Believe me – I searched high and low for information on this before my first trip to Roatan. I had never dived before, so I had absolutely no clue how I was supposed to tip my dive instructor and divemasters! Having worked in the service industry for many years (and also being from a country where tipping is normal and expected), I wanted to know what I should be tipping so I could include it in my vacation budget. Well, I found nothing. A few tidbits here and there, maybe some info from other countries, and a lot of bitching by dive instructors and divemasters about guests who didn’t tip (without any indication of what they should be tipped!) I can’t speak on behalf of everyone, so please don’t take these general guidelines as dogma. This information has been culled from my time on Roatan, with my experiences at my own dive shop as well as experiences gleaned from my friends who are instructors at other dive shops. There are no hard and fast rules, but if you are looking for guidelines, here are my suggestions (if you just want the numbers, you can skip to the end, but I recommend reading the entire post!):
1. Find out how the compensation structure at that particular shop works.
They are all different, and it affects how you should tip.
Some shops pay a salary – dive instructors make usually somewhere around $25/day, no matter what they’re doing. They could be teaching an open water course, or taking 8 fun divers out, or sitting in the shop filling tanks – it’s still $25/day, and everyone here works 6 days a week. Often they make a 10% commission on course fees (so if they teach a $450 open water course, they get $45 on top of their salary). There are two ways that tips work at most shops. If you tip out the shop when you pay your bill, unless you specify which people you want your tip going to, it gets split between all the instructors and boat captains that worked during the days you dived (thank god I’m not in charge of figuring that shit out). That means if you dived one day, and left a $20 tip on your bill for the dive shop and everyone was working that day, your $20 gets split by 11 people!!
However – this is not the norm on Roatan. Most other shops on Roatan follow the 30% rule – instructors make a 30% commission on courses they conduct. They also usually make $5/tank for taking fun divers out. Plus whatever tips they make. That’s it. So in slow season, if there are no courses or no fun divers, they make ZERO that day, while those on salary still make $25 for sitting in the shop. But in high season, if a salaried instructor takes out 8 fun divers for three dives that day, and their friend at another dive shop takes out the same fun divers the next day, and nobody tips either of them – the salaried instructor still makes $25 and the friend now makes $120 (at $5 per tank, 8 divers, 3 dives). That’s a BIG difference. Most open water courses at other shops are a little cheaper than high-end shops, around $350. But the instructor gets 30% of this, rather than the 10% the salary instructor gets. So if that instructor teaches an open water course, they get $45 (10% of $450). Their non-salary friend gets $105 (30% of $350)! Because of the salary, if you work a full low-season/high-season cycle, it usually evens out, but not always.
(Side notes: boat captains also make a salary, but it is less than instructors. Many of them are making between $300-600 US dollars a month. Most shops don’t dictate how to tip out the boat captains if the instructor/divemaster receives a tip and the captain doesn’t. It is left to the individual instructor’s/divemaster’s discretion.)
2. What are you doing?
Are you taking a course, or fun diving? Are you at a valet-service resort, where the staff sets up your gear on the boat and breaks it down and washes it for you, or are you doing everything yourself? Are you placing special requests or demands on the dive shop or your instructor that are out-of-the ordinary and are being accommodated? Do you have kids diving with you that need an extra dive guide for them?
3. Do your homework.
If you’re reading this because you came looking for advice and not just because you are one of my regular lovely loyal readers, you’re already doing this, and kudos to you for trying to find out what to do!
Search scuba forums, TripAdvisor forums, blogs, etc. for guidelines on tipping in the dive industry in whatever location you’re going to. Don’t be afraid to post and ask questions (use the search feature first though!!!!), as you’re likely to find a wealth of information from experienced locals. Google is your best friend for this.
I have to put this here, and if you’re from one of these countries I apologize if you find this offensive… but… it’s YOUR job to do your homework before you head out on holiday, and just because you don’t tip in your country doesn’t mean you shouldn’t if it’s customary in the country you’re visiting. I’m kind of looking at you right now, Europe, so please start proving your reputation wrong!!
Try to find out as much as you can before you go, and budget accordingly.
4. If you like the service, tip. If you don’ t like the service, don’t tip.
Yes, we’re relying on tips to stay alive here on Roatan. If no one tipped me the entire month, I would not be able to afford to eat, pay rent/water/electricity, have a mobile phone/internet, or ever enjoy a rum punch. Is that my guests’ fault? Absolutely not. Do I go above and beyond for people in hopes that they appreciate the service enough to leave a little extra at the end? You bet I do. That being said – if you receive subpar service or instruction, DO NOT TIP. The same as you would do at home. But if you had that much of an issue with your divemaster or instructor that you don’t want to tip them because of it, please speak to them or the management so that things can be corrected with the instructor/divemaster. Don’t just not tip and leave…. that doesn’t help the individual or the management solve any problems.
Just the numbers, please…
Short and sweet? Okay. Here you go:
Fun dives – $5 to $10/tank is the minimum industry standard tip on Roatan. (ie. 3 dives a day should be a $15-$30 PER DAY tip)
Courses – 15% to 20% of the total course cost is the minimum industry standard tip on Roatan.
Important: If you tip in cash, use only NEW or EXCELLENT CONDITION bills if you’re using US dollars. On Roatan, the banks will not accept any torn, old, or damaged bills – so in turn, the businesses where we need to spend our tip money do not accept torn, old or damaged bills. If you give us a torn or taped bill, we won’t be able to pay with it anywhere. Also, do not tip in any other currency than USD or Lempira, because there is nowhere on the island for us to exchange other currencies (I found that one out the hard way after accepting a rather large tip in Canadian dollars.)
If you enjoyed your service and/or had great dives and/or were a demanding customer who got their requests met and/or were a new or nervous diver requiring a lot of personal attention….feel free to tip more! But the numbers above are the minimum you should be tipping, unless you had a problem with your service.
Don’t be afraid to ask your divemaster, boat captain or instructor how their tipping system works, and then use that info to tip as you wish. The above numbers are based on the tips being split up between staff, not per staff member. Remember it’s not always just your boat captain and divemaster who make your dives great…there are the office staff, tank fillers, etc. who all contribute to you having a fantastic diving vacation!