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Handicap Rating Process

Handicap Rating Process

The Board of Handicappers fulfills the process of evaluating and assigning ratings for members of PHRF of the Chesapeake (PHRF). To provide diversity of assessments and a check upon the process, PHRF divides the Board of Handicappers into two groups. One group operates in CBYRA Region IV (Southern Bay Board). The other group operates in the remainder of the Bay or CBYRA Regions I-III (Northern Bay Board). The PHRF Delegates elect a Chief Handicapper for each Board. Each Chief Handicapper appoints from seven to twelve individuals to their respective Board. All Board members are volunteers and receive no financial remuneration for their time serving the PHRF.

  • The Chief Handicapper chairs their respective board. The Chief Handicappers primary responsibilities lies in the management of handicapping; its related activities, such as the technical and statistical analysis of boats and their performance; and coordination with the other Chief Handicapper and Board. PHRF refers to these individual board members as Area Handicappers.

  • Each Area Handicapper provides rating and other PHRF related services within a group of CBYRA member clubs (usually geographically linked). Each Board has an Area handicapper who provides these services to members of CBYRA unaffiliated with a specific boat club or sailing association. An Area Handicapper may assign established ratings or apply standard credits or penalties for a boat. In practice, the Area Handicapper usually consults with other Area Handicappers to ensure consistency and provide checks on the process. However, determining new ratings or modifying existing, non-standard ratings is only conducted at a meeting of the appropriate Board of Handicappers.

Each board usually meets once a month from January to October and may hold other meetings from time to time throughout the year. If necessary, each Board may use e-mail and electronic meetings to discuss and assign ratings. The Chief Handicapper of each Board may create (or dissolve, as required) one or more committees to assist in the rating and handicapping process. These committees may consist of racers, PHRF delegates, industry professionals, and Area Handicappers. Each Board (or Boards) has a standing Technical Committee (almost always solely composed of Handicappers). The rating process may take one of several paths, depending on the circumstances related to the application, appeal, or review under consideration.


If a rating is requested for a boat of the same type as one currently rated in PHRF of the Chesapeake, an Area Handicapper may unilaterally assign that same rating to the boat under consideration. Similarly, if an owner of a boat with a valid certificate makes a modification for which the penalty is clear (e.g., a clear change in the LP of a headsail), an Area Handicapper can modify the rating of the boat without the approval of the Board of Handicappers. Such a change becomes official when the Area Handicapper communicates the details to the PHRF Executive Secretary. NOTE: Few "standard" credits or penalties per se actually exist. Rather, most credits or penalties discussed in this Yearbook are Guidelines and ARE NOT binding on the Board. (Elsewhere in this Yearbook are these guidelines for most common modifications.) Action can only be taken through a meeting of the Board of Handicappers when:

a. An application is made by an owner (or formal representative) of a boat with no “true” sister ship currently rated in PHRF of the Chesapeake, or

b. The rating of a boat with a valid certificate is to be considered for a change (other than on involving a standard penalty).

Handicapper Board meetings are customarily held on a monthly basis (schedule is found on the PHRF web site). Requests for rating application / modification or appeals should take this schedule into account. For example, requests received just after a meeting has taken place may take a month to be heard. Likewise, trying to provide an Area Handicapper with information just before a meeting is no guarantee that resolution will be forthcoming at that meeting. Requests for action by the board should be IN WRITING and sent directly to the Area Handicapper who represents the individual making the request. The information shall be sufficiently complete to enable the Area Handicapper to evaluate the boat. Given sufficient information, the Area Handicapper is responsible, at the next Board meeting, to make a recommendation based on the information submitted and other available resources. These other resources include, but are not limited to, documentation describing all boats rated in PHRF of the Chesapeake in the past few years, similar facts from the US Sailing PHRF committee, and data from MORC, IMS, IRC, and other measurement rules. This information is used for comparisons with boats of known performance, and may be supplemented. The Area Handicappers may call on the Technical Committee for assistance, and has the ability to contact other PHRF fleets for their observations on the performance of similar boats in their regions. The application is read at the next meeting. The responsible Area Handicapper presents any supporting data along with a recommendation. The board then discusses the matter and assigns a rating. In rare instances where the board cannot reach agreement, the rating assignment is voted upon. In these circumstances, the Chief Handicapper votes to break a deadlock. PHRF considers all new (either a new design or new to the area) boat ratings as provisional. This means that a provisional rating can be modified in less than the two-month period normally required to change established ratings. This makes it easier to correct rating inequities in a timely manner. The period in which PHRF considers a rating as Provisional is the later of July 1st of the year in which the boat was rated, or two months (beginning on the Board meeting date) from which the rating was first given.


The ratings of all boats are subject to periodic review by the Handicappers. Each year the performance of each individual boat in every sanctioned event is obtained from the official CBYRA scorer. The course distance, the rating, and the elapsed time of each competitor are used to compute a performance figure of merit for every boat in every race. This figure of merit is expressed as an imputed rating, and is a measure of the performance of the boat in that particular race. The imputed ratings of each boat are collected for the entire season, and then combined with those of other boats of the same type. Races in which the data is considered questionable (drifters, etc.) are normally removed from consideration. This screened data is then combined with similar information from previous years, and the entire database is subjected to a statistical analysis of the performance of each individual boat, as well as of each group of the same type of boat. Boats that exhibit performance outside of statistical norms relative to their valid (official) ratings are marked for further study. The Technical Committee then subjects those boats that are marked in the foregoing computer analysis to a detailed review. During the review process, the Technical Committee uses this, a boats observed performance, knowledge of the boats level of preparation and additional information to prepare recommendations for changes. The review cycle runs through January and February, and most of the resultant recommendations are heard and acted upon by the Board of Handicappers by March. Recommendations to raise or lower ratings are presented along with their rationale. Sometimes the Technical Committee makes no immediate recommendation, but waits until more data becomes available for study.

