at the recommendation of a friend. These are no longer made. I also have a pair of Musto Dynamic Pros. Both the Merrells and the Mustos grip well and drain and dry quickly, but I seldom wear them. My husband wears anything that meets Patsy's requirements: non-marking and comfortable, and often what he's already wearing. (Bitsy)
I've been buying Sperry CVOs for years, even after they did away with the patented razor-cut sole, which was great on a wet deck. I ordered a pair last summer and had to return them because Sperry, for some unknown reason, decided to attach the tongue of the shoe to the shoe. So, you could not even get your foot into it. Why fool with the something that has worked so well for 50 years? The logic escapes me. (Rich R) 
Sailing San Francisco Bay calls for serious grippiness, to use a technical term. About two years ago I bought a couple of boat shoes for comparison - some claimed to be for sailing par excellence (e.g., Helly Hansen). The Sperrys beat all others hands down. I was surprised; the price tag was modest compared to others incorporating the latest in doo dad technology and materials. Never missed a step; felt sure footed under the beautiful & deceptive microclimes & currents of the Golden Gate Bridge. For me, it's Sperry. (Comment)

Sperry Water Sports

I have whatever the older version of the Sperry "bungee sneaker," "water sports" model is called, and it performs very well for sea kayaking, especially launching or landing on a rocky area or one with deep sand. Good protsaection, holds fairly tight, dries fairly quickly, less sand in my shoes than with others I've used. (John G)
I've always loved my CVO canvas Sperry sneakers. I've worn those for years and years. I was upset when they discontinued them for awhile. They're back now and I've stocked up on them. I love the traction on a wet deck ( actually, I haven't been on a wet boat deck since the 80's). I think they look great with a pair of Red's/khakis. (Wasp Decor)


Quoddy's boat mocs are great! I prefer the vibram soul rather than the traditional boat shoe soul. I wear them in shallow water to break them in. I have also had good luck with Quoddy's maliseet oxfords for more general wear. Quoddy does an excellent job refurbishing their shoes when necessary.(Comment)

L.L. Bean

I live inland, and I bought a new pair of canvas boat shoes from LL Bean last month. Perhaps heretical, but they are really comfortable! (Noel)

Men's Casco Bay Boat Mocs <>


If you can afford it, Dubarry is the way to go. (Comment)
Love that you featured the DuBarry boots too. I love mine...nothing more waterproof, hardworking and yet great to look at. I wouldn't be without a pair. (Alexandra)

Dubarry Sailing Boots


No one has mentioned Sebago boot shoes. Wore them for years in college and afterwards. I think they were better made and more comfortable especially for wearing on the streets. (Comment) 
I agree with the Sebago postings. I have worn their Clovehitch model for years and could not be satisfied. Great on deck and comfortable and supportive around town when we arrive in port. (Seadog)
Switched from Sperry to Sebago and never looked back.  Sperry soles quickly turned hard and slippery whereas my several year old Sebagos still go strong and provide traction on and off Deck, plus the leather feels and looks better and less "plasticky".  
I had two pairs of the original Clovehitch. Following Sebago's change of ownership, they seem to have been finally dropped from the British market. The sizing had changed too - the revised model was too narrow for me. British retailers, e.g. John Lewis, are now carrying the inferior Triton instead. I have switched to Timberland as Timpson's will repair them with Vibram soles. (Ken) 

Boat Shoes and Shoes on Boats in SWNE

I wear Tretorns, Converse or non-marking flip flops, and my husband wears whatever is on his feet at the time (even when he is racing)- all his everyday shoes have non-marking soles. He's usually on someone's boat every day. The #1 most important thing is non-marking soles. Then, go for comfort or style, or both! (Patsy)
i like sperry's gold cup because the insole and midsole are more comfortable for standing and walking around.  for any hardcore sailing in a dinghy - lasers, 420s and the like - shoes and sneakers are not great. i prefer neoprene booties with a grippy sole, sperry seahikers. ugly but more effective. i think boat shoes can be maintained the same as any leather shoe. a generous cleaning with saddle soap will loosen up stiff leather, then treat with some light leather conditioner. Gokey's sells conditioner through Orvis. Limmer Boots in New Hampshire makes great leather conditioner too. vs (Andrew)
RANCOURT BOAT SHOES - THE BEST!!!!  Similar to Quoddy as far as build quality, but I prefer the Rancourt sole/look. They are amazing and the leather takes a beating.  (Comment)
 I am not a sailor but I do like to wear boat shoes when on a cruise. The ones I like are the Perth model made by Rockport. Great for on board use and comfortable enough for walking around the islands. (Fred Johnson)

