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April 2024    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 50, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How Should We Tip the Dive Crew?

whatever makes you comfortable

from the April, 2024 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Tipping is out of hand in the U.S., with tip jars showing up in far too many places. And that little screen you sign for your credit card starts at 18 percent for a tip, even if you are ordering takeout. One of our subscribers, Blake Hottle (Culver City, CA), wrote, "I was in a Starbucks to pick up their pretty good instant coffee for our next dive trip. When I used the credit card scanner, I was shocked that the default setting included a 20 percent tip. You had to delete the 20 percent tip manually. Unbelievable!"

Ten percent seems like a sensible standard, but generally, our readers tip a bit more.

But tipping on dive trips is another matter. American divers generally tip well and usually apply at-home standards. As we wrote in the last issue, most travelers from other countries have a different view of tipping than Americans; they tip far less, and when they do tip, they do it to honor good service. Perhaps for good reason. "Europeans are much less demanding than Americans," Rolf Schmidt of the Sinai Divers in Sharm el Sheikh told us.

Mary Dieringer (Boston, MA) wrote, "I enquired discreetly around my last American-based liveaboard dive group and found the three or four Canadians and the German couple did not intend to tip at all, even though perfectly happy with the service, but, while not embarrassed, they thought it best to keep quiet.

"I don't think of myself as stingy, yet I deeply resent both the extra expectations of Americans and groups of Americans regarding tipping and their "noblesse oblige" attitudes. I think we are changing the no-tips-expected cultures of many regions for the worse; I've heard from Europeans that they can now encounter bad attitudes when they don't tip in areas where it was never before routine.

"While many crew and service workers overseas earn very low wages, when I pay for an expensive tour, I think the tour and vessel operators should compensate their workers accordingly and not expect passengers to supplement wages. Worse, the hierarchy of tips division means the lowest paid get the least in tips, so large multi-hundred-dollar tips reward the captains and owners the most. Even if you try to tip your cabin boy separately, he will hand the tip in to the captain as a matter of course."

It's impossible to judge whether a foreign dive operator pays its staff well, but when divers pay $6000 for a week on an Indonesian liveaboard (where the average wage for workers is somewhere around $75-$150 per week) or in the Philippines, which has similar wages, they would expect the crew was paid properly. Fifteen divers on that liveaboard would produce $90,000, so if divers tipped ten percent, that leaves $9000 to be spread around a crew (and probably office staff). That's a lot of money.

For many divers, it's difficult to determine whom to tip and how much. Complicating that is what Lynn Morton, who runs dive trips, learned. "I won't do business with a company that isn't fair to all its staff. I learned first-hand about a dive boat where the Caucasian boat host and captain took 90 percent of the tip money, and only 10 percent went to the dive crew." He said, "White people need more money to live here."

While this myopic self-serving fellow would have been wiser to say "foreigners need more money to live here" (which isn't necessarily true), he did raise a red flag about favoritism in pooling tips. An operator may say the money will be spread among boat and office staff, but does the guy who fills the tanks and cleans the toilets get as much as the dive guide or the office manager? Does that Australian guide get as much as the Indonesian guide? Do men get more than women? Who knows? It's nothing the tipping diver can control.

So, how should divers tip? We recently asked our readers for their views on dive tipping, and here is what they had to say.

What Trip Leaders Do:

We received emails from two Undercurrent subscribers who run group trips. Ken Kurtis of Reef Seekers says he builds the tip into his overall price. "I generally aim for about 10 percent of the cost of the diving portion of the trip. My Reef Seekers groups have become known as good tippers, which usually results in better service from the resort or boat staff, and that results in a better trip experience for my guests." Some of his divers add another $20, $50, or $100 if they felt they got great service, which is better for the crew overall.

Lynn Morton of Deep Travel suggests that her clients "tip 10 percent of the retail cost of the resort or boat trip. I don't insist, I suggest. Then I tell them that if they had a fabulous time and really loved their stay, tip more. I almost always have the boat hosts or dive manager thank me for the generous tips."

It seems like a sensible standard, but generally, our readers seem to tip a bit more.

