I don’t know how boat shoes got their name, but they don’t deserve it. They’re terrible. They don’t breathe, they get wet and stay wet, and if you wear them more than occasionally they become a nasty, stinky mess. Bleh.
But if not boat shoes, what are you going to wear on your feet while boating? Good news — you have choices.
A few of my charter captain friends favor white PVC boots of the type worn on commercial shrimp boats (aka Pine Island Reeboks). There are advantages: Your feet don’t get wet from water on deck, they’re more or less impervious to sharp objects (unless such objects have significant force behind them), easy to clean, and they identify you as being a member of “the club.” On the other hand, they’re clunky, don’t breathe, and aren’t the most comfortable choice.
How about regular sneakers? They’re plenty comfortable, and you don’t need to buy anything special or change shoes to go on the boat. Be careful to get a pair with non-marking soles, or you’ll have to do a lot of back-breaking scrubbing to get the shoeprints off your deck (or worse, the boat owner’s deck). Water on deck ends up in your sneaks, and fish blood stains them forever.
In recent years, manufacturers have been offering specialist footwear for a variety of activities. For the boater and angler, there are now shoes that look a lot like street sneakers but are made to drain water, dry quickly and shrug off most stains. They also have non-marking sole material, and many include extra cushioning to absorb the effects of pounding seas. Don’t expect them to be cheap (about $70 to $200) or attractive, unless you like garish colors and gaudy patterns.
Since none of the above work for me, I wear sandals (on the boat, off the boat, running errands, in the woods, etc.). For me, they’re ideal because it’s almost like not wearing shoes, but the bottoms of my feet are protected from most sharp objects and hot surfaces. However, I don’t recommend them to everybody. To wear sandals in this type of environment, you have to be OK with risk. All it takes is one dropped knife or mislaid hook. Plus you get a weird tan pattern on your feet.
Not all sandals will stand up to the rigors of boat life. I’ve been through a lot of brands — some good, some iffy and some awful. The OluKai Ohanas I wear now are the best I’ve seen. I won’t hesitate to hop over and push the boat, even with a few oysters around. Don’t try that in dollar store flip-flops.
At the far end of the spectrum from my white-booted buddies are those who go barefoot. Tried it. Can’t do it. I liked the sure-footedness, but there are just too many things you could step on. If you’re on this list, bully for you. I hope you’re as smart as you are tough, or you’re going to end up in the ER someday.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.