PERFORMANCE HANDICAP RACING FLEET (PHRF) OF MONTEREY BAY
As long as boats of different designs have raced against one another, skippers have sought an equitable method of handicapping. Various systems have been tried, based on boat performance or measurement, or a combination of these. In Southern California where PHRF originated, one method or another of performance handicapping has been in use since 1906. Some of the systems were methods of handicapping boats, some handicapped skippers, and some combined both methods.
The great expansion of this kind of racing, however, has taken place during the last thirty-five years. The development of a large fleet of high performance family cruising boats engaged in open, competitive racing has produced the present PHRF system.
With the advent of measurement based rating systems, and their associated rapid changes in yacht design, many skippers have turned to the performance based handicap system as the best assurance of their continued opportunity to compete fairly against all designs, new or old. As a result, the PHRF system has spread throughout the country.
Because so many of the skippers are new to this kind of racing, an explanation of the system, how it works, and how to use it will be helpful in understanding the system in its present stage of development and to clear up some misconceptions.
PHRF ratings are boat performance handicaps. They are based on the speed potential of the boat, based as far as possible on observations of previous racing experience. It is the intent of PHRF handicapping that any well equipped, wellmaintained, and wellsailed boat has a good chance to win; and that any boat that wins a PHRF race is indeed wellequipped, wellmaintained, and well sailed. Handicaps are adjusted as needed on the basis of the boat’s performance so that each wellsailed boat will have an equal opportunity to win. This is the fundamental concept.
PHRF ratings are not intended to reflect the skipper and
crew capability; hence PHRF racing is primarily a test of skipper and crew skill. Ratings are not adjusted to permit a poor or careless skipper to score in the upper third of the fleet. Intensity of competition and the influx of new and aggressive skippers from the smaller day sailing classes require a skipper to maintain consistently high performance in order to place well.
Doing well in a race, therefore, requires the exercise of skill and ability. Consistently poor performance, sloppy maintenance, or deliberately holding back will not normally result in a more favorable rating. Conversely, if a skipper and crew sail the boat well and consistently place high, this will not by itself lead to a rating which is lower than that of the actual performance potential of the boat. Assuring that the rating is based on the performance of the boat, rather than sailing skill, is an important factor in preserving high morale and wholesome competition within the fleet.
The PHRF rule is an open rule. There are no restrictions on design other than the single hull, selfrighting requirement. Hull design, sail area and cut, the length of spars or battens, the number of sails, etc., are each unrestricted. There are no limitations on ingenuity other than those contained in the US SAILING rules. Class restrictions do not apply to PHRF, except to boats rated under class rules as described below.
Well designed and constructed boats are not expected to become obsolete by newer designs, under PHRF. PHRF does not use formulas to determine handicaps, because any formula once established can be circumvented by a clever designer or skipper. As faster designs appear they are handicapped accordingly. As a result, one of the major attractions of the PHRF system is that older boats can race competitively with the latest designs.
PHRF discourages “rule beating”. If a skipper modifies his boat to go faster, PHRF will attempt to compensate (or overcompensate) for the faster potential speed. The use of taller masts, longer spinnaker poles, extra ballast, gutted interiors, or other modifications intended to increase the speed is compensated for in the rating in order to nullify any advantage.
PHRF assumes that a boat is equipped to race. It does not attempt to rate a partially equipped boat, or a boat which differs from others in its class in that it is unusually heavy, out of balance, or has unusual windage (as from a dinghy on davits). However, if the basic hull and rig differ from others in its class, it will, of course, be rated uniquely.
PHRF assumes that a boat has the following basic equipment:
Sails:Genoa with maximum 155% Lp
Spinnaker, using pole with length = J (not Jc).
Spars:Standard per class. Tall or special masts etc., may be cause for a different rating.
Engine:Folding propeller if inboard engine. Propeller must be able to drive the boat forward at hull speed. Boats without an engine may be rated differently from those in its class having them.
CHANGES TO DESIGN OR EQUIPMENT
A skipper may experiment with different ways of improving the performance of his boat without the necessity or inconvenience of “remeasuring.” PHRF does not use measurers but rather relies principally on the honesty and Corinthian spirit of the participants. Consequently, if there are changes to the hull, rig, sails, or other factors upon which the existing rating is based, they must be reported to the handicapper for evaluation.
