The PHRF Boat Ratings Process

What is a rating certificate and how is my performance handicap determined?

By J A Booker,
President, West Florida Performance Handicap Racing Fleet(WFPHRF)

If you'd like to race in a PHRF event, you'll need to get a rating certificate. This document contains important information about your boat, your pledge that all information you reported is complete and accurate, and your performance handicap. In West Florida we use different handicaps based on the type of course you are Sailing and whether you are Sailing with or without a spinnaker. The certificate provides the race organizers with all the information they need to place you in the correct division and score you properly for the event.

Many sports use some sort of handicap system to level the playing field for competitors with different skills levels, size or experience. Performance handicap racing is different in the sense that the boats have widely varied performance characteristics, while skippers are assumed to have equal skill. The rating associated with a specific boat is a measure of predicted performance and is expressed in a number of seconds per mile. At the conclusion of a race, the scorer will use the number multiplied by the distance of the race to add or subtract from the elapsed time.

Your handicap is determined in one of two ways. If you own a production boat, the process is relatively straightforward. US Sailing annually publishes a list of the handicaps that every PHRF region in the country has assigned to one of these boats. As an example, after indexing each region to the rating for a J/35, we use these numbers to calculate a weighted average for the whole country. We then calculate another weighted average using just the numbers from five selected regions that have similar Sailing weather (Long Island Sound, Charleston, Chesapeake Bay, Galveston Bay and Southern California.) The more meaningful of these two averages is assigned as the base rating for your boat.

If your boat is a new design, a custom design, or a modified production boat, things are a little more complex. If it raced somewhere before, we often start with that number as a provisional rating, provided it is close on some other measures. Using a calculation of sail area to displacement ratio on different points of sail, waterline length, beam, and hull shape, your boat is compared on each point to other boats that are similarly configured. Using a formula called Schell regression and several other ratios for comparison, we assign a predicted performance base rating.

From the base rating we then add or subtract adjustments for headsail size, engine and propeller type, and multiple other factors to determine the final rating for your specific boat. This number levels the field for vessels for windward/leeward courses assuming 8-12 knots of breeze and that everyone uses a spinnaker. From this "BUOY" number we then consider how much horsepower you lose in non-spinnaker events. The calculated difference is your non-spinnaker offset and is added to your BUOY rating to assign your non-spin BUOY rating.

Since different boats' relative performances vary considerably depending on the type of course, we also calculate a factor for Reaching Leg Courses (RLC) and Offwind Courses (OWC.) These factors are added to both BUOY numbers to create a certificate that ultimately includes six distinct rating numbers. The result allows you to race your boat in both spinnaker and non-spinnaker events and have a reasonable expectation that things are level.

Our job doesn't stop there. The final, and most important step, requires that we monitor the results of races. Observed performance takes the guesswork out of the handicap system. Sometimes one boat of a specific design is much slower or faster than its sisters. If we have data from actual racing that contradicts the predicted performance, a rating change might be in order. This doesn't mean that a boat that is handled poorly will get a rating credit. Nor does it mean that catching a shift no one else saw will precipitate a rating hit. We take great pains to consider only boat-related factors in a rating review.

The final result is a rating certificate that is unique to your boat. Accurate measurements are essential. If you need help, log on to for information on applying, instructions and contact information for your area representative. This volunteer is available to walk you through the process. Once we have your completed application, typically you will have a rating certificate within two weeks.