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May 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Tipping on Dive Trips: Part I

how much do you tip, and to whom?

from the May, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If there is a topic that engenders more passion and diversity among divers than how much to tip, we don’t know what it is. Do you tip no matter what? Do you tip individuals or put it in a community pot? Do you tip at all? The variables are endless, but think of the people who serve you.

On day boats, you’ve got a boat captain, a dive guide, the people who fill and tote the tanks, and the guy who washes out your wetsuit. At resorts, you’ve got another tier to deal with - - bartenders and waitstaff, room cleaners, bellhops, etc. And, to complicate matters, if you’re at a dive resort or on a liveaboard, diving, eating and accommodations are all part of the same operation and you’ve probably paid a fixed fee for your stay.

If you’re diving in Florida or Hawaii, you might think differently about tipping than if you’re in Indonesia, for example. No American in that crew is going to work for Indonesian wages, so there is a pay disparity. And if you’re not from a tip-happy country like the U.S., you may not think about tipping it at all.

The Purpose of a Tip

The primary purpose of tipping is to give a reward for a job well done, as evidenced by the e-mails from more than a hundred divers who responded to our request for comments about their tipping practices. A good example comes from Undercurrent subscriber James Heimer (Houston, TX). “My wife and I dived with Ed Robinson Dive Adventures last fall. While diving the Molokini crater, my wife was frustrated because she was dragging her photo rig around and not able to get any good shots. The next day, she said she would sit out the first dive. The boat captain quizzed her to find out exactly what she was looking for - - moderate depth, no current, moored dive boat - - then he went to an inshore location first to check on visibility, then went over to the crater and checked three locations until he found one that was perfect. We had the best dive of our vacation, and it was the crew’s interest and patience that made it possible.” The Heimers tipped

But how much should one reward for good service? And to whom? How do you make sure everyone gets their fair share? Subscriber Pete Dudley (Albuquerque, NM) put us on the spot: “There are a lot of unspoken expectations involved with tipping, so hopefully Undercurrent can help define correct practices so we feel good about our dive trips, even after settling up.”

I wish we could, but truth is, Pete, there is no correct practice. At best, there are things to keep in mind. At the end of this two-part series, I will see if we can’t come up with some reasonable approach.

The Yes, Maybe and No Tipping Camps

When it comes to tipping, divers are in three camps: those who do it willingly, those who do it reluctantly, and those who refuse to tip at all (and yes, they are American).

“I think of a dive trip as like going to
a fine restaurant,” says one diver.

“I tend to think of a dive trip as like going to a fine restaurant,” says Michael Hofman (San Francisco, CA). “I look at a 10 percent tip as reasonable. The employees don’t make very much and usually they provide superior service. Of course, when the service is below par, I don’t tip as much. But if you return to a destination, it’s likely that your good tips for a job well done will be remembered.”

Daniel Benson (Klamath Falls, OR) is one tipper unhappy with the practice. “I want the staff to feel appreciated, yet I don’t think it’s right for the crew to be completely dependent on tips for their livelihood.”

“By the time I pay for a very overinflated trip and all the incidentals that go with it, especially the fuel surcharge, I am about moneyed out,” says Jack Hart (Hickory, NC). “Dive operators need to charge what they think they need to get for the trip. Then I can choose to go or not. Don’t just demand a huge tip at the end.”

Some people don’t tip at all. “My feeling is that people should always do their best at their jobs,” says Ron Jyring (Bismarck, ND). “That is simply part of being a professional. We don’t tip dentists or plumbers, so why dive ‘professionals’? Don’t ask me to supplement the crew’s salary -- that’s the owner’s responsibility.”

Even some dive professionals (although most won’t say it publicly) agree with Jyring. Bruce Bowker, who owns Bonaire’s Carib Inn, is an outspoken one. “When I was younger and doing more resort scuba instruction, I remember when I got my first tip. It was a bit surprising, as I was getting paid for what I was doing. It was my job. It soon became apparent that it was more or less common to tip the scuba teacher. Thinking back, I never tipped my teachers at school.”

Rude Crews

Before we look at strategies, let’s first dispose of rude dive crews who should never be tipped.

“I only refused to tip on one trip,” says Tammy Hauk (Grandview, MO). “I came down with a sinus condition in Cozumel, and the divemaster was trying to push me into diving though I told him I could not clear my ears above water. After my final refusal, he turned back and pantomimed ‘chicken’ to the other divers in our group. Because I was taught that the safety of divers should be a divemaster’s first concern, this guy lost out on getting a tip from me.”

When Pete Dudley was diving with Deep Blue in Cozumel, he told the proprietors he would tip everyone at the end, and they said no problem. “I mentioned this to the crew, but they began to make rude remarks about my tipping after the second day. They did it in Spanish, but my wife understood what they said. We cancelled the other eight days. With the next operator, I tipped every day and had no problems.”

What Percentage Do Your Fellow Divers Tip?