If possible deviations on the part of the owner become apparent, other contestants are encouraged to protest the boat per US SAILING rule 78. Note that the procedure for this type of protest is different than for the usual rule infraction.
At the present time, there are over 3000 classes racing under the PHRF system. A base rating is established for each class, and all boats within a class are assumed to
be identical for rating purposes. Ratings for boats in the same class will differ only with headsail size or other specific factor known to affect performance. PHRF will normally assign a class rating to any boat which is acceptable to its own class association. However, class rules which limit headsail size or prohibit spinnakers do not apply in PHRF. Deviations from class regulations must be substantive (hull, rig, sails) to warrant a nonclass rating: i.e., a class may prohibit split backstays yet allow a hydraulic unit for tensioning as long as only a single stay is used PHRF permits either. New boats must declare any deviation from class.
It should be understood that although PHRF rates like boats as a class, there is no requirement that a boat meet class rules because PHRF rates all boats individually.
Because of the number of boats in PHRF and the variability with which various boats are sailed, it is not feasible to accumulate statistics on an individual boat basis. To provide a broader statistical base, boats are handled on a class basis as far as possible; even though it is recognized that many classes are not carefully controlled. When it is brought to a handicapper’s attention that a particular boat differs from its standard class in a way to change its speed potential (and it is the individual boat owner’s responsibility to do so voluntarily), the handicapper may pull the boat from its class and handicap it individually.
Where a class has several boats racing actively, the performance data accumulates rather rapidly, and it is possible to arrive at a fair handicap in a relatively short period of time. Individual class boats are not rated more than 6 seconds plus or minus the base handicap. Affirmative evidence of actual boat performance in competition is required to secure a greater deviation from the base.
The tendency to handicap away from the base as performance data accumulates frequently leads to a later adjustment in the base rating to reflect the prevailing rating within the class. An adjustment in the base rating is normally followed by a corresponding adjustment in the rating of the individual boats to conform with the new base.
PHRF ratings are intended to be applied to daytime closed course races and some offshore and overnight races where there is a balance of windward, reaching and leeward legs and the entire sail inventory carried by each boat may be used. The system works well provided wind conditions affect all boats equally. It is not intended for short evening races, offwind races, or when changes of headsail are not permitted. Results from such races are ignored in setting PHRF handicaps.
Evening races under somewhat restrictive conditions are also using the PHRF system, but handicaps are not altered to equalize racing in the twilight type of race. The ratings, however, do give an accurate indication of normal boat speed, and good race management can often overcome the disadvantages arising from declining wind strengths, restrictive course conditions, and limitations on sail changes.
The handicap rating of an individual boat is expressed in seconds per mile. The smallest increment of performance used for rating is three seconds per mile. Observations of numerous races show that the use of a 3 sec/mile increment is needed. It is not really possible to arbitrarily spot a boat’s potential performance more accurately than this because of the multiple variables involved. Over the long average, the difference in skipper and crew skill represent a much larger factor than 3 sec/mile; so an adequate test of sailing skill can be obtained with this increment.
Because headsail size has so much to do with boat speed, PHRF uses this factor as a means of more accurate handicapping. Boats are rated for use with large or small headsails with 155% of Lp being the dividing line. Once a boat is rated with a large headsail (e.g. above 155%), this rating must be used, even though wind conditions may preclude use of the sail. A skipper is not allowed to have his boat re-rated frequently by choosing his headsail to fit expected race conditions.
A skipper may not change his rating by choosing a different size headsail more often than once per year.
For new classes and oneofakind boats, the rating is determined on the basis of comparison with similar boats with established ratings. Comparison is made on the basis of type of design and principal dimensions. The rating is chosen conservatively, so that the new boat does not “automatically” win, and is then adjusted as performance data becomes available.
A new boat in an established class is given the rating for the class and appropriate headsail, with adjustment being made for any deviation from the class. If adjustments are made, an indication is made in the Valid List that the boat is not a standard class boat.
To the extent feasible, handicaps are based on evaluation of race results. Results are analyzed annually to adjust the handicaps of the boats involved. Each boat is handicapped against the performance of the fleet as a whole and the handicap raised or lowered as required for good racing. However, winning races does not automatically lead to an adjustment of the handicap.
Ratings for new boats may be assigned by a handicapper with approval by the committee. Handicappers have the option of adjusting the rating of an individual boat 12 sec/mi above or below the base rating, but must in all cases obtain approval by the committee.