I had a very brief career as a crew member on my college's sailing team (joined late in senior year), and I wore basic Sperrys because they worked well and were priced within the reach of a working student. My skipper preferred Converse All Stars - red canvas hightops. Several of the more experienced team members wore canvas shoes, especially surprising considering how chilly NE lakes tend to be in the spring! (JSL)

Gokey Boat shoes by Orvis (Left) and Sperry Gold Boat with ASV (Right)
  • Boat Shoes by Gokey

Women's Bluefish and Men's Billfish


  1. The ones God gave me...

    1. When my son was younger, he grouped boats into two categories - shoes off boats and shoes on boats.

    2. Heather, having broken 2 toes (on 2 different occasions) on some piece of deck hardware, I 100% agree with your son!

    3. Oh my, you have my sympathy! There is nothing worse than broken toes, especially those that are wrenched back via a jamming split and twist.

      I had a spectular bruise one summer that covered my sole and spread over the top of my foot as the result of a run in with a stanchion.

    4. I would add Xtratuff to the boat shoe list. I discovered the boots by observing the boat crews during a trip last summer. The women convinced me to give the boots a try. I Loved them since August and I added deck shoes to my closet this spring.

  2. Replies
    1. I see a lot of those kicking around boatyards.

  3. I wore Topsiders back in the day, then a Timberland boat shoe. These days I do much more whitewater kayaking and have a discontinued Keen water boot. Their sandals are nice. Martin Keen envisioned them while sailing. The big toe rand offers great protection from bumping into toe rails, winch heads, cleats, etc., and they have siped soles.

  4. I ordered the handmade in Maine Topsiders two years ago and they are just like the ones I grew up wearing. Pricey for a boat shoe, but if they last like the old, made in USA ones, I'll be happy. cheers!

  5. Does anyone have any opinions on Dubarry? I have Sperry's, but am looking for something different.

    1. Dubarry's are great. Also check out the Kittery Edition from Eastland Shoes..a classic!

    2. Last season I took a chance and ordered a pair of Dubarry Commodore X LT three-eye shoes, they were pricey and I wondered if I was doing the right thing. No worries, they turned out to be absolutely wonderful for mostly landside wear. They are light, extremely comfortable, good looking, and very well made. They are not entirely traditional in look or construction, but are so much better for that.
      I couldn't be more pleased. They have a comfort advantage over my very well made Rancourt boat shoes and Quoddy mocs. I have been very unhappy with Sperry and Sebago the past two decades or so.

  6. Has anyone tried Chatham's boat shoes that are made in England (Exeter, Devon)? They seem to be good quality, much better than the rest of the company's range. The choice has been scale back this year to only a few options.

  7. Whilst yachting off the coast of Devon, we all wear John Locke bespoke deck shoes. First hand-made for HRH Edward ("Bertie") in 1892, these shoes have been ordered and enjoyed for years by we Brits. Sadly, only three or four pair a year are made due to increased costs relating to the labour (how we spell the word across the pond) and the price of deerskin sourced in Scotland. If you are able to join the wait list for these shoes, please do so, albeit with a great deal of patience, as the list dates from 1943.

    1. “Join the wait list” ? You are obviously not British then.

  8. My absolute favorite are lesser known Eastland Boat Shoes from Maine; however tragically their classic boat shoe they have been reduced to just one style. They have an American made premium version like Quoddy as well. My strong preference stems from aesthetics..they are somewhat more attractive than Sperrys and have a great rubber sole.

  9. Good to see the variety in the older and more recent comments. I was afraid that we would see a stream of comments reminiscent of Malvina Reynolds and her "Little Boxes". Thanks

  10. I've worn Sperry original boat shoes for years, but after two pairs that wore out very quickly I decided to branch out. Found a pair at Brooks Brothers and absolutely love them so far. No idea who makes them for BB, but they are great.

  11. Can't really go wrong with any of the classic brands. But Sperry will always be my favorite! Thanks for the wonderful article and photos.

  12. I love my Zhiks. They literally grip the deck.
    Eastland's are also a great reasonably priced brand.

  13. I'll speak to having Rancourts. I was looking to replace my very old (14 years?), soles almost worn through Casco Bays and was looking at Quoddy and Rancourt for something US made. Wound up going with the Rancourts because I prefer 2 eye to 3 eye on the laces and Quoddy only offers the 3 eye option (Or the camp moc one eye). They've very nice, well made and will likely outlast any other shoe I own at this point. It's like how Sperrys and LL Bean used to make their boat shoes.

