For going afloat in the summer, you wouldn’t necessarily think of wearing boat sandals – but maybe you should. David Harding looks at eight water-friendly pairs
Unless it’s the weather for boots, most people wear deck shoes on a boat. They might be the conventional moccasin type or the newer generation of high-performance deck trainers, but either way they’re boat shoes rather than boat sandals.
There’s a potential problem with shoes on a boat, however. They can easily get wet, and with a combination of soggy shoes, wet feet and warm weather – well, things can soon start smelling a little ripe.
Even if your feet stay dry, they can become hot and sweaty in enclosed shoes. So why not wear a pair of boat sandals? We wear them on shore to let the air get to our feet, so why not on a boat?
Best boat sandals available right now
Keen Newport Sandals (men’s)
This is the sandal that made Keen’s name in the boating world. It’s one of very few to have been created specifically for use on boats, though it soon became popular with outdoor enthusiasts in other areas too.
The chunky enclosed rubber toe is one of its most significant features, because your toes will generally come off second best in arguments with anchors, cleats, winches and chainplates.
The razor-siped outsole (meaning a sole with sharp narrow grooves in it) is designed for grip on wet decks and is non-marking.
Lending the Newport a slightly traditional boat-shoe feel is the leather upper. It’s washable and waterproof leather, so you can even put these boat sandals in the washing machine.
Many of Keen’s styles are available for women as well as men, but not the Newport.
• Reasons to buy: Excellent toe protection, whilst keeping plenty of air flow.
• Reasons to avoid: Sizing comes up small – if in doubt, order one size up.
RRP: £85 / $49.99
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Keen Clearwater CNX Sandal
Keen’s trademark water-sandal features are found in the Clearwater too, including the machine-washability, moulded PU midsole and hydrophobic mesh lining for quick drying.
The Clearwater, however – which also comes in women’s sizes and colours – is lighter and slimmer than the Newport.
The toe-box is less obvious, the soles are thinner and the reduced uppers, incorporating elasticated lacing, are made from polyester webbing as opposed to leather.
Like the Newport, the Clearwater CNX has a fixed strap around the heel, with a loop on the back to make for easier pulling on.
All Keen’s boat sandals incorporate what’s described as probiotic-based anti-odour technology to keep them fresh.
• Reasons to buy: Hydrophobic lining for quick drying; elasticated lacing for quick fastening.
• Reasons to avoid: May not suit sailors with broad feet.
RRP: £80 / $89.99
Musto Nautic boat sandals
If rugged, all-terrain sandals with toe-protection are not your thing and you simply want to slip on something casual and comfortable – and slip them off again just as easily – perhaps a pair of flip-flops is what you’re after.
These aren’t just any old flip-flops, however: these are Musto flip-flops, prominently branded and boasting practical features for boating use such as a rubber outsole with siping designed to grip the deck. They also have an EVA midsole to cushion your feet, and a breathable padded strap.
Colours are black, blue or grey and sizes from 6.5 to 11.5.
• Reasons to buy: Rubber outsole offers better grip than most flip-flops.
• Reasons to avoid: No toe or heel protection.
RRP: £30 / $39
Teva Hurricane Drift Sandals
Apart from being grippy and quick to dry, there’s another very useful feature in footwear designed to go afloat with you – and that’s the ability to float without you.
These Tevas are made entirely from injection-moulded EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), a sort of closed-cell rubbery foam. Each sandal weighs a mere 135g (less than 5oz) and so the Hurricane Drifts really will drift along on the surface if you become parted from them.
They’re fastened by a hook-and-loop strap and come in a range of colours for both men and women.
• Reasons to buy: Floats if dropped in water.
• Reasons to avoid: No toe adjustment means the front strap can rub.
RRP: £30 / $40
Crocs Swiftwater Wave
We all know the traditional clog-style of Crocs, but there are many more. This is one of them and, while perhaps not a boat sandal in the conventional sense (though Crocs describe it as a sandal), it has a strap around the back and a lot of holes to let the air in. The holes also let the water out, because it’s designed to be amphibious.
