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!
This will be my 3rd year in a row going back to Roatan Divers , love this dive shop and this time I will be spending several weeks to get my DM cert (Did my Rescue diver last year). As for tips, thanks for putting this together, never know what to do, so I just made it simple on myself and when I am done diving for the week or 2 weeks or however long I tip 20% (minimum) on the total and this seems to work out pretty well and I hope it is divided fairly between everyone. If you have a group of divers, just ask Saaya to schedule a taxi for you or recommend the unique restaurant and she will be more than happy to make it happen! Like I said, these guys are awesome, I have been diving 20 years and this is one of the best shops I have ever dove with!
Hi Jerry! So glad to hear you think of highly of Roatan Divers as I do! I passed on your comments to Saaya & Karl and I’m sure they’ll be so pleased.
I know a lot of divers (me included) are not always sure what the right thing to do is in each location with regards to tipping. It’s kind of a taboo subject, but it shouldn’t be! Don’t ever be afraid to ask the shop what their tipping policy is.
For Roatan Divers, all tips go into a box at the front and they are evenly divided among everyone, which I think is a fantastic way to encourage true teamwork and shop cohesion. It also helps out any instructors who are on shop duty and missing an opportunity to dive & earn tips that week – a lot divers don’t realize how many people are “behind the scenes” making sure everything runs correctly. Office staff, tank fillers, gear haulers, etc. – it’s not just the DMs and boat captains working hard to give people a great diving experience.
Thanks for being an informed diver and wishing you a wonderful DM training! Good luck with the snorkel test 🙂
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
Hi Joel! I'm so sorry this didn't get responded to earlier. I haven't been receiving notifications on old posts since switching to a new commenting system. I hope you enjoyed your trip to Roatan – from your description it sounds like you guys stayed at CoCo View. Would love to hear your thoughts on if it was worth the price?
To answer your question, do workers on the bottom see the results of a $1300 per person per week price point? Well, not as much as you might think – but did you see how many people are employed at that resort? In a place like CoCo View (I'm just going on that assumption, but any dive resort is the same) has a TON of employees – maintenance, dive shop, housekeeping, kitchen, administration, restaurant staff, managers, etc. There are a lot of people that go into making a big resort run. That being said, minimum wage here is $350/month and that is what most resorts pay (as they are counting on their staff receiving tips). I haven't personally stayed or dove at CoCo View so I don't know if it's worth that price… what did you think? How did you end up tipping?
Hello Rika, My wife and I are going to Roatan for two weeks in April. I can figure out what I want to tip, but I have a more general question about something that has been bothering me. The resort billing includes our room, meals, unlimited shore dives, and two boat dives of one tank at a mooring and one dropping us off at the reef in front of the resort. We are going to do a lot of diving and having meals prepared is a rare treat for one of our vacations. With all that I feel it is a bit on the expensive side, but may turn out being a trip where we get more than we expect. My problem is the strong feeling that I am paying USA resort prices and finding that the resort ownership is paying employees third world wages. My wife thinks I am getting obsessed with why they suggest a tip on my total bill, what I should expect the expense should be covering, and wondering if there are any service/resort worker's movements. In my searching I found a lot of reference to Alcoa busting unions around 2007, and the usual free trade info with profits running out of the country?
I guess the bottom line is do you see the results of $1300 per person per week trickling down to the workers? Thanks, Joel
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) says
Thank you for posting these guidelines. As a new diver, I want to make sure I'm not committing any egregious taboos, and this will help a lot. Observing fellow divers here in Asia hasn't been very illuminating, as we have rarely seen anyone tip other than ourselves! It could be that they are much more discreet than we are, but I suspect it's more that they aren't doing it at all.
Also, I am glad that you mention that tipping should be used to reward good service, rather than an obligatory but unstated fee regardless of your experience. I have no problem tipping for good service, but really resent it when people simply expect a tip of a minimum amount despite poor service. I once had a waiter follow me out of a restaurant in Montreal and demand more money when I only left a 5% tip… when I started to explain to him how his service had sucked and why 5% was generous, all things considered, he backed down, but I was shocked at his nerve!
I'm so glad you found them helpful Steph! Each place definitely has it's own guidelines, but I figured I could at least contribute something for Roatan. You're right – probably no one is tipping in Asia 🙁 Glad you guys did though!!!
And yes, I am a huge fan of tipping WHEN people deserve it, and not any other time. That is obscene about the waiter in Montreal – sheesh! Unbelievable!