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Tips Ahoy! Crew Tips on Luxury Charter Yachts

If you are watching Bravo TV’s Below Deck, then you’ve obviously followed the Honor crew’s weekly anticipation of their charter-tip money—and in many of the episodes, even their overwhelming disappointment in how that played out (or rather, paid out). It has raised a lot of questions among fans within social channels, including one of the most common I’ve seen: what is considered a “good” tip for a charter-yacht crew similar to Motoryacht Honor’s?

Tip Distribution Time on Bravo TV's Below Deck

Tip distribution time on Bravo TV’s Below Deck.
Photo Credit: www.BravoTV.com

Tips Ahoy!

Good base salaries and no expenses—those are big benefits for yacht crew working in the superyacht industry. But indeed, where you can make an even bigger financial score is with guest tips on yachts that charter.

In my book, The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess, I devote an entire chapter to discussing yacht-crew benefits and what is to be expected when one goes to work on various categories of luxury vessels. This overview includes private-only yachts vs. charter yachts, sailing yachts vs. motor yachts, and even what is to be expected among the various types of employment—from freelance crew to full-time crew, and the increasingly common rotational-crew opportunities.

(That’s all in Chapter 2. Meanwhile, you can download Chapter 1 for free now to learn all about the luxury yachting industry: who owns superyachts, how much they cost, and what type of people own vs. charter them.)

Crew tips on luxury charter yachts - boatloads of money

Indeed, tip money on heavily-booked charter yachts can equate to boatloads of extra cash for the crew. Just not always.

Essentially though: On charter yachts like Bravo’s Honor, when the owners are not using the boat, other guests can pay a fee to use the vessel for what is usually one to two weeks at a time. (Not to say that 3-6 week charters aren’t also common.) Now here’s a big benefit to working on this category of boat: Charter guests usually tip 10–20 percent of the charter fee to the crew, which can be between $1,000–$4,000 per crewmember for a week, on top of their healthy salary!

This means that, even for entry-level crew who start out at a $30–$43K base salary, if you can land a job on a charter yacht, you could earn an additional income of $10–$20K a year in crew tips… In fact, I once made $18,000 in tips in one summer Mediterranean season alone!

Just think: If the boat you work on costs $25,000 a day to be chartered, and you have the guests onboard for, say, 10 days, then that means they paid $250,000 to rent that vessel. And that’s before paying for food, fuel, and docking fees; but tips are factored on the base fee. Even if they only tip 10 percent, that’s $25,000. If you have a crew of 10, when the tip is divided equally, you EACH receive $2,500 in tips on top of your salary… All for 10 days of work (albeit hard work and incredibly long days).

There is one small hitch, though. And this is perhaps something the Honor crew needed to be more realistic about when criticizing even the lower end generosity of their charter guests:

I don’t want to give any false illusions that tips are guaranteed, nor do I want you to think they will always be super generous. I’ve received tips that sent me into shock (big ones), and I was tremendously let down on a few occasions.

Try the outcome of a 42-day charter that cost the guests well over a million dollars, but where my 12-person crew only received $2,500 each. When you think about it, that tip could have been upwards of $10,000-$15,000 per person. I will never forget our voyage back to San Remo the day those charter guests left us in Civitavecchia (Rome). No one on the crew spoke. In fact, no one spoke for over 24 hours. Call it shock, call it depression, call it “oh my gawd, why in the HELL do I put myself through this agony!?”… but like every other let-down in life, you move on. The charter after that lined our pockets with a 22% tip off a 20-day charter. So in the end, things evened out.

Let’s Ask the Experts

To give you the most accurate scoop, I decided to ask one of the top charter brokers in the business, Debra Blackburn Boggio of Fraser Yachts Worldwide, to comment on how guest tips are handled. A charter broker is the person who books and handles all the logistics of a chartered trip; he or she deals directly with the guests (or in most cases, the guests’ personal assistants).

My question to Debra:

“I know the topic of tips can be a sensitive one, but if you feel comfortable commenting, a common question I receive from people looking into this industry is about the additional compensation they might expect by taking a job aboard a heavily booked charter yacht. Is tipping guaranteed, is there a standard, and how does the effort a crew puts into a charter affect the gratuity that is given at the end of a trip?”

Debra Blackburn Boggio:

Debra Blackburn Boggio, Charter Broker for Fraser Yachts Worldwide

Debra Blackburn Boggio
Charter Broker for Fraser Yachts Worldwide

“Tips are a touchy subject… We brokers recommend a guideline for tipping. Americans are a tipping nation, and therefore the standard of 10–15 percent of the charter fee is what we recommend. However, most countries around the world do not have a tipping environment. Therefore, these clients are not prepared to offer this level of tip, so they expect to offer less, and do. Also, as yachts are getting larger and more expensive, it becomes unrealistic to think that a charterer would spend $350,000+ expenses for a week aboard a yacht, and then give over $50,000 to the crew just as an extra thank you.

“Since a gratuity is a gift, it is absolutely at the discretion of the client, and no matter what we recommend, the client will still give what he or she feels is appropriate. In some cases that is 5 percent, in some it is 20 percent. A crewmember cannot expect a guaranteed 15 percent every time a charter is aboard. My advice to any new people in the industry is expect nothing, and whatever you get will be a bonus.

