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Tipping: The Dockmaster’s Viewpoint

A while back we ran a story on Tipping While Traveling and interviewed four well-traveled captains to provide their insight on tipping. In response to the article, we had several dock attendants and dockmasters comment on the subject and think it’s fitting to follow up with some of their responses on the subject. Barbara Roderick, American Yacht Harbor Marina, St Thomas USVI Dockmaster Barbara Roderick has done it all at the famed American Yacht Harbor marina on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, from working the fuel docks to running the store. One of the busiest marinas in the Caribbean, she was happy to express her own ideas on tips and tipping. Tom Farlow, Pirate Cove Marina Manteo, NC Tom Farlow oversees one of the most professional marinas in North America”if not the world. The Pirate’s Cove Marina is one of the few marinas with an on-site, 24-hour a day dockmaster. In addition, guests are offered personal business cards with cell numbers from anyone and everyone who takes care of them, from the guy who delivers ice to the attendant helping them fuel. The marina also offers a concierge service for off-site needs and has an offsite marine repair facility to take care of pretty much anything that can befall a boat. Our goal is to try and provide anything and everything our guests might need, says Farlow. Yvonne Shults, Orange Beach Marina, AL With 165 slips for boats to 100 or more feet, the Orange Beach (AL) Marina is one of the largest on the Gulf Coast.  Store manager Yvonne Shults however has a way of making boaters and fishermen feel welcome like they are special guests, which might explain why she too often receives tips. Q:  Under what circumstances is a tip expected from a captain and or owner? What sorts of tips are customary? Roderick:  Sometimes I feel like we’re the red-headed stepchild here at Red Hook. I don’t know what it is but for whatever reason, some guys think tipping is not necessary when they come here.  Where do I think it is appropriate?  The fuel dock for sure because those guys are always having to do a lot of running back and forth, delivering carts so the guys can unload their gear, or passing them water and fuel hoses. In the office, the girls that work really hard for our guests, arranging for rental cars, helping them get reservations, checking on flights and a hundred other tasks and hardly ever get a thank you much less a tip, which would be very nice to see because they always provide good service with a friendly smile.  I’m not saying it has to be a big tip, just something to say we appreciate what you do for us. As for amounts, for the guys at the fuel dock I’d say something like $5 to $20 is a nice tip for helping with the lines and getting people on and off the boat, or delivering a cart and helping them fuel. It kind of depends how much they do.  And for the guys who deliver heavy batteries and help during oil changes, I don’t think $20 is too much because those are services that are not part of their job description, yet are things they cheerfully do for our guests. Farlow:  I would estimate the average tip for helping a boat tie up and refuel and to guide them through the paperwork we require for the first time – is about $20.  Every time an attendant assists a guest it is not usual for them to receive a $5 to $10 tip. For the week, our attendants might receive about $100 in tips. During tournaments, however, the tips would be more because the level of service increases. For instance, it is not unusual for our guys to be delivering ice, newspapers, coffee and biscuit sandwiches at 4 a.m.  And when the boats get in, they are there to wash the boats and tackle and help refuel and do whatever it takes to make sure that boat is on the water fishing the next day.  So normally the tips are bigger, usually in the range of $100 a day per boat during tournaments. Shults:  I like to think our guests always tip the dock attendants and employees whenever they go the extra mile like running bags of ice across the marina or staying late to weigh a fish or to fuel a boat.  Those are things we’re always doing.  Even so, tips are not what I would call expected.  It’s always up to the discretion of the customer to do what they think is appropriate.  As to various amounts, I’d say a $1 is a nice gesture if the guys deliver ice. Q:  Do these circumstances vary between a very large boat of say 70-90 feet and a smaller vessel of 40-55 feet? Would it be different for someone who had permanent dockage versus a transient? Roderick:  Not really, although I have to say, we sometimes do get transients in who have no idea how to dock a boat, so the guys end up with hooks and lines maneuvering the boat into the slip because the guy doesn’t know how to.  And while permanent guys usually don’t tip on a day-to-day basis, most of them do try to offer something around Christmas time like a bottle of wine for me, money for the girls in the office or money for the dock guys. Farlow:  The circumstances don’t vary at our marina between overnight boats and permanent boats, however, most of the charter boats at our docks do not routinely tip for services by our staff. I think they probably should, but they don’t as a rule. Shults:  Size doesn’t really matter. However transients do seem to tip more easily than our permanent guys, I guess because tipping is part of travel.  My experience as store manager is that I don’t really get many tips.  However, sometimes at the end of the year or maybe once or twice a year permanent guests will give a very generous tip for some special service.  For instance, just the other day I stayed late to weigh a 180-pound tuna for one of our fishermen and he gave me a $50 tip for staying an extra hour.  It was a surprise and much appreciated.  Our regulars dont tip all the time but every now and then they’ll do something totally unexpected like that. Q:  If a captain or owner fails to offer a tip for extraordinary service, is that something that might come back to haunt them? Roderick:  Not really. Our guys work really hard and take a lot of pride in offering the people in our marina good service. Farlow:  Our employees are well trained.  They understand that tips are something that a bonus, which is discretionary. They understand service is what is important.  And, that if anyone were to see them acting like they are owed a tip for some service they performed for a customer, they would be disciplined. Shults:  Not to the extent anyone would ever say anything to a customer.  But I suspect people being human; they might be a little less joyful about providing services you normally would receive a tip for. Q:  What would you think if someone gave you a T-shirt and hat?  Roderick:  T-shirts and hats are a real good one.  Some of our guys even collect them. Farlow:  T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts and sometimes fish are always well received by our staff. Shults:  The guys absolutely love it when an owner or captain gives them a logo shirt, hat or jacket. Q:  Does your staff appreciate fresh fish as a gratuity?  Roderick:  We do get a lot of fish and appreciate it.  But a lot of us don’t have freezers and it spoils. Farlow:  Yes and no.  Fish are plentiful here. Most of our dock attendants fish on their own boats, and consequently, catch fish to eat. Shults:  Fresh fish is nice. Q:  What is the best advice you can give someone about making a good impression with your staff at your marina in terms of behavior, treatment, etc.? Roderick:  We try our darnedest to treat our boaters and fishermen like good friends and valued customers.  So whenever I see my guys going the extra mile, hauling heavy marine batteries, helping captains with maintenance issues or rolling 5-gallon drums of used oil down the dock, I just think they should be compensated with a nice tip without me having to mention it because the captain didn’t think of it first. Farlow:  We hand out business cards and welcome packets to everyone who ties up at our marina.  In those packets we try to instill one idea”don’t be shy about asking the dock crew questions or telling them what you need.  Basically, we are here to serve and to make our customers feel like welcome guests. Shults:  More than anything, being courteous is important. Of course, tipping is gratefully appreciated if the customer feels they have received exceptional service.  At the same time, when the service is bad, as a manager that’s something I appreciate knowing so we can improve. So, what have we learned from these interviews?  That no matter what the culture is, tipping is always appreciated and it is of course, always a discretionary act.  So if you do not think a tip is necessary for certain services, don’t tip.  But if you feel like people have taken good care of you, it’s okay to be generous.  It might just come back to haunt you” in a very good way.