To Tip or not to Tip...

jenschumacherjenschumacher Los Angeles, CAMember
edited May 2012 in General Discussion
Based on a discussion at @Jamie's swim camp and our group's Gibraltar trip, there seem to be varying opinions on tipping boat pilots. Personally, I have both tipped and not tipped pilots, depending on the situation. I am curious to know what most people do, and if they do tip, what percentage. Also, does it depend on the type of swim? For example, is tipping for a solo attempt (i.e. English Channel, Catalina, etc.) more appropriate than an organized race where you just pay one fee (i.e. MIMS)?


  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    I didn't tip for relay or Solo in the EC. Haven't heard of any of the Irish doing so either.

    Yet, I have heard it's common for MIMS (where crews are volunteers)?

    Anywhere I'd pay the pilot, I wouldn't consider tipping.

  • ForeverSwimForeverSwim Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCharter Member
    edited May 2012
    In the words of a foreign swimming friend, "You Americans tip everyone!" I personally tipped the English Channel (Eric Hartley is fantastic!), Catalina Channel and Molokai Channel pilots. I just feel their job is to guide us across, and if we make it, then they did their job and deserve a tip! Fernando and Antonio were perfect pilots in the Strait of Gibraltar, however I simply missed the chance to give it to them (sorry!)

    ...though Jen you already knew my thoughts on this issue ;)
    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

  • patpat Member
    When I swam the English Channel, Catalina, and Strait of Gibraltar, I gave my boat pilot a tip. In addition, for the Strait of Gibraltar swim, I invited Rafael and Antonio to join my crew and I for our celebration at a local restaurant after my swim. They joined us and we had a great time.
  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    I hadn't even thought of this issue. I feel like I'm already giving my boat captains a heck of a lot of money to take me across in their boat, so there is no need to tip. It's not customary to tip the owner of a business, and I view the boat captain as the owner of the boat, especially for a solo attempt like Catalina or EC. If they want more money for what they do, they should just charge more money instead of counting on me to just give it to them.

    In an organized race, such as MIMS or Tampa, where the boat pilots are volunteering, I can see more of an argument for tipping. Except, in MIMS we paid an additional gas fee- so again, I feel like they were well-rewarded and paid for their time. Maybe I should send John Rose a check for Tampa though- he did good by me.

    I DID tip the volunteer kayaker I had at Catalina. I hadn't planned on it, but he was amazing and totally deserved it, so I added a little extra to what I owed him for his rental. He not only helped clean up my sister's vomit but talked another buddy into joining him on my swim, which essentially saved my swim. He was a total rock star and I would have given him a million dollars if I'd had it. However, my kayaker at MIMS was a dud, and even if I'd planned on tipping him, I wouldn't have gone through with it.

    I do feel as though it's my responsibility to provide food/drinks for the entire crew so they're not miserable the entire journey, but that's where I think my obligation ends. Maybe I'm just cheap...
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    ssthomas, I'm with you. Possibly we are cheap, but it's partly as a consequence of the bloody costs of this stupid sport obsession.

  • heartheart San Francisco, CACharter Member
    More on tipping - would you tip a volunteer kayaker whom you didn't know before the race? In the very least, someone taking care of my welfare for six hours or more deserves at least a very nice gift, n'est ces pas?
  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member
    @heart - while I haven't encountered this yet, I would say that, along the lines of what @ssthomas said, it would depend on how well they did with the support. If they sucked, no tip. If they were good, reward them accordingly.
  • after both of my swims across Lake Erie, I had a huge party for all involved and their families, I paid for all drinks and food. Crew thought that was much more fun to rehash memories with everyone than to get cash.
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited February 2013
    This was an interesting thread back in the early days of this Forum. Many new members have joined up since then, so I'm bumping this thread to see if folks have additional thoughts.

