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May 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 28, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What to Tip on Your Next Dive Trip: Part I

and the myriad of factors that determine the amount

from the May, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

There's probably no topic that brings up as much debate and diverse opinion among divers than tipping. How much, when to tip, who to tip, and how many people to include. And depending on what nationality divers are and what country they're visiting, it's about whether to tip at all.

The variables are endless, but think of the people who serve you. On day boats, you've got a captain, a dive guide or two, the people who fill and tote the tanks, and maybe even a 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 some dive resort and certainly on 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, 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 from somewhere other than a tip-happy country like the U.S., you may not think about tipping it at all.

Reasons to Tip

The primary purpose of tipping is to give a reward for a job well done, as evidenced by the e-mails from dozens of divers who responded to our request for comments about their tipping practices. But as Greg White (Cobden, IL) puts it, it can also make up for the low wages many workers earn. "It has been my experience that employees at dive resorts and on dive boats work hard and don't get paid a whole lot. I'm fortunate enough that I can afford to take these trips, so I am glad to help out to some extent." He says he used to tip about 10 percent of the resort or liveaboard portion cost, but recently has been tipping 15 percent.

But you should also tip when crew go above and beyond, like saving your life, says Mike Boom (Oakland, CA). "I was on a three-day liveaboard trip in California's Channel Islands, in really rough weather. On a night cruise between islands, the waves tore off the bulwark on the bow, water started sluicing down the side of the cabin and into the bunks, and the engine went out, making for very hairy conditions. The crew worked like Trojans, and got us back safely into port, although a day early. We got a refund for the day we missed. Most of the passengers didn't tip because they were upset about missing out on a day of diving. I tipped extra because I think they saved our lives. I don't think it's right to blame the crew for boat malfunctions that probably have more to do with the owners' maintenance philosophy."

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. But don't forget the non-dive crew -- dining and housekeeping staffs at dive resorts are also relying on tips.

Taking a dive trip is similar to going on a cruise when it comes to the number of people who serve you during your visit -- and figuring out how to tip them all appropriately. On many luxury cruise lines that offer all-inclusive service, the tips are built into the fares. If only they could do that with liveaboards. But some cruise lines have started placing automatic service charges on shipboard accounts, averaging $10 per person per day. According to Greg Stauber, a writer for the cruise review website CruiseCritic.com, a big reason why was the rising number of passengers from countries where tipping is not customary. Still, it's anyone's guess just how much of the daily charge on one's account will go to a particular steward or waiter.

"I've been told by several crews that they
don't see the money for months if tips are
put on credit cards. So by giving cash, I'm
more certain that staff will get it faster."

Stauber says it's customary to tip room stewards, and bar and dining staff on the last night of the cruise. He always tries to tip around 10 percent of the cost of his cabin, which includes that $10 daily service charge, so he typically budgets $15 to 20 per person, per day, on top of that. Housekeepers get $5 a night. Same goes for his regular bartender and dining room waiters. For shore excursions, he gives the guide $2 for a halfday excursion, $4 for a full day. "If the guide has spoken with me at length individually or confided to me places for dining or shopping after the trip, I tip him $5 for a half day and $10 for a whole day," he says. If he's in the room when his bags are delivered, Stauber gives the handler $1 per bag. Spa servicers get between 18 and 20 percent.

How Much to Tip?

How much should one reward for good dive service? More than half the divers who responded say they tip 10 to 15 percent of the dive costs, whether it's a liveaboard or shore-based operation.

Other divers think about tips in dollar amounts. Most said they tip $5 to $10 per tank, while a few give $20 to $25 for a day's worth of good diving. David Dornbusch (Berkeley, CA) has a two-tier tipping policy. He'll tip $5 to $10 for minimal service on a two-tank dive day. For him, "minimal service" includes a clean boat stocked with emergency gear and water, and a divemaster who picks safe, uncrowded dive sites, gives good dive briefings and allows divers to dive their own profile. He then tips an additional $5 to $10 for "additional service," which means divemasters point out critters and explain unique things about them, and crew who help life gear out of the water, then wash and store it. "And if anyone in my group uses a dive operator's computer, wetsuit, or any other equipment for which they don't charge me, I'll probably add an additional $5 per item per diver."

How to Tip

How do you hand over your money? That's often the most frustrating part for Jeanne Sleeper (Laguna Beach, CA). "The stickiest thing about tipping is trying to figure out who you are tipping, how the tip pool gets divided up and if the person you intended the tip to go to actually gets it."

Many divers like tip boxes because they can drop in what they want and it gets spread around. Others are fine with giving tips to the owner to take care of the staff. Some divers go out of their way to seek out specific crew who gave them extra attention.

Many dive operators collect the tips centrally, then divide them up as they see fit, and this suits Robin Masson (Ithaca, NY). "I usually dive with the same operation for several days, but don't always get the same crew every day. If possible, I give it to the guys directly on a daily basis, otherwise, I give it to the shop and ask them to split it equally between the two. If all tips get pooled, I give it to the shop, recognizing there are folks on shore who contribute to the smooth operation."

But that method bothers Greg White because he's not sure whether tips are distributed equitably. He remembers a trip to Wakatobi Dive Resort, where tips were collected in two envelopes -- one for dive guides and one for everyone else. "That was difficult to allocate because dive guides were a small group versus everyone else. Some people talked about splitting 50/50, but I ended up doing something like 30/70. Service from everyone was outstanding, so this was a case where I would have preferred either one central pool or us being allowed to allocate to individuals." Now he prefers to give cash rather than charge his tip. "I've been told by crews on several liveaboards that they don't see the money for several months if tips are put on credit cards. So I figure that by giving cash, I'm more certain that staff will get it more quickly."

What if you don't feel an employee deserves to be included in the group tip? Pretty frustrating when you can't leave that person out, as David Cuoio (Boise, ID) experienced while diving with Ed Robinson's Dive Adventures in Maui. "One of the divemasters chewed me out for staying down longer than an hour, but he didn't say in the briefing that there was a time limit. It was not only what he did, but the way he did it, as if I was five and had just stolen a cookie. I related this to the head divemaster, and his attitude was 'no big deal.' Well, it was a big deal to me, so I asked if the dive shop tips individually or if they put everything into the pot and divide it up. Unfortunately, it was the latter, so there was no way for me financially to express my displeasure to the jerk who chewed me out. I would have to punish everyone in order to punish him, so I reluctantly give a tip to the whole group. Dive operators ops should allow customers to have the latitude to tip or not tip an individual. I certainly understand the wisdom of putting money into the pot because it's more egalitarian, but it's a little too close to communism for me. A divemaster who gives great service should get a great tip, and the opposite should also hold true."

Sleeper says she'll tip directly in cash, after a bad experience with a Cozumel dive shop a few years ago. "I had a spectacular divemaster who had the day off on my last dive. I was sure she'd never see cash from a pooled tip, so I went into the dive shop and made a specific credit card charge for her tip, and I even had to pay 4 percent more for the fees so 100 percent of the money would go to her. When home, I sent her an e-mail telling her what I had done. She never got the money from the shop. After several emails and calls to the Cozumel shop manager, who kept blowing me off, I finally disputed the charge with the credit card company, then contacted the divemaster by mailed her a check. I can't recall when I have had to work so hard to give someone money they deserved. If my radar says the dive operator has a dysfunctional tipping process, I bypass their system and give direct cash to every crew member on the boat, spreading it around the way I want to."

- - Ben Davison

In Part II next month, we'll look at the impac of tipping in Third World country, what dive travel pros recommend, and whether Americans should change their tipping ways.

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