Staying On Your Feet—The Right Footwear

Grippy soled, well-protected sandals

One thing we have a ban on aboard Pèlerin is going around the decks with no shoes. Stubbed toes can easily be badly damaged, as I found out one night in a pitch-dark harbour when another yacht announced that they were coming alongside by the simple expedient of slamming straight into the side of us. Leaping from my bunk and dashing on deck in a totally befuddled state I stuck my toes straight into the jaws of a self-tailing winch, let out a huge shriek that scared the living daylights out of the offending crew (no bad thing) and then retired hurt below with two broken toes. And there are few things that are as painful as broken toes…

Back in 2009 Lou and I were looking for some warm weather deck shoes, and couldn’t find anything we liked, until we were shown Keen Footwear’s Newport H2 sandals. Comfortable, solidly made with grippy, well-rounded soles, waterproof, self-bailing and with an excellent solid toe protection guard, we have worn these everywhere since then, afloat and ashore, on islands and into the desert.

The soles are claimed to be non-marking, and certainly we don’t find that they leave bad marks on our white deck (although a paler colour might be better). They’re certainly grippy when it’s wet as neither of us has ever lost our footing when moving around on deck, whatever the weather. We’ve lost count of the times when we’ve bashed the toe guards in ways that would undoubtedly have brought tears to the eyes without their protection – they’re really effective. Both original pairs are still in daily use for boatyard duties, although the newness has worn off mine in particular, so that they have had to be stitched in places to keep them in one piece. But given their age and the amount of abuse they’ve been subjected to, we’ve certainly had our money’s worth out of them.

Both of us have now bought spiffy new pairs, this time with leather straps that we think will last longer than the webbing of the old ones.

As was wisely pointed out in a couple of excellent comments on my recent post on staying upright on deck, sorting out the deck surface is only half of the cure – the other half is the shoes you’re wearing. These sandals aren’t the cheapest (around $100 a pair), but as far as we’re concerned they’re certainly the best we’ve tried, and we’d thoroughly recommend them.

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Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Victor Raymond Aug 24, 2012, 7:38 am

    Although we can’t force everyone to wear Keens onboard Rajah Laut Judy and I certainly do. I have been hesitant to wear them as street shoes only because I worried about wearing thin the sipping thereby loosing the grip ability of the sole. Perhaps I am over cautious about this.
    We have contemplated painting the most egregious toe stubbing protuberances on deck with florescent paint to help avoid the incident you describe.
    Although we certainly would not prescribe going to bed with our Keens on, leaving them just outside the companionway where they can be quickly slipped on as a sandle until more securely fastened, I am sure, has prevented serious toe damage in the past.
    Thank you again for pointing out this fundamental but very important safety issue.
    Best regards

    • Colin Aug 24, 2012, 1:51 pm

      Hi Victor

      We, too keep ours by the companionway – I am utterly paranoid about hurting my toes after the incident I related in the post!

      The soles on our old pairs have worn remarkably well, partly because the sipes are cut very deep. But they’ve been worn for everyday wear constantly so obviously the compound is hard wearing.

      Kindest regards


  • Chris Aug 24, 2012, 9:21 am

    One thing I also like about Keens is they run true to size. After buying the first pair in person, online ordering by size and stocking number has always resulted in the same fit. My wife has been unable to find a comfortable model.

    They do get a bit stretchy when wet, and one can roll an ankle. So when they get wet, I tighten and tuck the excess laces. (And I went to glow-in-the-dark shoe laces to find them more easily when off watch.)

    I also keep two pair — one to wear and one to be drying in the engine compartment.

    So far I’ve never had a problem with leaving dark skid marks on the deck.

    • Colin Aug 24, 2012, 1:54 pm

      Hi Chris

      we also found the webbing versions stretched a bit when wet, hence our choice of the leather strapped versions this time – we’ll see how they do.

      I’m tempted to replace the elastic laces with some light line for the same reason, as elastic never lasts that long.

      Best wishes


  • Steve Aug 24, 2012, 12:22 pm

    I am in agreement with all about the non-skid and mandatory , grippy shoes with toe covers on deck.
    For us an equally important item is holding on with at least one hand but two is better. On Threshold I can move from the forward V-berth, through the main cabin, through the pilot house, reverse direction in the cockpit to go forward, and get to the mast holding on with both hands except when changing position.
    Getting forward to the mast required the addition of removable, inner lifelines. This idea courtesy of Andy Wall during our Azores to Scotland passage in ’08. An inner lifeline running fore and aft, especially when moving up the low side provides remarkable security. Some boat designs require a similar arrangement in the main cabin?
    I haven’t intended to change the subject but the older I get the less I trust my feet to keep me on the boat

  • Colin Aug 24, 2012, 1:59 pm

    Hi Steve

    all good points, especially the inner lifelines – lines that are right outboard combined with over long harness tethers are a recipe for going in – not what was intended. And I’ve mentioned on here at AAC about rigging lines below in bad weather, which certainly seems to me to be one way of dealing with today’s open plan boats.

