Response to: Imagine a PHRF System that is Fair


Last October Nick Hayes published a column, Imagine a PHRF System that is Fair, on the Sailing Magazine website. As an infrequent reader of Sailing Magazine I stumbled upon the column sometime after it was published and made a comment referencing the articles I have on this website. After posting I checked back for comments a couple of times, found none, and the column fell off my radar. Until the other day when I noticed one of my articles had an unusually large number of hits. Sure enough, there had been a few comments. Let me respond to them here.

Nick was the first to comment. He wrote, “I read your recommendations as a call for more information on more dimensions and continuous collection (review.)” If handicaps were based on a skipper/boat dimension that is based on actual performance, then less information is needed. The key information is the boat’s performance relative to other boat’s in the race. Each boat in the race has a handicap that is independent of the ratings of other boats but is dependent on how each boat in the race performs. Because each boat/skipper combination is unique, how the boat is equipped or not simply doesnot matter. What matters is how well the skipper sails the boat he has. If a skipper sails his boat as well or better than usual, the boat will finish higher in the fleet. Conversely, if the sails poorer than usual, the boat will finish lower in the fleet. That is the beauty of an individual handicap, the race becomes a matter of how well you sail the boat you have and not how deep your pockets are or how much time is spent in the yard long boarding the bottom. 

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II. Data Based Handicapping: A Fair and Equitable System

In the last article a case was made for calculating performance ratios as part of the normal scoring process in sailboat racing. The crux of the argument was that simply providing ordinal data, the finish places, or interval data, elapsed time deltas, deprived sailors of important information that could be used to gauge their own race performance within the scored race and across other races in the series. It was also suggested that ratio data could form the basis of a fair and equitable handicapping system. The article is available here.

Read more: II. Data Based Handicapping: A Fair and Equitable System

I. Towards a Fair and Equitable Handicapping System

It is perhaps axiomatic that a good performance handicapping system must be based on reliable and useful data. In the myriad criticisms of PHRF data quality is seldom mentioned as a factor to consider. It is however the foundation on which the system is built. Build a handicapping system on a faulty foundation and the result is a faulty handicap. Let’s look at the data generated in a typical regatta or club beer can race.

Read more: I. Towards a Fair and Equitable Handicapping System

Individual Handicaps and Fleet Racing

(This article was originally published on Scuttlebutt Sailing in Spring 2016 and again on April 13, 2017)


An Investigation into the Effects of an Individual Performance Handicapping System on Fleet Competition at the Local Level

David Lochner and

Richard White[1]

Oswego Yacht Club[2]

October 2015


Note: In an earlier version of this article the formula for calculating a Time on Time rating was incorrectly reported. This version has the correct formula. The data presented here were calculated correctly, however, proof reading is not my strong suit. DGL 


Fair competition is a central tenant in all athletic competition. Fairness can be realized in many ways. Team sports such as softball are organized in leagues based on skill levels. Bowlers are handicapped based on personal performance relative to a league standard. Personal performance and course difficulty are considered in golf handicapping. Sailing is perhaps unique in that it handicaps boats and not sailors.

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