Safety and Hard Work are Rewarded

To many divers, tipping is mainly about their safety. Dan Fazekas (Hilton Head Island, SC) says that "tipping is a great way to express appreciation for doing an excellent job. Americans have their own ways of tipping servers, hotel staff, etc., but they are not handling equipment and dealing with potentially life-threatening situations, so those guidelines do not apply to diving.

"Our rule of thumb for a week-long trip, concierge/ valet service, where they set up and break down gear, rinse, dry, store, and carry gear, is [to tip}30-35 percent of the cost of our diving. If we are diving with different captains and crew, we will tip daily; otherwise, we will tip in cash at the end of the week. This number may seem high, but most dive staffs are not particularly well paid. If we are just diving with the operator and handling our own gear, we are tipping 20 percent. Finally, if things are not meeting expectations, we do not express our disappointment by withholding tip money. We will ask the divemaster or crew why they do things a certain way and perhaps offer suggestions.

There's a distinction between the dive and hotel staff, many of whom you never meet or even see.

Kevin McCarter (Golden Oak, FL) agreed. "Safety is the #1 consideration for me. Most operators pay an appropriate amount of attention to safety. I tip a minimum of 20 percent for the dive crew."

Robert McCarthy (Grafton, MA) told Undercurrent, "In the U.S., we are expected to give 15-20 percent to someone serving us a hamburger. How could we not give more than that to someone who has our lives in their hands? If the dive shop charges $100 per day, I try to give at least $25 per day to whoever is in the water with me. More if they are particularly informative."

The Suggested Tip

It's common for operators to suggest a tip; most say it's to identify an "appropriate tip" to make it easy on the traveler. But is there such thing as a norm or customary or appropriate tip? One would suspect that a suggested trip would be as much as "the traffic will bear." In other words, how much can an operator get out of travelers before they feel offended? Perhaps one can't blame them for seeking as much money for their staff as possible. But that doesn't mean you have to take their advice.

When aboard the Aqua Cat, Steven Davidson (Midland, GA) says they "asked for a 15 percent tip at the end of the trip briefing, explaining that it was the industry norm." Regardless, he says he normally tips 10 percent. "The trip cost $3200, and I left them a $350 tip."

So, we don't know what "standard" or customary tips are other than they're an imaginary way to set a standard. The truth is our readers set their standards for their own reasons.

Robert Bodkin (Bremerton, WA) routinely dives in Truk Lagoon. His tip is generally based on 10 percent of the charter cost, rounded up to the nearest $100. This amounts to about $800, since he stays for two weeks.

Dianne Knitter (Garden Grove, CA) wrote, "On liveaboards, I tip 15 percent of the trip cost if service is good, and usually that is pooled to cover all staff. I tip divemasters extra, especially if the service is good. My last trip was 15 days with the same divemaster and I tipped him an extra $100 on the side. I am an older diver, so good service is important to me."

Veteran diver Sally Herbert (Copperopolis, CA) told Undercurrent, "On the usual liveaboard 10-day trip, I normally tip about $400 to $500 into the joint tip bowl depending on how flush I feel."

On the other hand, John McTigue (Rockport, MA) says, "I don't pool tips unless asked. I generally tip the divemaster, helpers, and cook on a liveaboard ... $50 or $100 each on a week trip, $20 to $50 on day trips.

Jim Harris (Fort Worth, TX) generally tips 10 to 12 percent of the liveaboard price. At Cocos Island, he was asked by some less-well-traveled European divers what a typical tip was. He said around 10 percent, and "they thought my answer was outrageous. I talked to the head divemaster, who just smiled, acknowledging it was a touchy issue. He told me, 'People should tip what they're comfortable with, but we love it when Americans are onboard!'"

Tipping at Dive Resorts

On a liveaboard, your dive guide might also be your meal server and baggage handler, and you get to know the chef and the person who cleans your cabin. If you're at a hotel or a dive resort, there's a distinction between the dive and hotel staff, many of whom you never meet or even see.

For diving, some readers tip a percentage of the total cost, but most tip on a per-dive basis. Many tip daily, not just at the end of the trip.