    Best wishes


  • Jan Waldin Aug 24, 2012, 11:00 pm

    Thanks for the reference to the Keens, which look like good kit. But as for mandatory use of footwear on deck, I would point out that Jon Sanders did his his solo double and triple circumnavigations through the Southern Ocean barefoot all the way.

    Jan Waldin

    • Colin Aug 25, 2012, 9:53 am

      Hi Jan

      Each to his own – and I admire his hardihood. But I have to say that broken toes are extraordinarily painful, ruin your time for weeks while they heal, and I’d really rather not do that again!

      Best wishes


    • John Aug 26, 2012, 6:19 pm

      Hi Colin and Jan,

      We have the same ban on going bare-foot on deck on “Morgan’s Cloud”. Phyllis broke our rule once in a hurried moment and paid the same price as Colin—only one toe though! She was miserable with it for a month.

  • Steve Aug 25, 2012, 1:44 am

    My wife wears those very same Keens everywhere, but since she only has one pair, they are not dedicated boat shoes for the deck. I have found a very good pair of Rubber/ webbing enclosed -toe Tevas whic h I wear on the boat. Although they have a black/ gray sole, they do not mark and are very grippy with good support. They look very similar to Keens and I am quite satisfied with them.

    • Colin Aug 25, 2012, 9:58 am

      Hi Steve

      Over the years I’ve tried most makes – Reefs, Tevas etc. In fct my last pair were Teva’s and they were great disappointment, and didn’t stand up to hard wear at all. Maybe yours are different models, and are tougher.

      The Keens are the best yet, more hard wearing, comfortable and safe than any others – and I hope your wife likes hers just as much.

      Best wishes


  • Simon Fraser Aug 25, 2012, 6:53 pm

    I’m into my third pair of Keen Newports and I love them. They are my favourite and most versatile pair of shoes- airline travel, even backpacking etc. I find that the inner sole becomes slippery when wet and the whole can pong after lots of use.( Another reason to leave them outside the cabin.) Even the leather straps stretch a little when wet and eventually will break. Then you can buy a new pair. I use neoprene socks inside them in colder temps (season or time of day).

    • Colin Aug 28, 2012, 7:45 am

      Hi Simon

      Glad you like them so much (as do we).

      I haven’t found them as smelly s some others ( trainers, certainly!), but maybe that’s why we keep them on deck overnight.

      Good tip on the neoprene socks, but by the time it’s reached that temperature it’s time to reach for the Dubarry boots in my case….

      Best wishes


  • Richard Aug 26, 2012, 8:22 pm

    Growing up as a kid here in South Florida (Sarasota), there was a theme park just 2 miles down the Intercoastal Waterway from us.. “Florida Land”.. They had a dolphin show, gunfighters, parrots— just the works..!! Got my first pair of shark skin sandals there, made with real shark skin (nurse shark), sold at the gift shop.. Hand made, too.. A small fortune back then, $4.75.. Lasted forever.. Never slipped and fell in’em either, even when running thru the house while Mom was mopping the terrazzo floors.. Lasted a long time, if memory serves me correctly.. Wore’em till my toes grew over the front and heels off the back..

    Met an old man on Patong Beach,Phuket Thailand.. (5 weeks after the sunami, December 2004, had hit the island).. He was making and selling shark skin sandals (nurse shark).. I didn’t have the money on me for a pair ($20.. U.S.) .. But let him “resole” my worn out, slick as glass, “Crocs”.. ($6 U.S.)..

    If you ever come across an old man making sandals, or a gift shop in an “old time theme park” selling shark skin sandals, it’s worth inquiring about.. (not sure about how good they’d treat a fiberglass or painted deck though..)..

    • Colin Aug 28, 2012, 7:50 am

      Hi Richard

      I’ve never seen such things, although shark skin was widely used in the past for many uses – my grandmother had a shark skin handbag. It was known as ‘shagreen’, and was used for high load ares such as gloves as well.

      But as someone who has worked in shark conservation – well, I’m afraid my feet just wouldn’t let me do it….

      Best wishes


  • Bill Balme Aug 27, 2012, 12:07 pm

    Went out and bought some this weekend! Excellent recommendation – thanks. Will be getting a second pair shortly – to have exclusively as on the boat shoes…

    • Colin Aug 28, 2012, 7:51 am

      Hi Bill

      good luck with them – we think you’ll remain well pleased.

