I recently wrote an article geared toward consumers and divers on tipping. The article will be published in the next SDI Newsletter.
Now that I have had the opportunity to reach out to divers and give them tips on tipping, I would like to reach out to the charter boats and offer my suggestions as well. As someone that worked for tips on charter boats for over 10 years, I can certainly tell you what worked for our crew. However, as a diver that loves going out on trips, I have also seen so many new and fascinating ways to capture me as a return customer based on the excellent quality of services, and the fantastic experience that I had with an operator.
Understand first that the concept of “tipping” is going to change dramatically based on geography and culture and those two elements are what will have the biggest determination on tipping. However, if you do work in a tipping environment, these tips (no pun intended) may assist you in getting a better payday at the end of a long shift. This article is not meant to encourage or discourage tipping. The argument around socio-economic motives underlying tipping and the effects it has in a culture that relies on tipping can be had another day.
Safety is number one. There is no substitute for a crew that has their first aid kit up to date, fresh batteries in their EPIRBs, the captain who actually carries a license for the type of boat he is driving, and the crew that has the training for their task at hand. What I really enjoy seeing is the first briefing. Right off the bat, by listening to their procedures for emergencies and directions in case of an accident, I can tell you if they have got it together. I also enjoy watching the crew and captain work in unison as they relay the commands to one another as we pull away from the dock. It gives me confidence knowing that communication between the crew and the captain is in sync and not missing a beat.
Keep it classy. The appearance of the boat and crew play a pretty big role. I like clean and organized. Understanding that we are in the dive industry and we do not wear 3 piece suits to work… or do we? Okay, we wear suits to work, wet suits, dry suits, 3mm and so on. My point is – a professional look can be accomplished in any attire. I wore shorts and a t-shirt and was usually barefoot most of the time when I worked on the boats, and so did my fellow crew. We all had the same t-shirts; they were new and didn’t look old and worn out. We also had the same shorts, so we essentially had uniforms. I am not suggesting this is a requirement but it looks nice and is convenient when you can differentiate who are crew and who are guests. Unfortunately, some professionals in our industry seem to believe that because they are in the diving industry they are allowed to look the part of a beach bum. Frankly, this is a nice way to turn divers off and send them to find a hobby where Oscar the Grouch isn’t involved in their safety. On the same note, keep the boat clean, keep the head clean, and keep the dive deck clean. Other things like smoking between dives, getting too cozy with the customers, swearing and making offensive remarks, as funny as they may seem just make people uncomfortable.
Go above and beyond. Here is where the difference between a 10% tip and a 20% tip is accomplished.
Great snacks. Every time I go on a new boat one of my first instincts (after all the safety stuff of course) is to find out what kind of cool snacks they offer. I love seeing variety. As my diving buddy has a gluten allergy, I like to see if they have options for her as well. It’s those little things that stick out in people’s minds. Did they think of everyone or did they just make it easy and pick up a variety pack at Costco.
Fun briefings and being approachable. I like being entertained. I also like entertaining… I like making people happy and I like being able to offer up a good time. I enjoy a DM or captain that has put in the extra effort to keep my attention by making the briefing entertaining and fun. We are all on this boat for one reason – to have a good time. I don’t expect them to be clowns and I don’t expect them to be entertainers. However, I do expect them to have an energy that feeds positively to their audience, in this case, the divers. Why? Because it is important for the diver’s state of mind. They need to see the DMs as approachable in case they have a concern. If the crew is stand–offish, offering a very limited briefing and giving off the impression that they don’t even want to be there, the diver with the concern may just sit quietly not wanting to be a bother. In the end, this could be fatal.
Show people cool stuff. Divers dive primarily to see cool stuff. Make sure you take the time to show them what they are there to see. I often made the mistake of thinking about me when I was guiding underwater. I would have a brand new video camera, neat housing and incredible lights and my initial thought was, “I have to get this shot before anyone else.” This was selfish but I wanted to get the best shot so I could sell the video to the very people I was supposed to be guiding. I left them in my wake and got in front of their lenses ruining their shot. I quickly learned that this was the best way to lose a good tip. These trips are about them – not me.
Be there to help without being there to help. A diver wants to be cared for but not treated as an open water student either. Mind their gear, ask for permission to make an adjustment, or offer help via suggestions. People want to learn and people want to be helped but they may be very picky or even embarrassed with how this happens. In several cases, I would suggest that assistance is offered in private. Underwater, the DM is there to guide. But I love it when I see them flip over on their back to look at the group and give me a spot check with the “OK” sign. This lets me know they are caring for us while looking for cool things. He or she is in control and aware of their group and how we are doing so far.
Do the hard work. Though I do not mind carrying my own gear… getting the first class treatment is a way to make me feel like I’m a first class customer. Being greeted at the parking lot, having my gear taken from my vehicle to the boat, and at the end of the day having it brought back to my car – wonderful! Some boats even switch tanks between dives. This is a tricky situation. If your crew is up for it, be sure to ask for permission as many divers can be very weird about having people they do not know mess with their “stuff”. Also, be sure to look over the liability implications of handling a certified diver’s gear in the case that the diver has an accident. For me, I usually just appreciate them walking by while I’m switching tanks and asking, “Can I help you with anything?” That for me is all I need to hear and makes a difference.
So be sure you take a step back and look at your charter operation. Are you sure the boat not only looks safe, but it feels safe because everything is current that needs to be; training, crew, batteries, permits, etc.? Be and look professional. Yeah, it’s diving but let’s give the professionals of this industry a good name. Let’s attract people to us because of our behavior and our image. Be a pro, act like a pro, and look like a pro. Once we have addressed those issues, let’s go above and beyond. Let’s make all people feel welcomed and special. Let’s keep things fun and let’s be approachable. Underwater, let’s make it about them. Find them the cool stuff and let them get that picture worth a thousand words. But most importantly, let them know you are there in case they need you. Offer suggestions and let them know you are watching over them and let your presence give that calming feeling, and then do some of the heavy lifting. Follow some of these really easy guidelines and watch those tips go up. If your boat is not booked every weekend and you are not seeing the same people come back weekend after weekend, you may be the problem. Your crew may be the problem. The overall attitude may be the problem. Take a hard look and ask yourself, “What are we doing well, and what can we do better?”