Handicap Review Primer

Handicap Review Primer

 by Steve Cramer, PHRF­LO past Chief Handicapper

 Intent: Provide the basic information and philosophical intent of PHRF­LO when assigning or revising SP handicaps for classes of yachts.

Setting New handicaps

Setting New handicaps for boats on Lake Ontario

Over the years PHRF has been faced with the dilemma of handicapping new classes of yachts. The following will give guidance on where to go and how to use the available resources when attempting to assign a new handicap.

US Sailing PHRF Handicaps

US Sailing PHRF Handicaps

Where a yacht class has been sailed in other areas of North America we can begin by looking to US Sail PHRF Handicaps.

Selective use of these numbers can be included provided we have access to handicaps reflecting a reasonable number of yachts (ie: more than one yacht registered) and time (ie: those with ExpCode B or C) and are in a PHRF fleet that works hard to provide accurate handicaps. (e.g. Lake Erie, PHRF­NW, Etc)

It is strongly recommended a Handicapper not simply look up the numbers provided by US Sail PHRF and take an average, as many of these organizations simply do a handicapper consensus and guess or pool the average number from US Sail PHRF and use that. This can become a rather circular argument.

Other Rules / Comparable Yachts in PHRF

Other measurement rules

Where a yacht class has been raced under various measurement rules (IOR, IMS, MORC, IRC etc) PHRF­LO have developed conversion calculations. Ref page 61.


Comparable Yachts within PHRF­LO

As well as US Sailing and other measurement rules, PHRF­LO looks to yachts handicapped in PHRF­LO for which we have some confidence in the handicap and appear to reflect the characteristics of the yacht in question.

Charlie Kramer

Charlie Kramer MPR

Charlie Kramer had been an invaluable resource over the early years of PHRF­LO by helping to develop an extension of some work done by the Irving Pratt Ocean Race Handicapping Project of MIT. His program in concert with the Frank Watt formula from Sail gives us the ability to estimate any yachts initial SP based on manufacturers or measured statistics. This tool is available to all Handicappers.


A cautionary Note:

The utility of the Charlie Kramer Formula is based largely on appropriate information and recognition that it needs to be taken in the context of the variation of final SP within PHRF­LO. In other words, if you ran existing yachts for PHRF­LO, which can be done from the Kramer +.xls spreadsheet using the C.Kramer MPR formula which is included in the PHRF­LO tools, it is common to find a discrepancy in the calculated SP and the SP per PHRF­LO. Additionally you will find that the mean difference across the spectrum of yachts rated will be at least 6+ seconds for Charlie’s program and 15+ for the Frank Watt’s. The value assigned is then best tempered by calculation of the SP of existing yachts, with similar characteristics as the yacht in question, to establish a predicted difference in handicap. Charlie’s program is especially sensitive to the AK (aspect ratio of the keel). There have also been no reasonable correlations determined for keel­centerboard or wing keel yachts. It has been presumed that this will reflect a decline in performance when compared to a regular keel ranges from 6­12 seconds/nautical mile.

Race Data / "Gut" Feeling

Race Data

One area we have not explicitly explored is the impact of actual race data. As PHRF is a performance­based system our ability to do race analysis allows us to effectively bypass the formulae and go straight to the performance data. Once again these should be tempered in light of the fleet. There is a great temptation to simply look at the numbers and not reflect on the fleet. When one puts an Olympic Gold Medallist Sailor in a yacht all bets are off using the race analysis program unless you are looking at an Olympic or world­class event. As you are also well aware, performance can vary with the same crew, same yacht, same skipper, same course, and same competitors by up to 20+­seconds/nautical mile. The use in the early days of the analysis of the MOSS factor (Ref: Page 24), was an attempt at the fleet level to get at the “skipper” effect. This obviously required honest estimates by knowledgeable local individuals (local Handicappers). The size of the fleet, spread in intensity of preparation, racing skill and course all play a critical element in the outcome for any single yacht. Head to head trials with known yachts, if done openly can be another direct method for comparison.


Handicappers "Gut" feeling

The last element is the gut feel of the Handicappers. There is no question that the sense one gets with years on the water and exposure to a spectrum of yachts can lead to a reasonable estimate of the likely Speed Potential of a yacht. This “gut” feel should not be ignored but also should not be the only indicator used for a first approximation handicap for a new class of yacht.

PTF / Prep Documents

Protecting the Fleet

It is also important to repeat that we work to protect the fleet. This generally means we err on the conservative side by on average 6 seconds/nautical mile with the first handicap. The yacht will obviously be on watch the first year and the Owner is free to appeal the initial handicap as soon as there are sufficient race data available to make the review worthwhile. Generally speaking the more races the better but a minimum of 5 races meeting our criteria is necessary before anything further could be considered. This implies at least 3 yachts, winds between 5 and 20 knots with no dramatic shifts or speed changes, and a balanced course (beating, reaching and running or Upwind/Downwind) in addition to knowledge about the other yachts in the fleet.

Preparing your documents

With the Initial Assignment Form, as a minimum, we would like to see the standard measurements completed including data on the keel aspect ratio with a line drawing or brochure appended. Next there should be a hard copy of the C.Kramer MPR SP printout with two more for yachts of similar design and intent. Where available, selective use of US Sail PHRF numbers could be included if selective by fleet and using those with B or C codes and more than one yacht registered. Inclusion of IOR, IMS, IRC and MORC certificates with the conversion done, would be acceptable. Comparative, head to head, race data would be exemplary. Lastly the gut feel consensus should be included. The expected SP should be listed with the initial assignment representing a 6 second reduction to protect the fleet. A copy of this analysis should be forwarded to PHRF. A copy of this document should also be forwarded to the individual to save some time and effort on the owner's part.

Final Note:

PHRF­LO encourages District Chairs and all Handicappers become familiar with using the analysis programs and look at the results using yachts known well to you. PHRF­LO also encourages getting the most accurate information possible on the yacht, including physical measurements where possible. 

District Level / Handicapers Role

Re­handicapping Yacht SP’s at the District Level

When bringing forward yachts for handicap review and change it is imperative that the owner be given the opportunity to put forward information on their behalf prior to the meeting, in writing.

Handicappers Role

It is part of the role of the Club Handicapper to assist the Owner by accessing the race analysis program and SP assignment program in order to both educate and facilitate the owner's action. The information provided to assist in the initial assignment of an SP applies equally here.​Of paramount importance in this setting however is the review of race data relevant to the yacht in question with the benefit of local knowledge. This means the local Handicapper should provide information on the yachts in the fleet involved to accurately create the picture of the fleet as it is constituted and sailed. ​No yacht should have its handicap changed by a District in the absence of all relevant race data involving the yacht in question.Race data and other information for the design in question not reflected at the local level is certainly relevant but should not be decisive in re­handicapping a yacht class.

Yachts not Unique

Yachts not Unique to District

Obviously where this is not a yacht unique to the District, any change must be coordinated and confirmed by Central Council and handicap changes will not take effect until that confirmation.

Appeal Proced. & Response

Appeal Procedure and Response

Any review of a handicap based on an owner appeal must be presented to the District in writing using the PHRF­LO Appeal Form and the decision of the District forwarded in writing to the Owner and PHRF Central Council