      Best wishes


  • Ben Aug 28, 2012, 9:38 am

    I have the same keens – on my second pair now. excellent shoes for the purpose. 2 complaints on them, though neither hold me back from recommending them, they are just my experience:
    1- if you get a rock or pebble in them while walking (landing a dinghy on a beach for example), it’s nearly impossible to shake it out like you can with more open sandals – forces you to stop and take them at least partly off.
    2 – they’re hot. not much airflow in there… can get stinky if not left off and disinfected frequently!

    otherwise – i love em.

    • Colin Speedie Aug 29, 2012, 12:36 pm

      Hi Ben

      As long as those are the only things that are wrong with them, then that’s great.

      And for the answer to point 2 – see below.

      Best wishes


  • Chris Aug 28, 2012, 8:03 pm

    Keen odor can be defeated with baking soda. A little dusting or dissolve some in warm water and wipe down the foot bed and let it dry. The alkaline is unfriendly to the odor producing bacteria and friendly to feet.

    • Colin Speedie Aug 29, 2012, 12:37 pm

      Thanks for that, Chris,

      I’ll just have to find out what the Spanish is for baking powder and stock up before we leave here.

      Best wishes


  • Simon Sep 5, 2012, 9:38 am

    levadura en polvo, I believe

    • Colin Sep 6, 2012, 7:40 am



  • TomT Sep 5, 2012, 1:21 pm

    On fourth of July I was leaving my boat after grabbing a life vest and headed to a friend’s boat for a motor to watch the fireworks. Walking down the dock I turned back to admire my recent cleaning of the teak deck. The open holes in the top of my Keen sandals caught on a cleat… and I launched into the marina. I heard a whooshing sound, the life vest in my hand inflating. My prescription Ray Bans sunk to the murky depths of New York harbor.

    I still wear Keens, but they can catch on things!

    • Colin Sep 6, 2012, 7:41 am

      Hi Tom

      Ouch! Thanks for the warning.


  • Paul Mills Sep 6, 2012, 3:45 pm

    Confession times, times two….

    First confession. I am to sweet smelling footwear what Rasputin was to celibacy. So I have just liberally sprinkled the magic powder in trainers, sailing wellies and walking boots. I will report back on how well it works for hard core users, with my beloved verifying success or ‘odour as normal’ in due course.

    Second confession (somewhat linked to above). As long as it is not wet or too cold, I greatly enjoy going barefoot on Sakari, and allow others to do so on the understanding that they should not come running to me if they stub their toe! In 33 years of sailing I have only once suffered more than a bruise – and that was a proper job of 25hp outboard skeg mistaking my big toe for the floor as I put it down. Even with sailing shoe I think the damage would have been in the same league.

    Don’t get me wrong I do take safety seriously, for example life jackets at all times, and non slip tape on hatches; but I also appreciate personal responsibility and some freedom of choice.

    The above said I really like the look of Keens- how come I have not seen them before? And have put a pair in my letter to Santa.


    • Colin Sep 7, 2012, 10:08 am

      Hi Paul

      Are you going down the baking soda route/ If it works as well as Chris (above) suggests, then we maybe we all should know – in the interest of harmony aboard, of course….

      I’m with you on personal freedom aboard, and wouldn’t wear shoes either if I hadn’t broken those toes! That just hurt too much.

      We discovered the Keens in the Ellis Brigham shop in Covent Garden, and since then we’ve seen them in several outdoor shops round the place, the last (where I bought my new pair) in Inverness this summer. Let’s hope Santa knows where to look and gets them down your chimney!

      Best wishes


      • Chris Sep 7, 2012, 10:18 am

        Another thing that works well is two pair and don’t wear the same pair two days in a row.

        When shoes get wet and the engine compartment is warm, we also put the shoes in there to get a head start on drying.

  • Bernard Sep 7, 2012, 3:14 am

    Hi Colin,I have only just discovered your site yesterday,what a wealth of facinating information.Im not exactly sure how , thru some link to Ovni’s obviously, one of which I am planning to buy..Im on the lookout for a preowned one..but with the Aust.$/Euro close at the present,a new one is within reason as well. Keen’s..fantastic ,any time they are on sale, all seasons all outdoor situations great for sixty yr. old Ausi. wide foot.Very interested in everything about ‘Pelerin’ shal keep reading..Best regards.Bernard.

    • Colin Sep 7, 2012, 10:00 am

      Hi Bernard

      welcome to Attainable Adventure then, and I hope you find more useful information as you explore the site.

      And thanks for the kind words – we appreciate them.

      Best wishes


  • Duncan Oct 19, 2015, 3:16 pm

    When Keen first started making outdoor footwear some years ago I bought a pair and they fell apart after only 3 weeks. Recently I gave them abother go and bought the leather strapped sandals shown in the photo at the top of this article. They are the best footwear I have ever had. Comfortable, airy, minimally sweaty due to the leather and the non-plastic inner sole, and this pair have proven to be supremely durable. Best footwear of my life so far! And they suit my broad feet. Full marks to Keen.

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