“Hard work is noticed. I recently had a charter client who told me, ‘The rest of the crew did okay, but so and so, the stewardess, went above and beyond, so we left her an extra tip.’ Clients are always watching. These are the most wealthy, successful people in the world. They did not get that way by being unaware of whom they surround themselves with…”

Line Break

A big thanks to Debra for her expert insight. (That was pulled directly from Chapter 2 of The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess, by the way.)

From my experience working on a heavily booked charter vessel, while the tips can vary from 5–20 percent, we most often found they averaged out to 10 percent by the end of a season. Given that the charter fee was so high for our vessel, it meant a lot of extra money. With the tips I made in one season, I was able to pay off my college loans, have some money to play and shop in ports, and I never even touched the salaried income that was wired into my bank account each month by the owner.

In reality, a 164-foot Benetti megayacht like M/Y Honor charters for a LOT more money than what the participants on Below Deck were chartering her for. In reality, Honor is called M/Y Cuor di Leone, and she charters for between $25,000 and $35,000 PER DAY, depending on the time of season. That makes sense to me since she’s the sister ship to a vessel I worked on for over a year and a half. (You can read more about the original M/Y Honor, which was christened as M/Y Lionheart back in 1999, in this post here.)

But, the “guests” on Bravo’s television show Below Deck were able to vacation aboard this palace on water for well under what she would normally cost (they got her for $50,000 for just the 3 day charter—a steal really, especially considering I know few megayachts that will charter for any length of time under 7 days). So viewers really shouldn’t look too closely at what these guests felt they needed to tip on a vessel of this caliber; I can assure you, they are not the same caliber of guests I recall being able to afford a vacation like this. Nor can I really say certain members of the crew probably earned a higher-end tip. For those who did, that sucks for them. But remember, it’s a team effort. You are only as good as your weakest member.

I wish the crew of Honor better luck in Season 2, where hopefully they’ll get members capable of more hard work and less attitude. Meanwhile, the REAL yacht-crew industry is keeping its fingers crossed that some members don’t stick around to make those hard-working professionals who respect their guests and take pride in their job/industry look bad.

Moral of the story: Tips are EARNED, kids.

Comments

  1. yes yes yes! I don’t understand why they are all so shocked at the time of pay out since the charters are so steeply discounted! It’s not the typical situation by any means.

    I agree with you also about the crew for next season. More experienced workers to reflect well on the rest of us, please! Have fun tonight :)

    • Thanks for the comment, Arielle! I suppose the non-experienced crew do make for more drama, therefore I understand where the “Below Deck” producers were coming from in wanting to get a good mix. On a positive note: Perhaps the juxtaposition of good crew behavior vs. bad crew behavior is what will make for a better training tool for “real reality”‘s crew.

      I guess also for the purposes of the show, we shouldn’t expect that they’d be able to pull the true type of guest who’d normally travel aboard vessels like M/Y “Honor.” Maybe now that the show has exposure, more of those will come forward for Season 2. Not that I foresee THAT level of money wanting to put themselves out there like this (in other words, I doubt we’d see any Russian mafia, oil sheiks, or the type of industry tycoons who care more about shunning attention rather than attracting it), but I imagine there are some serious money characters out there who don’t mind this kind of spotlight. Case in point: have you seen “The Queen of Versailles” documentary? (good grief)

      I’ve always felt that to realistically explore the upstairs/downstairs world of superyachting in a television format, you need to do it as a scripted drama. Reality shows are never truly reality for a number of reasons. And as you know, it is a fascinating subject to explore. To truly fit a “Downton Abbey”-esque comparison like how Bravo TV is spinning “Below Deck,” you need to witness more of the guests’ inside world. To me, that’s best done as a scripted drama. I imagine that would be ripe for a lot of social commentary, not to mention human character trait/interaction analysis.

      I still can’t help feeling like this crew life juxtaposed with guests on these extravagant boats, traveling all over the world, is the most sure bet, killer idea for a show. Concept: It’s not about the wealth. It’s about the character of a person. On “Below Deck,” we pick up lessons in that by witnessing the crew. But I’d like to see more of the master-servant dichotomy explored. Then again though, I’m a “Downton Abbey” fanatic, so I’m looking at things through that lens. In the meantime, I appreciate “Below Deck” for the entertainment, and yes, as a training tool for current and future crew. From the crew tips perspective, the “Honor” crew didn’t fly the flag all that well, but hey, it teaches us a lot.

      Thanks again for dropping by! I hope everyone checks out your wonderful blog over at http://www.LittleMermaidAtSea.com to read about your journeys as they’re happening! Such great perspective from someone out there experiencing this world and all its facets — good and bad.

      ~Julie

  2. I totally agree about the scripted show idea! I’ve long felt the same way…

  3. I never understand when crew complain about the tip they receive. They are still getting paid and it is their job to service guests whether they are owners or charterers.
    As a chef, a charter means more fun and being able to showcase the recipes I’ve learned and highlight the food. I love the added excitement of a charter.
    Victoria Allman
    Author of: SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain