Time For a System Change

Published on May 30th, 2013

The handicap fleet in northwestern U.S. continues to diminish in the wake of increased demands on people’s time and the economic costs associated with racing. But when you add to that mis-managed rating systems with frequent changes being made without owner input and due process, it can take the fun out of racing. A concerned group of boat owners have stepped forward in hopes of promoting fair racing and turning the tide on the attrition. Here is a report by Kevin Welsh in 48° North Sailing Magazine…

Handicap systems fall into two general categories – empirical rules and objective rules. Empirical rules look at the observed performance of a boat and by their very nature are subjective in nature. They are also difficult to implement fairly, especially when run by volunteer organizations without strong analytical tools and dealing with a wide variety of boat designs and racing conditions.

In contrast are objective rules. These systems are based on physical measured parameters which are input into complex and objective mathematical formulas, which attempt to describe a boat’s theoretical performance. These rules are nearly always managed by independent professionals who have a thorough understanding of the physics involved and can account for a wide range of boats designs and racing conditions.

While no handicap system is perfect, recently it has become clear to many sailors here in the Northwest that it is time to move from empirically based handicapping systems to an objective one. Ironically Washington is the only region in North America still exclusively using empirically-based rules for mixed-fleet racing. Most other areas of the US and Canada have switched to objective or measurement based rules, especially for larger and faster boats.

In response, a group of boat owners here in the Northwest evaluated a number of major objective ratings rules with an attempt to start a new racing fleet. In this analysis they looked ORR (Offshore Racing Rule), HPR (High Performance Rule), ORC (Offshore Racing Congress), and IRC (typically known as the International Rule). While each of these rules have their merits, the owners group selected IRC as it represents the most widely used and simple rating rule as I will explain. – Read on

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