Lost Soles

Lead Line — February 2005
By Richard Thiel

Lost Soles
C’mon, these are boats built to endure the worst. Surely they can tolerate a little rubber.
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Every year about this time, a whole lot of people converge on South Florida for the Miami International Boat Show. Some say that if you count all the attendees, exhibitors, and support staff, the total comes to more than a million. Judging from how hard it is to find an available hotel room, rental car, or table at a decent restaurant, I believe it.

I’m not a fan of big boat shows. Admittedly, they are great places to find a lot of boats in one place, but the crowds—even on VIP day—are daunting, and actually getting on the few boats you’re interested in and spending any time examining them can be quite a challenge. Boat shows should—in theory, at least—be the easiest, most convenient places to see a lot of boats. Small venues, like those of the Palm Beach, Maine Boats and Harbors, and Australia’s Sanctuary Cove shows, display fewer boats but are, in my opinion, better because they are easier to navigate and provide easier and quicker access to those boats.

But the truth is, any boat show can be a hassle if you’re a serious boat shopper. Besides steep ticket prices, parking hassles, and mediocre (at best) food, boat show attendees must grapple with the indignity of having to remove their boat shoes before they are allowed to board the boats. What is up with that? Most people, except for middle-aged northeastern preppies, wear boat shoes because they provide additional traction on the sometimes-slippery surfaces of a fiberglass boat. In other words, they’re safety gear. Making someone remove them is not just inconvenient, it puts them at risk—and, by the way, it puts the builder at risk of a lawsuit should someone slip and fall because his or her stocking feet had insufficient traction.

Besides, what are these builders worried about—that someone’s rubber soles are going to damage the fiberglass, or even teak, cockpit? C’mon, these are boats supposedly designed and built to endure the worst that nature can throw at them. Surely they can tolerate a little rubber. I can understand asking people to remove street shoes before boarding, or even boat shoes before they enter the saloon (although most have carpet runners), but not removing boat shoes before trying to negotiate the sometimes-tricky transition from dock to boat.

I have a theory as to why builders and dealers make you take your boat shoes off, and it has nothing to do with preventing wear and tear. It’s snootiness. It’s their way of reminding you that it’s a privilege for you to step aboard their boat. And while you’re waiting to board, I bet they hope you look at that pile of shoes and say to yourself, “Wow, this must be a really popular boat. I’m lucky they let me on!”

Here’s a radical proposal: Let people wear boat shoes on boats. Safety is reason enough, but hygiene and aesthetics count, too. I mean, who wants to look at other people’s smelly feet?

This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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