    It's an important issue for those of us who may spend thousands of $ / € / £ on hiring escort boats.
  • jcmalickjcmalick Wilmington, DEMember
    I think kayakers should be tipped as often they don't receive a stipend and sometimes not even a free meal or t-shirt! BUT I suppose they should also be content with being volunteers and doing it out of the goodness of their own hearts! I like the supporting capacity as I get to give back to the community and am appreciative for the simple gesture of a Thank You but when I kayaked for MIMS several years ago for an English Swimmer, I was shocked when his father gave me a pretty sizeable tip for spending 9 hours out there with him! It was definitely much appreciated but unexpected!
  • JBirrrdJBirrrd MarylandSenior Member
    Oh geez. Now I feel bad b/c I didn't give my Kingdom Swim yaker anything but a t-shirt. Had intended to mail him a little something post race but never got around to it. Can redeem myself though b/c he's my support boat again this summer. JC and others, what constitutes a good tip in this case?
  • firebahfirebah Charter Member
    I am a good American and always tip (-:
    As an observer for Catalina I am a volunteer and do not expect nor would I take a tip but I am also retired and do not have to take a day off of work to observe a swim.
    Many volunteers do have to take off from their careers and I think a tip to help pay for the lost work day is appropriate.
    I tip boat crews because this is the sort of job that a job well done does receive a tip. I would equate the boat crew to a server in a restaurant. Yes, they are paid and their job is to serve you but how often do you leave a restaurant without leaving a tip, especially for good service?
  • caburkecaburke Charter Member
    I was kayak support for a friend recently and now I realize how difficult this job really is. Since we are friends, I never would have accepted money from her but I did appreciate the thank you card and gift of my favorite beverage the week after the race.

    For kayakers that are not friends, I think a small tip or gift is appropriate.
  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    So the question is . . if you tip how much? How much for a kayaker, how much for the pilot and his crew, and how much for people who volunteer to crew for you when you can't put one together, and who are neither family members nor close friends?

    Also how large of a bribe is considered appropriate to get the observers to look the other way when you are being towed behind the boat by your feeding bottle rope?
  • caburkecaburke Charter Member
    Let's take a look at this again, just how much should we tip?

    I'll start. At MIMS, I ended up with two kayakers and a boat captain and gave each a thank you card with $100. It's my understanding that the kayakers are volunteers but the boat captain receives compensation in addition to incurred expenses. My wife and good friend acted as crew and were not tipped.

    Your thoughts and experience?
  • NeilEugeneNeilEugene Member
    edited July 2014
    It's my turn to chime on behalf of kayakers and apologies for any pro bono support folks who do not agree with the below philosophy.

    I want to start by saying many thanks to all you tippers out there despite the already expensive investments you are making to fly out to swims, fly crew out to swims, accommodation costs, and pay for boats & pilots. We have encountered quite the gamut out here in terms of compensation, but perhaps a little background, which Barb and others already touched on earlier in this thread:

    First, many of the Catalina and SB swims are not scheduled on weekends - this causes for quite a resource scramble when we are running upwards of 50 swims per season and often on separate boats at the same time. Our "volunteers" are often EXPECTED to put life on hold for swimmers and take time off from work = lost compensation or vacation days. Yes they do it for the love of the sport, but to keep them coming back for more, there needs to be some understanding for what it takes to have them merely show up with a smile time and time again.

    Second, many of the supporters have to travel upwards of 2 hours each way to get to the venue - in some cases, we have people flying in to support swims (last year we had one guy from Idaho flying in with his kayak!). It might seem ridiculous, but it's quite an undertaking cultivating the right caliber of support folks with the skill-set needed to get swimmers to the other side in one piece - and to be honest, sometimes we don't get much help from mother nature either (it can get quite rough out there at times).

    Kayakers for the most part are expected to figure out a way to have support equipment and their own kayaks on hand for the job. Just the waterproof headlamp will easily run close to $50 sometimes. Yes, we do have volunteers without equipment, but all these things become incremental costs on the team (not always only for the swimmers). There is also the unfortunate maintenance cost associated with marine equipment (rusty radios, broken or lost paddles ($300 loss recently), broken kayaks, ripped this, torn that). At times it also takes several others to coordinate transportation for the equipment to the docks and back afterwards.

    Kayakers need to take time to practice and attend classes out here (highly recommended for several reasons), but in short, we pride ourselves in very high standards and track record of safety and proactive support for the swimmers. Several kayakers are knowledgeable of nutrition, observer roles and rules, and are even swimmers themselves in many cases. Some also have to pay to put up their pets for the night, but those are just the normal consequences of their constant enthusiasm for the sport and the fact that we don't have an official dog support crew training program in place yet.

    Outside of personal expense, you are all correct - there is a direct correlation between the level of service you receive from the support crew and the amount you tip. But just like in restaurants here in the US, you typically don't tip below a certain threshold even if the service was not the best you've ever had. That is because waiters have their own baseline expenses and families to feed - often times completely dependent on tips for a living. Similarly, we feel it is appropriate to set aside a stipend for your support paddlers and afterwards, decide if their effort was above and beyond before you decide on the final number.

