I don’t get too many “Dear Dave” emails at My Buzzards Bay, so when I do, I jump on em! Recently I got an email from Steve in Onset who asked an excellent question:

I was wondering if you wrote any kind of article on tipping at the Marina.  We want to make sure everyone is taken care of, from the dockhands to the people in charge. Should we tip all dockhands every time they assist us on docking and fueling or maybe just at the end of the season.  Any advice would be appreciated…

I’m flattered that Steve considers me an expert on “all things boating”, I’m far from it. But his question did make me think about tipping and I realized that I was “just guessing.”

As is typically the case, I did a little research and discovered next to nothing has been written on this unique subject. So I did…

Tipping on Vigilant

Let me start by telling you what I do.

Launch Operators: When I first started using the launch service at Mattapoisett Boat Yard, I asked he owner – Dave Kaiser about tipping the launch operators. He told me that since most of the customers are townies paying for the annual service, he didn’t think there was a lot of tipping.

I loved this answer because it meant a few bucks would go a long way. I always carry some singles with me and typically tip $2-3 for a ride to or from Vigilant. Of course if I have a bunch of passengers a or a bunch of bags, I’ll tip $5 – 10.

I’m hoping that being one of the tippers among townies will encourage them to remember where Vigilant is moored and when given a choice, drop us off or pick us up first!

When I go to Edgartown, I usually hang on Dave’s mooring which means using the Oldport launch service. They charge $4 per passenger each way – which is pretty rich. Most of the time, we just pay the exact amount and round up to the nearest $5-10.

Marina’s: This one is a little tougher for two reasons; not all dockhands do the same amount of work and sometimes it’s just one dockhand and sometimes it’s a small army.

In terms of effort, I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. We’ve stayed in Oak Bluffs for a few days in September and never even seen the dockmaster (so no tip for him).

On the other hand, Breezy at Ballard’s in Old Harbor BI is a docking machine. Ballard’s is a “Mediterranean” style marina where the boats are docked “stern in” and tied to one another. This means Breezy needs to climb aboard boats and make sure all the lines are set just right.

I also think that’s just the way Breezy does everything.

Breezy – Manager Ballard’s Marina

In 2017 we ended up at Ballards on the edge of a Tropical Gale that was coming straight into the harbor and hitting us head on with 40 knot winds. Vigilant was bouncing so bad that Gail couldn’t even read her mystery novel.

Breezy came out in the wind and the rain and adjusted all of our lines – significantly smoothing things out. Not only did she dramatically improve our day, but she got soaking wet in the process.

My usual tip for a single marina dockhand is $20, but I gave Breezy another $20 every time she came out and adjusted the lines.

The marina tipping protocol gets dicey at yacht clubs or very high end marinas with multiple dockhands.

I generally don’t spend the big bucks to stay at 41 North in Newport, but a few years back we were looking for the proverbial “Port In A Storm” on a Saturday in Newport, in August, and they were the only place with an available slip.

When we pulled into the slip, there were 4 dockhands taking our lines and tying us up. I wasn’t about to give each of them a twenty, but I didn’t have a pocket full of fives either, so I watched carefully, figured out who the senior guy was, and gave him the twenty.

Be aware that sometimes a dockhand won’t take a tip. This happened to me in 2018 in Menemsha. I tried to give him a twenty after he tied us up and he said “Thanks, but I’m a town employee and we’re not allowed to take tips.”

Todd at Oak Bluffs had the funniest response when I handed him a twenty.

Todd – Oak Bluffs Harbormaster

He said “What’s this for, I didn’t do anything…”

Of course he had helped a little and after a little laugh he took it.

Dock and Dine: Since this is seldom as complicated as hooking up overnight at a marina, the tip is generally less. I also vary my tip based on whether or not I’m being charged.

Kingman Marine (The Chart Room) – It’s $15 for 3 hours and I always hand the lead dock hand a $20 (actually my guests usually do!)

Most Dock and Dines don’t charge unless you’re in Edgartown. The Mad Max charges $300 and The Harborside Inn is $100+. I’ve never tied up at Mad Max, but I use to tie up at Harborside when it was $75 and I’d give Barry $85 (cash).

South Wharf (The Sail Loft) – If your eating the Sail Loft, there’s no charge, so I’m tipping $20. It gets tricky because the dockhands are typically 3-4 kids who aren’t much help. I try to remember to bring a fistful of singles and give them each 3 or 4.

Fueling: When I was running the Whaler and Mean Kitty, the state of Massachusetts had a law against automatic fuel shut offs and dock hands filling tanks. I recall many days wasting 45 minutes pumping 300 gallons of gas into Mean Kitty over in Onset.

Unlike other states where the fuel dockhand could earn a good summer wage from fueling tips, it seemed unnecessary to tip more than $5 for someone who handed you the pump.

Now a days I get almost all my diesel at Mattapoisett Boat Yard and since I’m on a mooring, I usually end up with 2-3 tipping situations when I fuel up. First, I tip the launch driver who brings me out to the mooring. Someone almost always takes my lines when I get to the float, so that’s tip #2, and then there’s guy who lugs the pump down to the boat – #3.

Since the guy who handles the lines usually handles the fuel pump as well so that makes it easy. If he helped me with the lines and the fuel, I give him a ten. Just one of the other, I give him a five,

Pump Out: I saved the best for last! I have never pumped out my boat, although I did do a rented RV decades ago. I’m not sure you could pay me to do it, but let’s face it, the pump boat operator does do it for money and does it voluntarily. Since it’s typically a 5 minute operation, I usually tip $5 if it’s free.

In Newport it’s $40 and guess what – I don’t tip…

That’s my story on tipping. I did find an excellent piece from a Sportfishing Website that discusses the topic from the perspective of captains and crew – Tipping: The Dockmaster’s Viewpoint.

I think for most of the situations we run into, $1 to $20 seems to be the ballpark…