  14. I have always liked Sperrys for sailing, preferably the canvas ones or the now long gone Kudus. The Gold Cup or whatever are the closest thing to Kudus but still not very close. Even in temps in the thirties (Farenheit) I have not worn socks with them. For a casual everyday shoe I much prefer Quoddy Maliseets. I did have a pair of Billfish Sperrys. They were ok.

  15. For pure function, Keen Zerraports - they’re an open sandal with a solid toe bumper. Buy them with enough room to wear a neoprene sock in cold water. The soles are both lugged and razor-siped, they’re pretty good in terms of grip. Not very fashionable.

    I wear two pair of Sperry Gold Cup boat shoes - the soles are tan, almost a natural latex color, siped, good on wet decks, and softer & more forgiving than the traditional white. They do wear pretty quickly. Good, supple, quality leather. Have thought about Rancourt or Quoddy, but I don’t end up fixing what isn’t broken. I normally wear them with socks and 3/4 length custom orthotics unless I’m sailing in the summer - my feet are as flat as bricks, can’t really walk around in shoes with no support.

  16. I bought a pair of Billfishes from West Marine years ago. They came apart within a few weeks. The soles were glued to the uppers. I now wear Dunhams, which look like Billfishes but are sewn together. They are perfect for my miserable feet.

  17. Sigh. I think Muffie is punishing me for past sins (of which there have been many, thank God). First watches. Now Topsiders. What's next? J. Press OCBD vs. Mercer OCBD? Why are you doing this to me? Alright, because you know I can't resist, the only, and I mean the only, "boat shoe" a True Prep wears is Gold Cup TS. Before Gold Cup, regular "A/O" TS. These shoes should never be less than 5 years old at the time first worn. They should be unrecognisably stained and several of the Gold grommets should be popped out of place so that you occasionally cut yourself. Miraculously, these shoes do not have any odor, ever. The bottoms, white at the start, are now a vague shade of cream and brown and several of the ridged rows on the bottoms should be completely worn down. Color? Simple. Brown. Period. Any other color is tasteless, if not somehow a bit tawdry. These shoes are worn 365 days a year, especially in winter. In fact, the only times these shoes come off one's feet would be at a funeral and certain types of weddings (not weddings where all the groomsmen purchase matching outfits at Mark, Fore and Strike or Langrocks, in these gatherings, TPs were prescribed). Any other commentary on these shoes may border on embellishment and I am never one to embellish. So, for all you fans of the fake "boat shoes" about which our sage Blogger writes, take my word. You are not Preppy.

    1. It is always refreshing, and reaffirming, to read your comments. Thank you the unusual sanity.

  18. Does anyone remember the Sperry Kudu leather boat shoe? They were oily leather and had a much thicker sole than the regular Topsiders. I bought several pairs in the late 70's.

  19. I’m wearing Rockport Perth boat shoes these days as they provide a bit of arch support. Somewhere along the way I got older and a bit heavier, so Sperry AOs tend make my knees hurt.

  20. Articles (Vogue Feb. 2024) and NY Times (April4, 2024, "The Buzz on Boat Shoes") along with recent fashion/runway shows, claim boat shoes are back... (Never knew they left...). That being said, my old Sperry TS have given way to Sebago Portlands, Quoddy and Musto... Sebago has a program where you can 'customize' your Portlands for size, width and color. "Any color, as long as it is brown..." The degree of salt crust is of course up to the wearer... But sailing beyond the Brenton Reef light, nothing IMHO beats the Dubarry leather sailing boot.

  21. Go to Dunham if you have large and narrow feet as I do. The Captain is a solid shoe that holds up fairly well to saltwater mixed with beer, booze and fish blood.

    1. Lovely image, Whiskey Dentist. Thanks.

    2. I would have thought a true prep wouldn't be offended by a description of a deck shoe's practical use.

  22. The focus in the past was on sailing, whether Blue Water, or around the Buoys, not fashion.

  23. The Sperry boat shoe has been my primary summer footwear for decades. Starting when I worked high school summers in a marina on New York's Long Island is when I started wearing them. It became essential equipment when I slipped off a wet deck into the slip next to the 45 foot ketch rigged sailer I was assigned to by the yard master. The chorus of laughter of the experienced yard boys I can still hear in my head today.


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