A GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING HOW IT ALL WORKS
Revision: 2005 Author: Steve Corona Date: 1986
- What is PHRF?
- Standard Boat
- Mod Boat
- Is PHRF really fair?
- Question #1
- Question #2 & 3
- Questions # 4 & 5
- Questions # 6
- Questions #7
Table of Content Links:
WHAT IS PHRF ?
PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet) is a system used to handicap racing and cruising type sailboats by observed racing performance.Any measurements taken (Spinnaker Poles, sails, etc.) are used to identify the boat and to quantify any differences or modifications from what is considered standard.Deviations due to sail or power selection are corrected by adjustments to the "Standard" Boat base handicap. PHRF (unlike IOR, MORC, IMS or MHS) does not use measurements to calculate the standard SP (Speed Potential) of a boat.
WHAT IS A "STANDARD BOAT"?
A Standard Boat is basically an unmodified boat with PHRF "Standard Equipment" (defined later). It is possible, however, that a boat may not be considered "standard" even if it hasn't been modified. What can happen is that the first boat handicapped becomes the standard by default and subsequent boats, even if not modified, may be slightly different so will not be considered a Standard Boat, but will be handicapped as (MOD) which are modified boats within a given fleet.
For example, boats built after the initial few of a design, may have improvements that change the rig or hull. It's common to have a variety of mast heights within a single class over five or ten years of production. If a significant change occurs to the design, or an individual vessel, a new class category is initiated. We have, for example, four versions of Saber 28, five versions of C&C 27 and three versions of C&C 33's.
WHAT IS A MODIFIED BOAT?
A Modified Boat is a Standard Boat that has been changed in some way that may affect its Observed Performance. Some boat "modifications" are considered by PHRF-LO as not affecting performance (not requiring a handicap change), while other modifications require that a handicap change be considered.
Some of the modifications, which must be considered, are:
- Modification to the shape of the hull, keel, or rudder.
- Changes to the Sail Plan. This includes larger sails and/or changed spars.
- Structural changes that affect a boat’s weight or weight distribution.
- Changes in mechanical propulsion.
Boat modifications that are generally not considered are:
- Headfoil systems.
- Fairing and smoothing of the bottom.
- Addition of sail handling gear such as winches, blocks, lines or sail track.
- Additional sails no larger than the maximum ‘standard’.
- Sail material such as Mylar, Kevlar, Dacron, etc.
- Cosmetic changes to the hull, interior, or running rigging of the boat, which do not affect the Speed Potential of the boat. Simple replacement of items such as standing rigging with gear identical to the old is not considered as a modification by PHRF-LO.
IS PHRF REALLY FAIR?
This is the bottom line question and the answer is yes or no, depending on your particular philosophy. "Yes", if you can afford or wish to spend enough money to equip your boat as well as the best in the fleet, and, no; if you are racing with equipment that is not as up to date or extensive as your competition and expect to beat them on a one to one basis. PHRF when reviewing handicaps or looking at a handicap for a vessel new to the region, presumes that the hull, running and standing rigging, sails, skipper and crew are all the best available.
Two crews race the same type of sloop, a TUB 330. Both boats are in very good condition and are well maintained.
The first boat, TUB #1, has a 150% general-purpose Genoa, a 100% jib, a storm jib, a main, and a .6 oz Spinnaker. All the sails are six years old but are the best a discount sail maker had to offer. TUB #1 has all the standard equipment, which came from the factory including the wheel steering option, which really adds room in the cockpit. The owner and crew take pride in TUB #1 and have added a refrigeration unit, a propane stove, and pressurized hot water. Because the owner and crew always want to be seaworthy, they carry spare parts for nearly everything on board and always fill the fuel and water tanks before leaving the dock. The anchor, with 150 feet of all chain rode, is always ready for any emergency in a roller bow chock. The crew of TUB #1 is comprised of an elderly man and his three young grandchildren.
The second boat, TUB #2, is equipped with a light Mylar 155% Genoa, a heavy Mylar 155% Genoa, a 135% Genoa, a 100% Mylar/Kevlar main, a staysail, a 0.6 oz., .5 oz., and 1.5 oz. Spinnaker. None of the sails are more than 2 years old. In addition, TUB #2 has an extra set of cockpit winches, rod rigging, backstay adjuster, extra Genoa track, barberhauls, cunninghams, Sprectra halyards, Kevlar sheets, headfoil, navigational system and more computerized electronics than an Aircraft Carrier. A lightweight tiller replaces the wheel steering unit. The water and fuel tanks are filled only to the extent required by the sailing instructions. TUB #2 also has a glass smooth bottom professionally faired, painted and cleaned before each race. For crew, half the employees of the local sail loft are on TUB #2 whenever raced.
In the PHRF-LO fleet TUB #1 and TUB #2 would both have the same handicap. The question becomes; who has the best chance of winning? More importantly, who should win? PHRF-LO assumes all boats are in top condition with good equipment. Within PHRF-LO the level of ‘good equipment’ has steadily risen over the past few years. A “Standard Boat is assumed to include many of the go-fast items noted in the previous paragraph. If a boat sails with ‘less’ in any respect, that boat does not accrue any benefit (in the form of a slower handicap) from PHRF-LO.
The Author reports reading a book on sailboat racing. The first paragraph was devoted to the selection of the proper boat to race. The best boat to race was stated as; the boat that you can afford to equip to the level of which the local fleet is being raced. With One-Design boats that might mean a two hundred and fifty-dollar new sail, once a year. With an IMS or MORC racer, that might mean many thousands of dollars yearly for new sails. If a racer wants to win she/he must be willing to pay the freight. (This expression is not new to or exclusive to yacht racing.)
