Types of Footwear for Sailing

by Andrew Dowley

Sailing. It’s a fantastic activity for a glorious day on the water, some of us even like it when the weather is not go glorious. A bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office…. But, what types of footwear are the best to use for each type of sailing, and what are the best things to look out for when it comes to buying sailing shoes and footwear?

Things to Look For

Size -- It’s a fairly obvious one, but it’s important to note that street shoes and boat shoes are sized slightly differently because they are designed differently. Make sure that you use the size chart provided by whichever footwear company you choose. Also, always read the product description, in some cases we recommend a slightly smaller or larger size than your usual one.

Material -- Leather? Neoprene? Suede? Canvas? Synthetics? While all of these will likely look great on your feet, it’s not always about the look. If it’s all about the look then leather is a common choice. However, it’s also about practicality. For example, synthetic material wicks away water faster than the rest of the fabrics. If you’re getting your feet completely wet then you’ll want to explore neoprene options, either shoes or boots.

Non-slip soles -- Again, fairly obvious, but if you’re walking around on the deck or trapezing the last thing you wanted is to be slipping and sliding all over the place and introducing the risk of falling off. So, ensure that the shoe you go for has great grip and non-slip soles and a product which is designed for your use.

Sailing Shoes or Sailing Boots?

While there are advantages to both, it really depends on the type of sailing you’ll be doing. If you think you’re going to be sailing smaller and wetter boats, then dinghy boots are probably your best bet, they cover more of your feet and legs than regular sailing shoes and boots will be better for hiking. While the same may not apply to sailing shoes which are more likely to be used on yachts. Sailing shoes also have the added benefit that they are lighter and will allow you to move around the deck faster.

Sandals, perhaps?

Generally-speaking, no. While sandals are an option for recreational sailing, they don’t really provide a whole lot in the grip department. The same is true for regular trainers -- while they’ll do, if you’re serious about sailing, you’re better off getting a purpose-built pair of boots or shoes.

Which Shoe for Which Discipline?


While both types of shoes have their place onboard, for racing, you’re likely going to want dinghy boots. You’re not going to be spending a whole lot time moving around a great surface area while racing. You’re also going to be spending a lot of time coming into contact with the water. Thus, you’re likely going to want more protection for your feet, and while dinghy boots mightn’t make a fashion statement, they will offer you a superior shoe for your race.

Recreational Sailing.

When it comes to recreational sailing however, things change dramatically. You’re likely going to value comfort over waterproofness. And thus, the sailing shoe is your obvious choice. Far more comfortable than the sailing boot, and far more stylish, too. You’ve also got a greater variety of choice in terms of materials to choose from -- as sailing shoes, although uniform in style of their design, vary in terms of the material they’re made from. Leather, neoprene, synthetic, suede or canvas? Each provides its own unique style.


For stand up paddle boarding you’re going to want grip to help keep you on the board, especially if you’re battling with waves. If you’re looking for a SUP shoe then we would highly recommend the Zhik ZKG neoprene shoes, high grip, water proof, easily washed and quick drying – what more could you want?

Whether the sailing discipline is recreational or competitive, fast or slow-paced, on-boat or off-boat, having a good pair of sailing boots or shoes might make or break a trip. It’s the difference between having dry, warm feet and wet, cold feet. And nobody likes wet, cold feet!


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