Wherever and whenever you sail, sea boots are essential if you want the comfort of warm, dry feet. The Yachting Monthly team set about testing a range of options to find the best sailing boots on offer
Not many people like to think of sailing in heavy weather but the reality is that it happens.
It has been said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong choice of clothing, so unless you can guarantee your conditions will always be warm and sunny, sailing boots are an item of kit that everyone should have.
A good pair of sea boots should see you through many a night watch or wet and windy beat to windward.
Quite aside from the obvious role of keeping your feet dry, the best sailing boots will need to cover a number of bases.
They need to be warm, comfortable and offer grip that you can trust, as well as being easy to get on and off during both day and night.
It also helps if they can be folded down to make the most of the space in your kitbags.
In the interest of fairness, and simple curiosity, we also tried a pair of £10 Planet Plastic wellington boots, but as these weren’t designed for yachts and as it became immediately clear that they provided little grip on board, they were dispatched to a locker on the first day, not to reappear.
HOW WE TESTED THE SAILING BOOTS
The sailing boots were initially tested over a three-day sailing trip in Dutch waters.
While our evenings below decks were warm, the temperature during the day was bitterly cold.
The boots were worn by the YM test team and swapped regularly so we all got a chance to wear different boots as we went about our different roles on board, in both rain and shine.
The sailing boots were then subjected to a wet and dry incline test on the bathing platform of the Bestevaer 45ST Pure, which we could adjust by winching the halyard attached to the end.
After the initial test, the team then wore the sailing boots that fitted them best over the season and reported back.
Some manufacturers do produce boots specifically for female sailors, but most of the sailing boots we tested were unisex and came in a wide range of sizes for both men and women.
All photos: Graham Snook Photography
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Best sailing boots available now
GILL TALL YACHTING BOOT
**BEST BUDGET BUY**
These boots are comfortable and easily the cheapest sea boot in our test.
A shorter sailing boot variant is also available, and both come in junior sizes.
While they lack the design and features of the other boots on test, they were comfy, even if they weren’t as well insulated or the grip as sticky (43° in the dry).
There’s plenty of space in the boot’s toe box so toes don’t feel cramped and there is space for warm socks.
They were easy enough to get on, but, like Le Chameau Alizé (below), the high leg might not fit everyone’s leg shape.
Where many of the other boots taper around the ankle to give a secure fit, these didn’t.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 5.5-13/39-48
RRP: £65 / $86
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LE CHAMEAU ALIZE SAILING BOOTS
If your calves are wide, getting these boots on could pose problems, which is a shame because they are good sailing boots.
The rubber boots have a leg that is tall and narrow, with a small top gaiter.
We had the Ponti lining version, which didn’t provide much insulation, but they are available with a neoprene liner for an extra £20 on top of the £150 RRP.
The sole is made by Michelin and gave secure footing on board, slipping at 47° in the dry and 53° in the wet.
The rubber these sailing boots are made from is extremely supple and they were very comfortable – like wearing trainers.
Because they were secure, they were more difficult to get off.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 6-12/39-47
UPPER: Natural rubber
HENRI-LLOYD SHADOW SAILING BOOTS
The team found these sailing boots were stiff, and while they would soften with time, until then you’ll have to deal with an aggressive leather edge on the top.
On the plus side, they do have a good loop on the rear to make it easier to pull them on.
The soles feature a razor-cut grip which didn’t inspire confidence to start with, confirmed by a dry reading of 45°, but a better angle of 48° in the wet.
They have good insulation and are well made, although the lack of a heel kick was a shame.
The ankle of the boot did have a tendency to dig in a little while kneeling down on deck.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 4-12/37-47
SOLE: Dual compound
ZHIK ZK SEABOOT
**BEST ON TEST**
The bold branding might not be for everyone, but these sailing boots had the best grip on test (54° dry, 53° wet) even if they did squeak annoyingly against the deck.
They were warm and extremely comfortable, thanks in part to the Merino lining and bouncy soles that absorb impact.
The gaiters were good, although the toggles on the inner leg catch each other unless they are tucked in.
There were good handles on the front and rear of the leg to help get them on and off.
The neoprene helps to keep them light and easy to stow.
If your mid-foot is high, you may find the fit a bit tight.
Zhik also offers a sailing boot without the gaiter.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 5-12/38-47
DUBARRY ULTIMA SAILING BOOTS
These all-leather upper sailing boots had a lovely quality to them.