Douglas Peterson (Naperville, IL) says, "Diving East Grand Cayman recently, we each tipped $5 cash per tank. We always give the tips to the boat captain at the end of each boat trip, making sure other crew members notice it. And we tip every boat trip because crews change every day. In less developed countries, we usually tip $10 cash per tank to friendly, helpful local dive guides in poor economies. But if a crew is particularly stand-offish and doesn't seem to care, we have no problems with no tipping, no matter where."

Most readers seem to tip between $5 and $10 a tank, some more. Blake Feamster (Tulsa, OK) says, "The standard recommended on St. Croix is $10 per tank."

Patti Jenkins (Santa Fe, NM) agreed. She wrote, "Generally, I tip the boat staff $5 to $10 a tank. It depends on whether an additional crew on land is taking care of your gear. I tip them separately. Even though a country's website says tipping is not a norm, I have found that dive company personnel are hoping for that extra thank you."

Kevin Feor (Rochester, NY) says, "On charter boats, especially in Cozumel, I will tip the boat captain and guide (even if the guide is the owner), $10 to $15 per day, depending on how proficient they are."

Bob FitzGerald (Ottawa, Ontario) believes, "For a divemaster in, say, Roatan or Barbados, it's typically something like $10 for the first day and a bit less for subsequent days; a full week might be $50."

"In Cozumel, my wife and I tip $5 per tank, so $20 total for the two of us for a two-tank dive," says David Hollabaugh. (Fulton, MO). "It goes into a tip jar to be split between the DM, boat captain, and mate. I always ensure the DM sees me put the money in the tip jar so they know who is tipping."

Murray Firth (Barrie, ON) reckons, "It was pretty standard with my group and the places I went that $5 per dive was typical. But, as I age, I need more assistance on and off a boat, up onto the gunwale for a back-roll, lifting a large BC with integrated weights into a boat, more valet-style services, etc., so I increased my tip to $10 per dive. I do not tip operators that have a mandatory gratuity added to their bills."

John Kirkenir (Skillman, NJ) wrote, "I tip the divemaster every dive, usually $20 each for my wife and me. I also tip the boat every day or every other day, some $10 per day. If service has been exceptional, I'll give some extra at the end of the trip."

Kevin Darnell (Wichita Falls, TX) does both. "We typically tip the diving staff 15 percent of the bill or $20 for a two-tank trip."

"Generally, we would tip guide dives individually," wrote Paul Moliken (Portland, OR). "Wakatobi Dive Resort and Dive into Lembeh distribute envelopes to guests for tips. Tips are divided among the dive staff from one envelope and the service staff from another. One member of the dive staff nearly demanded a tip at Lembeh, making it uncomfortable because the owners said no individual tips [should be given]."

If management tells you not to tip individually, we think it's best that you follow their policy. Your under-the-table tip could cause an employee to be fired.

And, if you tip individually for the hotel services, don't forget the people who scrubbed out your toilet and changed your sheets.

A Perfect Tip Pool

Blake Hottle (Culver City, CA) wrote, "At Taveuni Dive Resort in Fiji last fall, they had a nice system. It was a "School Fund, Christmas Fund" where all the tips were aggregated and shared evenly among all the staff. VoliVoli Beach Resort did a similar thing."

He added, "And while tipping for other things in the U.S. has gotten completely out of hand lately, I feel compelled to help make sure that the people preserving the reefs in impoverished areas of the world are making a decent living."

So far as we know, that's a common practice in Fiji resorts.

Tipping Isn't Always Effective

Undercurrent's senior editor, John Bantin, recalls a millionaire friend, on vacation in Barbados, habitually and generously tipping upfront, saying there'd be a second $100 at the end of the day if he got good service.

The friend could never understand why those he tipped disappeared and never came back until Bantin explained they went off with the first $100, got drunk, and took the rest of the day off.

And How Much Should You Tip?

Don't let tip anxiety fill your last day with dread. You don't have to match the big tipper, you don't need to make up for someone who isn't going to tip, and you don't have to meet management's "normal" standards. Nor do you have to disclose how much you tipped when someone asks. Tipping is a voluntary action for you and you alone. Tip as much, or as little, as you're comfortable with. Tip what feels right.

- Ben Davison

PS: Thanks to the scores of readers who submitted their comments. Readers like you help us tell stories that no one else writes about.

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