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March 2005 Vol. 20, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving Gratuities

— who and how much we tip

from the March, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Every few years Undercurrent surveys subscribers for their opinions on tipping. We’re looking for changing trends, but the main reason for the survey was best summed up by Adrienne Abbott, who volunteered: “I’ll be interested in your results. Leaving a boat is always an uncomfortable time for me because I never know if the staff will feel my tip is adequate. Knowing what other people tip will help me know.”

When it comes to tipping, divers seem to be divided into two camps. The tippers who embrace the system know what kind of service they expect and place a value on it. As one subscriber put it, “Since I worked in the service industry as a young man, I know how much tips mean to the people who take care of us. We try, as much as we can afford, to reward all of their efforts… Often the tips add up to 20% or more of the trip total when the service is good.”

. . . “I’ve just returned from diving in the islands north of Tahiti, where the going rate is $145 for a 2-tank dive. Our tips were zero.”

These folks see tipping as an investment in good service and are often particular about how much, how often, and how personally they distribute the largesse. “I lived by the tip for 14 years as a whitewater river guide,” wrote Skeeter Wilhelm. “I feel I am a fair judge of what is deserving of a tip. In a job that gets tips, one should never expect to be tipped, but you should always do your job like you were given the first installment of a huge tip at the beginning of the trip with more to come at the end.” Said another happy diver, “I must be considered a good tipper because I am always enthusiastically welcomed back whenever I return anywhere I’ve been before.”

Divers who resent the whole tipping system or feel unsure about the correct amount are often reluctant to discuss the subject with dive crews or fellow passengers, and they tend to tip anonymously, either by credit card or tip jar. As Norma Goldberger put it, “I find tipping to be a real problem. I would much prefer the fee to include tipping so I don’t under-or over-tip.”

While tipping practices vary widely and are sometimes the source of great controversy, some trends did emerge from our recent survey that may provide useful guidelines for day-boat, live-aboard, and resort divers.

How Much Is Enough?

Asked how much they tip per day when they’ve received excellent service, 19% of respondents said $10 to $12 (usually on liveaboards). Slightly fewer (18%) tip $20-$30. Not far behind at 14% are those who tip $12-$15 a day. Another 14%, primarily resort and dive-boat guests, tip $5 a day. Service quality may be a judgment call, but respondents mentioned a number of particulars they take into account when determining how much to leave: dive briefings, food, cleanliness, crew attitude, the condition of the boat, and evidence of preventive maintenance.

Local economics may contribute to the size of a tip, and, in some cases, readers thought the price was so high no tip was warranted. As Linda Pringle reported: “I’ve just returned from diving in the islands north of Tahiti, where the going rate is $145 for a 2-tank dive. Our tips were zero.” Others, such as William Deertz, take local economics into consideration. Deertz noted, “Tips depend on location being visited and the associated cost of living. If diving in Indonesia, where the average daily wage is $2-$3/day, then a $5/day tip may be more than enough; however, if on a live-aboard on the Great Barrier in Australia, where the cost of living is more, then maybe a $10/ day tip is more appropriate.”

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Tipping formulas were, literally, all over the boat. Some tip according to the number of dives they do each day; others tip a set amount (usually $5 per day) for each crew member. Of those who tip at the end of a trip, 67% leave 10-15% of the cost of the trip. But some subscribers, like Ray Haberman, feel this is too much. He resents live-aboards “asking for 10% of the trip price, especially since I know they only pay their staff local wages. For a mediocre boat, I leave $100-$150 in the envelope to be distributed by staff, on a great boat $200-$300.

Randy Preissig offered a full fiscal analysis: “18 divers on a live-aboard. $2500 each. 10% = $250. Times 18 is $4500. Times 52 weeks is an astounding $234,000 a year!! Divided by the typical 6-man crew, this is almost $40,000 a year each in tips!!! Way too much. We should be tipping on the cost of the service: i.e., the diving, cooking and cleaning, not the cost of the boat (lodging, fuel, etc). 10% of $1,500 for these services would be more appropriate. Also, do not forget that many of these diving trips are to countries where the average daily salary (if one even has a job) may be $20, or even less.”

Wayne Hasson, who runs the Aggressor Fleet, believes this analysis is over-inflated. An Aggressor Fleet manual directing staffers on how to discuss tipping with passengers states: “Satisfied passengers who believe they have been provided with very good service have left generous gratuities of ten percent (10%) of the charter price, while average tips are in the five percent (5%) range.”

Resort divers tend to tip the dive staff separately and only on the diving portion of their package. A significant number (41%) don’t tip other staff members. As one respondent put it: “behind the scenes people should receive a salary sufficient for their jobs,and those in a customer-facing position should be subject to tipping, since that is what the customer experiences.”

Of those who tip staff outside the dive program, the largest bloc (18%) tip housekeepers $3-$5 a day. Resort wait staff is generally tipped as well. Among those who leave something for nondive staffers at the end of their stay or trip, 56% leave 10% of the cost of their package.

Of course, the question of “how much?” is only a small part of the tipping question. Next month, learn how our readers feel about the tip pool and about letting management distribute their tips, as well as whether tips should be cash, credit, or tips “in kind” — plus how readers weigh these varying considerations to finally arrive at the bottom line.

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