SOME COMMON QUESTIONS TO HANDICAPPERS:
#1. WHAT DOES MY HANDICAP NUMBER MEAN?
Many people who are racing currently really don’t know what their handicap number signifies or have not taken the time to understand what a 3 or 6 second/nautical mile change might mean to their boat. Below are a few simplified definitions.
SPEED POTENTIAL (SP).This is the base number given to a boat. The number is given in seconds/nautical mile of handicap relative to the imaginary scratch boat of “0” seconds/nautical mile. In PHRF-LO this number assumes that the boat and all equipment is ‘Standard,’ as PHRF-LO defines it in Part I Section 4.3.
ASSIGNED SPEED POTENTIAL (ASP).This is the SP plus any adjustments for non-standard sized sails, non-folding propeller or miscellaneous items. The ASP is the number actually used for time correction.
#2.HOW ARE RACES CORRECTED?
On Lake Ontario, there are two methods for time correction. They are the Time-on-Distance method, which uses the ASP for correction, and the Time-on-Time method, which uses another number also found on the Handicap Certificate, the Time-on-Time multiplier. The Time-on-Time multiplier is derived from the ASP by means of a mathematical formula and is therefore directly related to that number.
#3. MY BOAT HAS A HANDICAP OF XXXX IN OTHER REGIONS, WHY NOT HERE?
PHRF-LO handicaps are locally derived (within the area in which PHRF-LO has Members). The difference may be real (due to local sailing conditions), or may reflect a difference in local sailing skills or in the perception of the boat’s probable performance by the local Handicappers. For example, a boat that performs well in light air conditions may not perform as successfully in an area in which heavy air and steep waves are common. Further, all Regional PHRF bodies handicap boats independent of all other PHRF Regions. In fact it is necessary all regions act independently of one another or the handicaps would never change and therefore, never improve. No PHRF handicap is ever considered as “carved in stone,” and is always subject to ongoing improvement as the complexion of the fleet changes.
#4. MY HANDICAP IS WRONG!
Handicaps are based on Observed Performance. As such, we are at the mercy of “experimental error.” This is one reason handicaps are calculated in 3 seconds/nautical mile increments, PHRF does not feel it can calculate any closer. There is a measure of uncertainty in all handicaps, but if PHRF-LO thinks there is a higher probability of a new handicap being more correct than the old one, changes should be made. If not enough evidence exists (in the form of Observed Performance) to make a change, then the old handicap would usually remain. If there is a question of a boat’s handicap - - the Handicapper must always favor the balance of the racing fleet and not an individual boat. The thinking for this is; If PHRF-LO handicaps a boat with too fast a (a lower PHRF) number, one boat suffers. If PHRF-LO handicaps a boat with too slow a (a higher PHRF) number, the whole fleet suffers.
#5. HOW ARE HANDICAPS CHANGED?
Handicaps are changed in a waterfall sequence, first the Club Handicapper brings up a boat for change at a regional handicappers’ meeting. The boat is discussed and if the observed data evidence points to a change, the region will recommend the change to PHRF-LO. If the boat is unique to a region the change will go through without further discussion. If a sister ship exists elsewhere on the lake the boat will be brought up for discussion at the next lake wide handicappers’ meeting.
There is nothing stopping a Club from setting it’s own handicap for a boat (MOSS Factor). Within a Club, boats can race with a Club generated handicap, but elsewhere have to race, using the lake-wide handicap. While this may have a good initial effect on introducing people to racing, it can also have its pitfalls when these people venture out into interclub, regional or higher level events.
#6.I NEED AN ADJUSTMENT TO MY HANDICAP TO BE COMPETITIVE!
Let’s take a look at a typical Club evening race and the effect of a 6-second/nautical mile change.
The winds are good and a boat completes the racecourse in 1 hour and 20 minutes. This boat has a handicap of 168, which means a multiplier of 1.0133. The corrected time for this boat for that race is (1.0133 X 1 hour and 20 minutes). This equals a corrected time of 1 hour, 21 minutes and 04 seconds. If this boat was instead handicapped at 174, or six seconds more (a handicap indicating a slower boat) the multiplier would be 1.0044. In the same race as the vessel with a 168 handicap, with both boats having the same elapsed time, the 174-handicapped vessel would have a corrected time of 1 hour, 20 minutes and 21 seconds. By subtracting the faster from the slower time, you would have gained an additional 43 seconds of corrected time over the course of a race lasting 1 hour and 20 minutes. Note that a 3-second/nautical mile change in a handicap translates into about 13 seconds for every hour raced.
Presuming a boat speed of approximately four knots over the course of the race discussed in the previous paragraph, the time difference translates to about 10 boat lengths. To answer the initial question, if a boat is losing races by 40 seconds or 10 boat lengths, a 6-second/nautical mile additional handicap might be important to you. If a boat is generally losing by more, look for reasons other than the boat’s handicap. Many boats lose two or three times that distance/time even before crossing the start line, just by being late at the start, or by not noticing that the port end is highly favored.
#7 DOES PHRF WORK?
PHRF has become the most popular handicapping method for sailboat racing in North America. On Lake Ontario alone, about 1500 boats are registered. Nationally the number is in the tens of thousands. PHRF corrects many of the problems associated with measurement rules such as the complexity and cost of measurements and the outdating of boat designs. Although not without some problems, PHRF appears to be one of the most fair ways of handicapping such a large and diversified group of boats.