All handicaps may be reviewed and revised semiannually. However, if a skipper changes a boat, its handicap may be changed immediately. New boats are handicapped as applications are received. A handicap for a new class of boat is not established until after a formal application is received.
HOW RATINGS ARE USED
The rating to be used in a race is the rating in effect on the day the race is held. Each member receives a certificate giving the current rating of his boat and the certificate is evidence of a valid rating. The rating year runs from January to December, and ratings expire on December 31 if not renewed. At least once a year, a Valid List showing the ratings on a certain date is given to the committee members for distribution to the member yacht clubs. Frequently, however, ratings have been adjusted between the date selected and the date the list is delivered and changes continue to be made during the season by the handicappers. Such changes are effective when a revised rating certificate is issued. It is the obligation of each member to enter races using the latest valid rating.
Yacht club race committees are requested to refuse entry to boats not listed on the most recent PHRF Valid List unless the skipper can produce a more recent PHRF rating certificate.
Since the system rates boats, rather than skippers, the handicap applies to the boat even when it is raced with a different skipper at the helm, or with the owner ashore.
Ratings, however, are issued only to members as natural persons, and the person applying for the rating must be a member of a yacht club or a US Sailing approved organization. Thus, a yacht club member may race a boat without being a member of PHRF, but must use the rating assigned to the boat and issued to the PHRF member who obtained the rating.
A nonmember who purchases a rated boat must obtain his own PHRF membership before racing the boat.
Boats that are chartered and have current ratings have the identical rating issued to the charterer, and it is valid while the boat is raced under his management. Charters are governed and policed by US SAILING and yacht club rules, and not by PHRF.
PHRF representatives in each yacht club are responsible for submitting results of each race sponsored by their club. Only by continually analyzing the latest race results can PHRF approach its objective of an accurate performance based handicap system.
Ratings are determined on a regional basis by the handicappers. With time the handicappers become familiar with the performance of all of the more active boats, and are able to evaluate their characteristics as well as to judge the performance of the individual skipper and crew.
The handicapper becomes familiar also with the wind, sea, and current conditions in the locality, and understands how much of an allowance to make for local conditions before evaluating boat speed in competition. Handicappers maintain a constant search for boats which require an adjustment in the handicap in order to permit them to compete fairly with the balance of the fleet.
There is a gradual rotation of handicappers. This allows for the retention of skilled and experienced handicappers which gives stability and understanding to the handicapping. Handicappers work together, advising and assisting each other, while retaining individual judgment and responsibility.
Handicappers are selected on the basis of an active interest in handicap racing, some knowledge of boat performance and design, a judicial temperament, and demonstrated leadership in yacht racing. Most are active participants in racing, but have the ability to put aside their views as contestants and evaluate fairly and accurately. Clearly, the system rests on the integrity of the handicappers.
An important factor in the administration of the system is the handling of “appeals”.
Informal requests for the adjustment of handicaps are made with the handicapper involved, and frequently result in a change. Sometimes the request originates with someone other than the owner of the boat, and as often as not is a request to give the boat more time.
Formal appeals of ratings are made to the committee and are considered in their meetings. The appellant sets forth his views, normally in writing. He documents his case with supporting information, which should include a record of boat speed through the water in competition with other boats. At the hearing the handicapper rating the boat presents his views, which may favor the appeal or oppose it. He does not vote on the appeal, and his recommendation is not controlling.
Many of the appeals are filed in a representative capacity by an officer of a fleet, and the decisions of these appeals usually receive a wide circulation among the boats affected.
The committee shall maintain a complete listing of popular sailing vessels and their base ratings. This data will be updated continuously and is to be used only as a base reference for handicapping. Base ratings include headsails up to 155%, standard size spinnaker (180% of J) and pole (100% of J).
Adjustments will be made, but are not limited to, the following:
Headsails over155% =-6 sec/mile
Oversized spinnaker & pole up to 10% =-6 sec/mile
15% =-9 sec/mile
Fixed Propeller, 2 Blades = +3 sec/mile
3 Blades = +6 sec/mile
We hope each of you enjoys racing in this open and competitive sport. It is constantly being refined, and members have the opportunity to play an important part in shaping the future of this kind of racing, not only by sailing competitively, but also by taking an active role in supporting the system.