Although intended principally for use in and around the water and made of a lightweight, non-absorbent foam, Swiftwaters have, perhaps surprisingly, also found favour with some serious hikers. A version with mesh uppers is available too.
• Reasons to buy: Numerous holes for fast draining and ventilation; non-absorbent foam should dry quickly.
• Reasons to avoid: You’ll look like you’ve popped out to do a spot of gardening.
RRP: £35 / $22.99
Nalu Aqua Surf Wetsuit Shoes
Most of the boat sandals and water-shoes we’re looking at here are for wearing if your feet are likely to get wet. But what if you’re going to be in the water as much as out of it? If you want to swim ashore from an anchorage to a stony beach, for example – as I did this summer – it can make life much more comfortable if you have something to protect the soles of your feet.
That’s where these Nalu wetsuit shoes come in. They’re not designed to be particularly tough or hard-wearing, but are so light and inexpensive that you can keep a pair wherever you might need them. Made from neoprene, with rubber soles, a hook-and-loop fastener and mesh sections in the uppers for rapid draining, they come in a choice of four colours.
• Reasons to buy: Most affordable option on our list.
• Reasons to avoid: Some reviewers report quality control issues.
Vibram Fivefingers V-Aqua
Despite their unusual appearance, these water-shoes have a keen following among watersports enthusiasts.
I know an instructor who practically lives in them during the summer, and says they provide grip, protection and freedom of movement as well as drying very quickly.
And they can be washed in the machine. Essentially they’re what you wear if you would otherwise go barefoot.
A thin (2mm) EVA insole offers some cushioning, while a silicone print on the inside helps stop your feet sliding around when wet.
A rubber outsole just under 4mm thick provides grip and extra protection. Another unusual feature of these shoes is the drainage holes in the soles, so water drains straight through them as well as through the mesh uppers.
• Reasons to buy: Excellent grip for watersports.
• Reasons to avoid: Relatively expensive; unusual styling won’t suit all tastes.
RRP: £105 / $89.99
Grition Hiking Sandals
If you’re looking for sandals that provide toe-protection and that don’t mind getting wet, but you don’t want to splash out on a pair of Keen’s Newports or Clearwaters, this pair from Grition might be the answer.
Described as hiking sandals and with an appreciably lower price tag, they’re nonetheless more water-friendly than most sandals in addition to having the enclosed toe.
Polyurethane webbing straps and a mesh liner help them to dry quickly, while a cushioned EVA midsole and rubber outer sole should ensure comfort, durability and grip underfoot. They’re secured by elasticated lacings and a hook-and-loop fastener on the heel strap.
• Reasons to buy: Cushioned midsole and outer sole should make for a comfy fit.
• Reasons to avoid: Not specifically designed for sailing.
RRP: £46 / $49
What to look for in a pair of boat sandals
If you’re going to wear sandals for active sailing, they will need to offer a good degree of protection. An enclosed toe might be an idea, because boats present plenty of painful toe-stubbing opportunities. They will also need to have a good grip in both the dry and the wet.
Sandals designed for trekking are often perfectly happy in wet conditions, but typically have soles with deep treads that don’t offer the best grip on a smooth deck and will also tend to trap stones and debris.
Something else that might not make you popular on board is a sole that leaves a trail of black skid-marks: non-marking soles are the way to go.
Any more fundamentals? Well, if sandals are going to dry quickly, it helps if they’re made from materials that don’t absorb water. Neither do you want them to become slippery so they slide around on your feet when wet.
Being on a boat doesn’t always demand high-speed action, however, so a pair of casual sandals or even flip-flops that you can easily kick off might be fine for relaxing.
Here we take a look at a range of boat sandals and, for more serious immersion, some ‘water shoes’ too.
Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated sailing page for more marine products.