In Chapter XXXVI Ahab memorably takes a page out of the corporate manager's Big Book of Manipulation to offer a gold "sixteen dollar piece" to the first crewman to spot Moby Dick. Using the tool that Lemuel cited to gauge the purchasing power of $16 in 2010 dollars (2011 figures are not yet available), we get the following values. In the novel, Ishmael tells us that the Pequod sailed "some years ago," so I present numbers for the ten years preceding M-D's 1851 publication date.
|$16 in||1841 is worth||$412 in 2010 dollars|
So we're talking about an "incentive" worth something like $450 today (although the coin might be worth somewhat less with a big nail-hole through it).
Not what you'd call a killer bonus for three years' work, but certainly a respectable "attaboy"—particularly since it was coming out of Ahab's pocket, not some productivity-enhancement budget.