    With all that in mind (and apologies for the long explanation), we recommend a range of compensation for SoCal support folks of between $100 - $250 depending on experience, travel, own equipment, and level of service, and if it was solo or tandem support. We feel this is appropriate to keep support folks coming back for more and to ensure they are not out of pocket every time we ask to rely on them for support.

    We respect that the total out of pocket for the swimmers are often a hard pill to swallow and encourage swimmers to notify us if paddlers are price-gauging or asking for outrageous amounts up front. I hope this is not all news or a surprise to some of the swimmers, but if it is, I hope you keep this in mind next time a friendly paddler smiles and cheers Go, Go, Go!!

    Now for feedback - what do you think ... justified or not?
  • DanSimonelliDanSimonelli San Diego CASenior Member
    I concur with Neil, the consummate kayaker/support/team member!

    My primary experience has been on Catalina Channel for the last few years, first as Observer then also as kayaker (prodded into my first job by Gracie), and I loved it.
    I've learned a lot from watching others on many channel swims, both as positive and negative examples. And I've been keen to learn more and more from the good ones, like Neil!

    So, I've come to the opinion that, like free market in general, you usually get what you pay for.
    And with the kayaker being the swimmer's primary support in terms of safety and first responder (your life is in their reach), as well as often being the feeder, and main source of encouragement and motivation, it behooves a swimmer to consider their options in regard to their support kayaker/paddler and choose wisely...and compensate accordingly and generously.

    Swim on...
  • SydneDSydneD Senior Member
    My husband is the only kayaker I have ever and will ever use. He accepts only one form of tipping. ;)
  • SydneDSydneD Senior Member
    More seriously, I just asked him and he said that if it's an organized swim, aka a race/multi-participant event, he would appreciate the organizers recognizing and valuing the kayakers.

    @JCMalick---he said that the Cape May swim is the first time he ever received real recognition and he really appreciated it and felt valued. Thank you! :)
  • I have been extremely lucky with kayakers including the ones that were assigned to me at MIMS and 8 Bridges. In both cases I brought a gift card for them as a thank you and in both cases I wish I had brought more. I am amazed that someone would spend upwards of 8 hours with a total stranger with no expectations of compensation. In both cases they kept me on a good and straight line, kept me away from flotsam and jetsam, and kept me in good cheer throughout each swim.

    However, as good as they both were, by far my best experience with a kayaker was at Catalina. I know the sacrifice he made to be there, a long drive up, a Saturday night and Sunday morning spent on the water and not going out, bringing all of his own equipment, and still being on top of everything. He acted as a cheerleader, butt-kicker (when needed), strategic expert, feeder, and coach all for basically a perfect stranger. I was more than happy to tip and again wish I could have given more. It might have been the endorphins but if I had the deed to my house I probably would have given that as well.

    What I am trying to say is that given the sacrifices that the kayakers make, and given their essential role in our success, I feel some kind of gratuity is justified. It does make me wonder why at some of the longer events kayakers aren't at least compensated for travel or other expenses. I for one would be willing to pay an extra fee for that.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    This thread just popped up on the right side under related discussions, so thought I'd reanimate it.

    For my Issyk Kul swim attempt in 2015, I gave each of the crew members 1000 som (that was about $20). For 2016, I gave two crewmembers a total of 3000 som (in 2016 exchange that is about $50).

    For context, the entire cost of the boat/crew rental for the swim in both 2015 and 2016 was 25,000 som ($500 in 2015, $425 in 2016).


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • I plan on bringing stuff from home for the boat pilot and crew. I'm from Texas so maybe some good bar b que sauce or other Texan things they might enjoy that they could not get otherwise- still thinking on it.

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    for SCAR 2015 @KNicholas paired me with a random volunteer, who ended up being a total boss. He actually trained beforehand, on the actual lakes, and sent me scouting reports. 2015 was one of the years that Apache (third stage) blew up (white-capping headwinds). I remember looking up at him and thinking his job was harder than mine. It was brutal turned out much colder than expected. Only 1/3 of the kayakers were able to even finish the stage. At the end of each stage, while I was lying about, he was paddling back to the staging area and helping others carry/stack kayaks.

    So when he offered to return as my escort for SCAR 2016, I brought him a special gift for each day (I called it "the four days of SCAR"--like the 12 days of Christmas): A new kayaking jacket, gloves, hat, single-malt scotch, sunglasses, etc.


    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

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