While the results to our survey aren’t statistically significant, more than half say they tip 10 percent of the dive costs, whether it’s a liveaboard or shore-based operation. Mike Bowden (London, England) urges tipping divers keep it at no more than that. “Otherwise too tempting for boats to start cutting wages and bumping up tips.” An additional 38 percent of divers view 15 percent as the norm, while 8 percent use 20 percent. Only 3 percent say they never tip.

“By the time I pay for an overinflated
trip and all the incidentals, I
am moneyed out,” says another.

A few divers try reaching a happy medium by tipping in goods. “At my job, I had plenty of giveaway items like T-shirts and caps,” says Pat Aderman (Irving, TX). I would pack six to 12 of them and give them to dive guides and boat crews. They were always well appreciated.” “I do tip in cash, but I also prefer to take my divemaster out to dinner on our last night on or after a night dive,” says Sharon Hawkins (Houston, TX). “I also bring my free gift-with-purchase cosmetics -- lipsticks, lotions, soaps, shampoos -- and leave that for the housekeeping staff.”

How to Tip

Many divers like the tip box concept because they can drop in what they want and it gets spread around. “It’s a good policy because the whole staff gets a share,” says Barbara Shiveley (La Plata, MD). “However, every trip has a few individuals, like a divemaster or boat captain, who went the extra yard, and I recognize this by giving them an extra $5 or $10 personally.”

Others are fine with giving tips to the owner to take care of the staff. “There are too many people involved to figure out how to tip everyone,” says David Dornbusch (Berkeley, CA). “I think the dive operator understands to what degree crew depend on tips, so I let it distribute them.”

Some divers go out of their way to seek out specific crew who gave them extra attention. “I want the specific people who took care of me during the week to benefit,” says Liz Pyzik (Sterling Heights, MI). “I keep track of captain, dive guides and other crew on the boats and at the end of the week, I tip each $5 per day of diving. I give the money in an envelope addressed to the person and write notes thanking them for their help through the week. For the housekeeping staff and kitchen crew, I tip $10 per day, giving it to the person in charge of the kitchen and asking that the money be distributed.”

Who to Tip

Some divers count the people who helped them with their dives – the divemaster, the panga driver, the tank filler -- and come up with a proper sum for each based on how many dives they did. Fifty-five percent of divers said they tip $5 per tank, 20 percent give $10 and 14 percent give $15. A few divers give $20 to $25 for a day’s worth of good diving.

Don’t forget the non-dive crew -- housekeeping staffs at dive resorts are also relying on tips. The respondents who addressed this say they usually leave between $2 and $5 per person on the bed for housekeeping. If the resort has a tip box for the office staff, divers leave a per diem of $5 to $10.

Others consider that they paid through the nose already and follow the modified European method, which is to tip only those who go far beyond their duties to serve -- and that may not be anyone. “Since I save for one big trip each year and don’t have much extra money, I generally keep my dive trip tips between $100 and 200,” says Fred Turoff (Philadelphia, PA). “The higher amount is given when I feel the crew made my trip more enjoyable than expected, cared for my gear and led me to interesting creatures. I know that much behind-the-scenes work is done by the others, so in addition to contributing to the tip pool, I try to thank each crew member personally. Knowing that my income, however limited it is, is probably much greater than any of the crew, makes it easier for me to give them a tip -- for a good trip, that is.”

Pushy Crew

Many divers complain that some dive operations are too pushy about tips. “On Mike Ball’s Spoilsport in the Coral Sea a decade ago, I was asked to tip 20 percent,” says Henry Jakubiak (Potomac, MD). “Coming in at $1,000 on top of $5,000 for the trip, that strikes me as quite a reach. Both the Kona Aggressor and the Galapagos Aggressor suggested tips between 10 and 20 percent. The audacity of these requests took my breath away.” One Canadian subscriber said a Nekton liveaboard trip in Belize last summer soured his view on tipping. “When I booked the trip, I was clearly informed about a customary 10 to 15 percent tip, and I should bring cash as there were no ATMs on board. During the trip, I was reminded daily of the tip. At trip’s end, I got a thank-you letter requesting a 15 to 20 percent tip that could be paid on deck the following morning. There were no divemasters in the water. No shark dive occurred. We dove the same sites three to four times. The meals were self-serve. A somber crowd ponied up the extra $720 per couple for a six-day dive.”

Some dive operations aren’t democratic about splitting tips among staff, so some crew get aggressive in getting them from divers. At CocoView in Roatan, Mark Buckley (Pearland, TX) came across some tank fillers who were relentless in their pursuit of a tip. “Towards the end of the week, they saw me gearing up for a dive and the inevitable ‘don’t forget me’ always came up. It got so I avoided them and quickly got on the boat or walked out front and made a shore dive.”

- - Ben Davison

Next month, we’ll discuss how dive operations pool and distribute tips, and how tipping should be handled in Third World countries.

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