TIPS are NOT the Answer

TIPS are NOT the Answer

TIPS are NOT the Answer
By Ryan Custureri

If you don't know how to value your service in the dive industry...nobody else will. This article is solely to open up the eyes of Dive Professionals as a starting point to learn to establish what you are worth. Future posts will show in more detail how to add additional value, and why there are professionals who should be making more than others. Don't be the status quo, you won't be in this industry for long.

TIPS are NOT the Answer; Neither is Free Labor.

I always laugh, then cry, followed by drying my eyes with a scuba tank in the loudest place possible. When professionals scream for tips, they are basically saying, “I have no idea how to value myself, pay me whatever.”

I am a dive professional. I run a dive business. I watch professionals day-in/day-out complain about not making enough money in this industry. Who’s fault is it? The professional? The employer? Hell, I’ve even heard people complain and say it is the customers fault.  The responsibility lies on the professional; period. If you want to earn a living wage in this industry, then you have to know your worth.

SPOILER ALERT: A true dive professional, not hobbyist or vagabond, will have learned this in a proper professional candidate course. If you want to work in this industry, find your value, and don’t complain. Otherwise, it’s not for you.

If has already been said before that dive owners typically provide poor wage, and expect others to compensate in tips. Divemasters can become Captains quite easily. Divemasters can also assist in classes. Many DM’s are actually instructors. DM’s can also get paid advertising guided dives where they charge a flat rate. Are you good in photography?  Go out and shoot pictures.  GET CREATIVE!


If you do not have a degree in business, that is okay. However, it may put you behind others unless your experience can match. Education is key whether in the form of traditional schools, self-learning, success through failure, or a combination. Nobody cares that you “love scuba” and “do it because you love it.”  This does not make you a professional. This does not mean you are able to offer the consumer what they EXPECT from you. If you want to stay in this industry, you must be educated. Would you want an attorney that practices law part-time, but works as an account full-time, to defend you in Criminal Court? 

The Dunning Kruger Effect runs rampant in the scuba industry–all industries for that matter.  The analogy ‘learning to dive is like learning to drive’ doesn’t work very well. It’s completely different skill sets physically.  However, we CAN compare a person with minimal dives thinking they are ready for professional dive work to a person who just completed their driver’s license exam and a week later feeling they are up for their CDL (Commercial Driver License – Big Rigs, 18-Wheels, Large Haul, you get the point).  My point being, get QUALITY experience and education first.  Drive a few thousand miles first and get a feel for the road, or several hundred dives in a variety of environments to better educate your customers.

Areas that the majority of dive professionals need more knowledge/experience in:

  1. Marketing – “I work on referrals…” saying is about as useful as split fins in current. Sure there is some merit, but only if you can command it in a saturated market.  Any true successful entrepreneur will tell you, no matter how good a product/service you offer, it’s value is ZERO if people can’t find you.
  2. Sales – “I can sell anything…as long as my dive shop carries it.”  Part of selling, is also knowing how to offer service when your place of employment a) refuses to carry an item; b) is out of stock, or have an alternative; c) you know where to get something even if this means sending business elsewhere. Truth be told, having hundreds of conversations monthly professionals, they only know what is within the four walls of the operator they work for. They do NOT venture out and learn about different systems. Guess What?  Most brands knock each other off, and are all made within one of five different factories.
  3. Training – “But, I am an instructor…….”  Yah, nobody cares. We all are. How do you differentiate yourself in the sea full of Zero to Heros with less than 6 months of experience carrying the same title as you:  Instructor/ DiveMaster.  Do you know current theory with regard to decompression algorithms? Are you taking advanced training beyond what your shop offers?  Do you know how to find a great mentor? (see this article for finding a proper Mentor: Lost Art of Mentoring) How about manual gas planning? Best travel destination trends for the year? New equipment and alternatives to what you dive? New techniques? List goes on and on.  Facebook is full of diving groups where people spout things they have “heard” from their instructor, and it becomes a game of Telephone from IDC to IDC.”My Instructor Said this…”  “I am a Master Diver….” “I am a tech diver…”  “I am ….”  –You get the point. Nobody cares. Prove yourself.  Let others talk about who you are through expertise.
  4. Zero to Hero – Will sum this up quickly.  You are not marketable. The operator took your hard earned money, promised you a future, but yet they have no room to hire you back on.  Yes, you were likely cheated. Unfortunately in these type of programs, You [highly likely] have failed to master any specific aspect of diving with any kind of authority. You are the status quo, and will likely be out of the industry within 2 years complaining how hard it is to find work. If you do decide to stay, you can join the thousands of “Heroes” that post daily looking for work with a thread titled:  “Will work for room and food.”
    Not all hope is lost if you went this route.  What you need to do at this point is invest in proper instruction, find a great mentor (see article linked here again), learn business, get experience, and WATCH how proper instructors teach instead of stepping in.
  5. List goes on….



Scuba and Snorkeling Group Picture AQUI

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to make to live your lifestyle. The operator can either AGREE, or DISAGREE, as it is contractual. Just make sure you can back it up.

This is industry is a BUSINESS for many of us, not a charity. People harp on boat tipping for higher wages, but how about those settling for $50/student for a 3 day class, instead of charging a respectable rate instead?

Let’s break down a typical 2 day class where an instructor gets paid $50/ student.

You work 8 Hours in a day for 5 students.  In total 16-20 hours dedicated for $250 over the course of two days. This does NOT include:  Gasoline, Parking, food, etc.

$250 / 20 hours – $12.50/hour for 2 day course

$250 / 30 hours – $8.33/hour for 3 day course

For a working professional in the United States, this is pitiful.  You can make more money starting out at Home Depot ($14/hr) and not have to carry professional insurance.

So let’s further dive in to the $250.  You’ve paid $8 in gas each day, and $6 parking for total of -$28. You are paying yearly insurance at around $700 and need to divide out a few dollars each student; around -$5 is ideal. You have now spent close to -$63.

We started with $250, subtract $63, and your net income is around $187.
Take the $187/net and divide by your 30 hours (3 day course) and you are making less than the minimum wage for the entire USA.


Case Study: PUBLIX EMPLOYEES – ONLY allowed to collect tip if customer becomes insistent beyond reasonable doubt. The employee name tags literally say they do not accept tips. Why?  Publix approach is to pay an honest wage and have equal employment opportunities among their staff. As a consumer, you don’t walk into the grocery store, approach the manager, and demand a cashier/baggers get’s a raise. After all, they are bagging your items, ensuring you weren’t overcharged, ensuring you found everything you needed, etc.


I’ve get asked weekly the same question: “Ryan, how do I make more money then. Tips are what we rely on and the policy won’t change.”

Answer is quite simple:  Find another operator, or SELL YOUR SERVICES. Nobody is preventing you from marketing yourself as a private guide–especially if you are a knowledgeable guide! Asking for Tips is petty.  If you have performed a good service, people will recognize it. Don’t be petty.

You are getting paid for your service.  The amount YOU AGREED TO is your wage. Anything in addition is gratitude for a job well done; not an expectation. If you don’t like the way the dive business operates, find another one. If you don’t like how cheap the industry has become, demand a higher wage for yourself, or find another job. It really is that simple. If you know you performed your job well, and someone want to give you something extra, be thankful and appreciative–don’t make it your expectation.

There are numerous ways to make $$$ in this industry, but it still takes time and effort to ensure you are offering a quality service. If you are new, or lost how to do it, feel free to private message or send an email. There is no reason why you can’t make it in an industry you love; however, sometimes we just need guidance.


Ryan Custureri

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