3. Establishing "Imputed" Ratings

When sufficient data is available, PHRF uses imputed ratings as a check of boat performance and to assist the handicappers in evaluating assigned ratings. The basis for the imputed rating process is the actual elapsed times and course distances for each participant in (mostly) CBYRA sanctioned PHRF events. The imputed rating process primarily considers data from windward-leeward type courses (closed course performance). However, the Board can consider results from point-to-point or other “open course” performance for a particular boat or boats. This allows the Board to evaluate a boats performance on open courses in which waterline or other performance factors become apparent and not compete in many (or any) closed course where such factors are not as easily discerned. An average elapsed time for each race is calculated by dropping the top 10% and bottom 40% of boats finishing and averaging the times of the remaining boats. An average rating of these remaining boats is also calculated (the top 10% and bottom 40% are dropped from the calculation to ensure that boats taking flyers or having problems on the course do not bias the average elapsed time). These averages determine a baseline for performance comparisons within that race. Each individual boat's elapsed time is compared to the average elapsed time and a difference in seconds per mile calculated. This difference (negative if the boat sailed faster than the average and positive if it sailed slower) is then added to the average rating previously calculated, the resulting number is the actual rating that boat sailed to, with respect to the average for the race under consideration. If each boat were assigned this "imputed" rating in that race, all boats should tie on corrected time in that race. Results for each race are calculated and then averaged over the season for classes of boats. The averages can be taken as "raw" data or after dropping all races where the boat sailed to a rating more than 30 seconds per mile different than the currently assigned rating or dropping the races where the boat finished in the top 10% or bottom 40% (i.e., it was not used to compute the average for that race). The imputed ratings must be used with care since there are several things that can bias them. A basic assumption is that while any single rating may not be accurate, the averages of boats have ratings that are representative of the fleet. More data is obviously better; a race of only 4 or 5 participants generally is not representative since the fleet "average" will be composed of only 1 or 2 boats. Likewise "drifters" where elapsed times are widely varying or even in inverse order of assigned ratings, typically produces unusable results.

4. Rating Changes

The Board of Handicappers may modify a rating as a result of:

  1. a change to the boat or its equipment,

  2. an appeal (either by the owner of a boat or another boat),

  3. a review by the Board of Handicappers (i.e., “Handicapper Appeal”), or

  4. a discovery of an administrative error.

    When the Board of Handicappers has decided to change the rating of a boat or group of boats as a result of an appeal or review, the owners of each boat affected are notified in writing as to the intended change. These notices are sent out immediately following the meeting at which the decision was reached. The tentative change is called the first reading of the rating modification. So that other PHRF members may know that the rating of a boat is under question, notice of current first readings is published on the PHRF website.

    5. Rating Appeals

    Any PHRF of the Chesapeake class member may appeal the rating of their own, or any other, boat in the fleet by properly executing an Appeal Form. This form can be obtained from the PHRF web site, any Area Handicapper, or PHRF club delegate. The form is also provided in this yearbook, found in the center binding as a "pull-out" form. The Appeal Form requires information about the preparation and condition of the boat, as well as performance data. Successful appeals are usually founded on facts and contain performance comparison data. Appeals that are based on notions of the abilities of the appellant, or of other skippers and their crews, are difficult to evaluate fairly and are most often rejected. The best supporting data takes the form of a table of second-per-mile differences between boats of established performances and the boat in question. Nothing will make a case as well as a clear table of such information supporting the claim. To generate such table, the appellant would obtain the results of the races in which the subject boat competed. These results must contain the actual elapsed times of all boats to be compared and the distances of the courses. Finish places are of little interest, since they convey no quantitative boat speed information. The table is constructed by making columns that identify the race, distance, the comparison boats and their ratings, the elapsed times, seconds-per-mile, and seconds-per-mile differences. For each boat in each race, the elapsed time (in seconds) is divided by the course distance (in nautical miles). This yields the average speed around the course in seconds-per-mile. Then the approach determines the differences between that number for the boat in question and the comparison boats in the same race. These numbers should reflect the differences in ratings of the two boats being compared, provided that they were sailed with the same strategy and did so with equal skill. Races should be carefully chosen so as not to include those in which the results were skewed by abnormal circumstances, such as an anchored start or thunderstorm. Usually, the appeal should draw attention to these races with such circumstances. Otherwise, omitting races that do not support the appeal claim may reflect adversely on the appeal (and be considered evidence of poor sportsmanship by PHRF). When possible, selecting races should balance of windward and off wind races. Using this approach, constructing a substantial and accurate table would likely require sailing a number of races. For this reason, avoid appeals based on less than five races if possible. They will almost certainly fail. The Board of Handicappers does not directly receive club race information, but it may certainly be used in appeals as long as the courses and conditions make sense and are briefly described. To support the appeal, try to include any measurement comparison data or performance data from other fleets. Your PHRF club delegate (or if unaffiliated your regional VP) is your representative. They are there to help you.

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