Handicapping Guide

"Why is my handicap so bad?" a sailor laments. "I can never win on the handicap given to my boat. I can't sail my boat any faster therefore my handicap should be lower. The handicapper is an idiot!"

These and other like comments are heard frequently at all yacht clubs and regattas. So let's look at what a Performance Handicap is and how the system works.

The best way to think about a PHS (Performance Handicap System) is to compare it with a golf handicap. All golfers have the same equipment (golf equipment that is) however, as we all know, their performances are quite different on the golf course. The golf handicap makes up for those differences giving the weekend duffer extra shots so he or she can compete against the expert.

Sailing is similar in that the handicaps are based on performance. The better you sail, the more your handicap will increase. The worse the performance of a boat, the more you will get rewarded by lowering your handicap. Over a long series, the lows and highs will get evened out and most boats will have the opportunity to get on the dais.

In its simplest form, the Performance Handicap is worked out by taking an arbitrary boat from within the fleet from the last race, say third place, and all other boats' handicaps are then recalculated to achieve the same corrected time in the race. This is called the Back Calculated Handicap (BCH) and that number for each boat is applied to the next race. If a boat's BCH over a number of races is averaged, a fair and equitable handicap is usually achieved. However, there are so many variables on the water in a short series it is not always possible.

The problem with events like Magnetic Island Race Week, Airlie Beach Race Week, Hamilton Island Race Week, etc, is that it can be very difficult to set a suitable initial handicap for many of the diverse entrants. Further, these events can be plagued with variable winds; not nice for sensible handicap outcomes in longer races! The entrants have often put a lot of effort into getting to the event and therefore expect that they will not be 'handicapped' out of the event, nor do they expect to see a boat win the event simply because the initial handicap the boat was given was way too low for the boat's actual performances.

Where do we go for SeaLink Magnetic Island Race Week to ensure performance handicaps bring about a fair result for all boats?

The TopYacht system has some very sophisticated back-end handicapping algorithms which can be used, however these numbers always need to be monitored closely and may need some degree of human intervention.

The TopYacht system uses a number of different measurements of the performance:

  • On a race by race basis; and
  • On the overall performance of the boat in the series.

Using these multiple measures of performance means that a boat's handicap can change very quickly and substantially race by race:

  1. The spread of series scores is tight with a few points between the top say 10 boats; this means that (hopefully) up to the last race a number of boats have a real chance to win the series. Much more exciting!
  2. The overall spread of series scores (excluding those who lucked out with multiple OCSs, DNF, etc.) should be tight.
  3. Those who are 'handicapped out of the event', that is, can't perform anywhere near the handicap they are initially given, will have their handicap improve very quickly, but are not likely to be the overall winner. So as an underperformer they are unlikely to win the event, but they feel that the system is endeavouring to help them. We don't want them going away saying the handicapping is crap and they are never coming back; comments after earlier SMIRWs.
  4. Those who have been 'given the event on a plate' by being initially under handicapped should find their handicap increases rapidly at the start of the event and continues to increase (albeit slowly) throughout the event to compensate others for the initial under handicapping of these boats.

The race committee is always conscious of meeting the needs of competitors wherever possible. This includes using the right courses as well as ensuring the handicaps are fair and equitable across the whole fleet.

We look forward to seeing you on the water at Magnetic Island.

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