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How Much to Tip on a Yacht Charter?

Yacht tipping etiquette is similar to restaurant tipping etiquette. The level of service matters.

Updated:

November 19, 2020
Moonrise superyacht
What is an appropriate gratuity for your charter yacht crew? The question seems simple, but an international debate rages on. Arno Senoner/Unsplash

Figuring out how much to tip on a private yacht charter is a lot like figuring out how much to tip in a fine-dining restaurant. Knowing how much to tip a yacht crew involves understanding the level of service you have received, and then blending that understanding of your personal experience with guidelines about the standard tip for yacht charter.

Yacht tipping etiquette has evolved a lot in the past 10 to 15 years. The entire yacht charter industry went through an upheaval both before and after the Great Recession that saw all kinds of opinions about how much to tip on a private yacht charter. Some charter yacht clients were over-tipping before the recession, and then other charter yacht clients were under-tipping after the recession. Captains and crew couldn’t figure out what to expect, and yacht owners couldn’t figure out how to factor expected gratuities into crew salaries.

Finally, the professional organization MYBA stepped in to create the charter industry’s first-ever guidelines that brokers could send to clients asking the question: “How much do you tip on a yacht charter?” It was the first time the yacht charter industry had seen a formalized version of yacht tipping etiquette, and the MYBA Guidelines Tipping Policy continues to set the baseline for how much to tip a yacht crew today.

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In a nutshell, MYBA says the standard tip for yacht charter should be 5 percent to 15 percent, depending on the client’s level of satisfaction. This yacht-tipping guidance also allows for clients to tip above 15 percent if they feel the onboard service was truly exceptional.

However, MYBA also urges captains to understand that yacht tipping places clients under no obligation to leave any gratuity at all. The MYBA captains’ agreement explicitly states that “at no time should a gratuity be solicited, either verbally or in written form when settling the final account.”

In other words, there is wiggle room in yacht tipping, just as there is wiggle room when tipping the wait staff in a restaurant. Knowing how much to tip a yacht crew is as much a matter of opinion as it is a matter of knowing the standard tipping percentages.

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Liz Howard, a longtime charter yacht broker with Fraser—who worked as charter yacht crew before moving ashore for her current career—says that when clients ask her how much to tip on a private yacht charter, she tells them 8 percent to 18 percent of the listed charter rate “for a job well done.”

It’s important to note that Howard recommends the 8 percent to 18 percent tip based on the listed charter rate. That published rate for crewed charter yachts is known as the weekly base rate. It is not the full cost of a charter, which also includes expenses for provisions such as food and drink, along with any regional taxes or other fees. According to Howard, the standard tip is not calculated on the overall cost of the yacht charter, but instead calculated on the advertised base rate for booking the yacht.

Maggie Vale, senior charter broker with Churchill Yacht Partners, says how much to tip also can vary depending on where the charter takes place. Geographical norms and traditions have long affected the standard tip for yacht charter, with yacht tipping guideline sometimes encouraging lower gratuities in developing charter regions such as Eastern Europe. Conversely, yacht tipping etiquette can create expectations of higher gratuities in well-established markets such as the Western Mediterranean and Caribbean.

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“Tipping varies according to country,” Vale says. “But just like any service business like restaurants or bars, gratuity should be given to servers based on the quality of performance.”

Yacht tipping also does not exist in a vacuum, Vale adds. The standard tip for a yacht charter should be adjusted upward if you’re asking more than usual of the crew—say, by chartering in the middle of a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic. The novel coronavirus is requiring yacht charter crew to work harder and clean more frequently than ever to keep guests safe and comfortable on board. How much to tip on a private yacht charter should reflect that extra effort, Vale says.

“In this time of a global pandemic, tipping is especially appreciated and earned,” Vale says. “Now more than ever, the crew may be giving service above and beyond the normal expectations. So, take good care of them.”

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Beyond considering overall percentages of the yacht’s weekly base rate, another way to think about how much to tip is to consider a per-diem bonus for each crew member.

You should tip the same amount for every crew member—just because you can see the crew member playing with your kids on the personal watercraft doesn’t mean the crew member doing laundry down below, out of sight, is any less deserving—but it can sometimes be easier to think about a per-diem rate for crew as opposed to a gratuity as a percentage of the yacht’s base rate.

For instance, some charter brokers say a reasonable per-diem gratuity is $250 to $350 per crew member, per day, because the crew are essentially working a double shift when charter guests are aboard, as opposed to just their regular shift when the owner is aboard. If you agree that the standard tip for yacht charter should be in that range as an extra-shift figure, then you can count the total number of crew members, multiply by the number of days on board, and determine the total gratuity that way.

On yachts with weekly base rates higher than $100,000, some charter brokers say that yacht tipping based on a per-diem number is necessary to keep the gratuity appropriate. At the end of the day, though, the question of how much to tip a yacht crew comes down to how the charter client feels about the service received when the charter ends.

Howard, the charter broker with Fraser, says the feeling guests have when a charter goes well will tell them, in their bones, the right amount of gratuity to offer.

“While this may seem like a lot of money,” she says, “if I have done my job correctly and matched them with the perfect crew, by the end of the charter they are going to want to give the crew all of that and then some.”

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