Get Boats out of the Parking Lot

Published on February 5th, 2018

One of the oldest yet most promising concepts to increase participation is to organize handicap dinghy events. Bringing together random boat types insures a carefree opportunity for recreational racing and social interaction.

This was a topic at the 2018 Sailing Leadership Forum, with Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck sharing his notes from the session led by Dave Reed (Sailing World), Bob Adam (Zim Sailing), and Nathan Titcomb (US Sailing).


While class racing provides level competition and common interests, there are far many boat types than there are active racing one design classes. Keelboats have the option to race either one design or handicap, and that option exists in dinghies too.

The concept is fully embraced by British sailors. One design dinghy classes may be actively organized during the warmer months, but during the winter all the fleets come together for a series of hugely active handicap events. However, this concept is not well embraced in the USA.

This means there are countless boat owners that are limited in the use of their boat to casual sailing, and likely countless boats in desperate need of activation. Additionally, the lack of handicap dinghy racing makes it much riskier for a builder to introduce a new one design class type boat as the success of their product is reliant on a critical mass forming.

What is needed is for more clubs and racing areas to embrace the dinghy handicap system in the USA, which is Portsmouth Yardstick (PY). The system is managed by US Sailing with over 450 classes of boats with racing – dinghies, catamarans, and small keelboats.

PY is statistically based ratings calculated from results, ratings for each class are updated on an annual basis (based on submitted results), there are formulas for new or unrated boats to establish base ratings on day of racing, along with ratings available for three windspeeds to capture performance differences between windspeeds.

US Sailing has heightened its focus on PY as, if accepted at a heightened level, would immensely increase participation in the sport. In 2017, the rating system was made publically available, the handbook was re-formatted and made available as a PDF, there are several scoring programs with a PY module, and a significant update to the ratings table have addressed the latest crop of new boat classes.

For details on PY… click here.

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