The leather was soft and pliable and the whole team agreed they were the best looking and felt beautiful.
They have a loop to help pull them on, as well as a stretch panel at the back and they are also available in ‘ExtraFit’ sizes for the wide calved among us.
Again, the grip was disappointing to begin with but improved after a few days’ wear to 49° in the dry and slightly more in the wet.
The leather, with the Gore-Tex lining gave plenty of insulation without too much bulk, although the fit was rather hit and miss with our test team.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 5-12/38-47
RRP: £279 / $399
GILL PERFORMANCE RACE BOOTS
The team agreed these warm, breathable sailing boots from Gill were good and solid.
The leg of the boot did feel stiff, but softer than the Henri Lloyd boot and it may well soften more in time.
The large side handles (one on each side) add bulk, but make getting them on easy, while the prominent wedge on the heel makes removing them easy by catching it under the toe of the other foot without damaging them.
The leg of the sailing boot is fabric with protective areas around the ankles, while the base/outsole is moulded TPU.
The sole had a good grip and offered a reading of 52° in both wet and dry before it slipped.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 5.5-11/39-46
LINING: Soft-touch polyester
SOLE: Thermoplastic polyurethane
LE CHAMEAU NEPTUNE SAILING BOOTS
As worn by Volvo Ocean Race crews, these are serious sailing boots.
The neoprene liner provides insulation while the suction-cup design on the sole gives good grip: 50° in the dry, 54° in the wet.
There’s raw rubber inside the boot around the heel to grip feet snugly, although it also gripped socks, managing to pull them down inside the boot.
They have a well-drained gaiter that stops the Velcro on oilskin trousers from coming undone and helps keep water out.
The toggle at the back of the gaiter, however, digs into your leg when you’re kneeling down.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 6-12/39-47
MUSTO OCEAN RACER SAILING BOOTS
These sailing boots were very comfortable with good grip to 53° in the dry.
They are the top-of-the-range boots from Musto and have a unique elasticated lacing system.
This gives the sailing boots a snug fit around the leg, although we thought this could have been more useful if it continued further down to the ankle or the foot.
The Cordura gaiters are good, but the toggle at the back digs in if you’re helming with your calves resting against a surface.
There’s a fabric loop at the rear of the boot to aid getting them on, but it’s a bit fiddly to use.
In spite of their bulk, these sailing boots gained praise from our testers.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 4-13/37-48
SOLE: Gripdeck rubber
DUBARRY CROSSHAVEN SAILING BOOTS
The large gaiter, with two retro reflective stripes, conceals handy leather tabs with finger holes to help pull these Gore-Tex-lined sailing boots on.
They are very well made, as one would expect for the price.
The lower section of the sailing boot is leather with a protective rubber panel around the toe and heel of the foot, which also gives grip to kick them off easily.
The fit is a bit narrow, especially around the toes, but the soft insulated lining helps them fit well.
Initially the grip was 44° in the dry, but testing a worn pair (owned by one of our team) showed their grip improves over time.
SIZE RANGE: UK/EU 5-12/38-47
UPPER: Leather/ Gore-Tex/Cordura
CONCLUSION: WHICH SAILING BOOTS PERFORMED BEST?
The cost will be a big consideration, with £284 covering the difference between the cheapest and the most expensive.
For value for money, no other sailing boots on test could compete with the Gill Tall Yachting Boot.
The fact they come in short or tall and sizes down to UK size 4 only adds to their appeal.
The Chameau Alizé is a good mid-range boot, as is the Gill Performance, but spending a little more will get you boots with gaiters.
The Musto sailing boots were extremely good, although they were pricey, and for that reason they were pipped to the top spot by the Zhik ZK Seaboot, which had the best grip, good gaiters, were warm and comfortable to spend the day in, and are easy to put on and take off.
One more sailing boot option…
HENRI LLOYD SHADOW BOOT
Anyone who read our sailing boot test will have seen that our testers didn’t like the hard top edge on the previous incarnation of Henry Lloyd’s popular Shadow boot.
The new version has a padded top and a full-leather design.
The leather is soft and waterproof, and a combination of razor-cut sole and a deep-tread pattern should keep footing sure, whatever the conditions.
These sailing boots include a stretch panel on the rear to give a comfortable fit for a variety of calf sizes.
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