What is PHRF?

What is PHRF?

PHRF is a locally administered handicapping system that uses the perceived speed potential of a yacht as the basis for the handicap. An initial handicap is assigned based on comparisons with similar yachts. The handicap may then be adjusted based on the performance of the class of the yacht.

In most fleets there is no credit for lack of sailing skill or boat preparation. The handicap is based on the yacht being sailed by a top notch crew with the best equipment. The PHRF system handicaps yachts, not sailors.

Since the handicap is administered locally, you must contact the fleet that assigns the handicaps for your area to obtain a handicap. Click here for the snail mail contacts, and phone numbers, for the PHRF fleets that belong to US SAILING. Click on the Links button above to go to the web sites for a number of the PHRF fleets that belong to US SAILING.

How do I apply for a PHRF handicap? Since PHRF handicaps are administered at the local level, you should contact the fleet in which you intend to sail. Your local sailing organization should be able to tell you which fleet you should apply to. You can find addresses of the fleets and contact information by clicking here. Fees are determined by the individual fleets and may vary.

How does PHRF assign a handicap?

Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) handicaps are based on the speed potential of the boat, determined as far as possible on observations of previous racing experiences. For new boats, handicappers typically compare the new boat to others that they are familiar with and references, if available, to designer’s predictions, IMS or MORC handicaps. They look for boats of the same type, based on sail area to displacement ratios and then make adjustments based on the differences. In addition handicappers generally look to see if the boat has raced in another PHRF group. If using measurement rules such as MORC or IMS, care must be taken as measurement rules are type forming. If the boat wasn’t designed to the rule, then the handicap likely will not be representative of the boat’s potential. Since measurement rules evolve over the years, the age in the rule must also be considered.

The handicap can then be adjusted, based on race performance. This is the difficult part as the quality of the racing program has to be taken into consideration. Just because a boat finishes last all the time or, on the other hand, wins many races, does not necessarily mean that the handicap is wrong. In most areas, the overall philosophy is that, for new boats, any error in the handicap is on the side of being a bit harsh, since it is always easier to raise a handicap than to lower one.

Why does my class of boat a different handicap in other states/areas?

PHRF handicaps are locally derived and may be different in other areas. There are several reasons why your boat would rate differently throughout the country. The difference may reflect real differences in relative boat speed (because of local sailing conditions) or merely reflect a difference in local sailing skills or in perception of the local handicappers. Variations to consider include sailing conditions like average wind speed and type of water sailed upon (i.e. ocean vs. lake) as well as the general make up of the local fleet. Since the handicaps of boats are adjusted to other boats within the same area, comparisons to other areas may not be relevant. Relative differences between boats typically provide a more accurate reflection than the absolute handicap assigned. In general, most areas tend to keep within the national handicap extremes but if a particular handicap does not seem correct for local conditions (such as a sport boat in mostly reaching conditions), remember that local PHRF organizations rate boats independently.

My handicap is incorrect!

You may be correct! Since the handicaps are based (or should be based) on observed performance all handicappers are at the mercy of “experimental error”. That is one reason handicaps are given in 3 sec/mile increments, we know we can’t calculate any closer. There is a measure of uncertainty in all the handicaps. Typically if the local handicappers think there is a higher probability of a new handicap being more correct then the old one – a change is/should be made. If not enough evidence exists to make a change, the old handicap usually remains. If there is a question on a boat’s handicap, handicappers generally favor the fleet and not an individual boat. The theory being: If you under handicap a boat, one boat suffers. If you over handicap a boat, the whole fleet suffers.

I still think my handicap is incorrect/unfair for local conditions. What can I do?

Each PHRF organization has a system for filing a handicap appeal. Contact a member of the committee that issued your certificate to find out the procedure for filing an appeal.

I have already filed an appeal with my local PHRF organization and still feel that my handicap is incorrect. What else can I do?

In some cases you may wish to file an appeal with US Sailing.

How do I start a PHRF fleet?

US Sailing’s requirements and procedures for starting a PHRF fleet can be found here. Also, have your fleet join US SAILING. Click here for the application.

Does US Sailing have a crew and/or weight limits for PHRF racing?

US Sailing does not impose crew or weight limits for PHRF racing. However your local area may have these limitations. See your local committee’s by-laws for further guidance.

Does PHRF allow use of asymmetric or both symmetric and asymettric spinnakers? Are Code "0" spinnakers allowed?

What type of spinnaker is allowed is up to the individual region. Some allow all types with appropriate penalties while other areas prohibit Code “0” spinnakers or only allow one type of spinnaker to be carried. You must check the regulations of your local PHRF fleet.

Does PHRF allow the use of carbon fiber in sails?

Again, this will vary depending on the local fleet. Check the local regulations.

Does PHRF allow removal of interior features such as doors, tables, etc?

Most fleets prohibit removal of any normal interior feature without penalty. Therefore the removal of interior parts, including cushions, doors, and tables, etc. is considered to be an alteration and should be reported to your local fleet handicappers. There will likely be a handicap adjustment for such removals.

What are sport boats and how are they rated?

What is a sport boat? A physical description might include lightweight, using oversized spinnakers and capable of planing downwind in strong breezes. Trying to quantify these impressions is obviously open to interpretation and various regions have different definitions; however most consider a boat to be in the “Sport boat” category if it meets the following four criteria:
1. A displacement/length ration less than 100
2. An upwind sail area/displacement ratio greater than 30
3. A downwind sail area displacement ratio greater than 75
4. A sprit length more than 50 percent of J

The sail areas are computed using the foretriangle and mainsail square areas which do not take into account jib overlap or mainsail roach. Most regions handicap sport boats assuming that they conform to their class rules. If a formal class no longer exists, such as for the Melges 30 and the Viper 830, then the original class rules would still apply. This includes girths of mainsails and spinnakers as well as jib sizes.

Can sport boats be raced with "conventional" boats?

Racing is always better if all of the boats in the class are of the same general type and size. When you mix different boat types you can have certain types of boats winning by excessive margins depending on the race conditions. In medium air (8-15 kts true) and flat water conditions boat types can usually be mixed. You tend to run into problems if there is a good breeze where the sport boats can plane or in very light breeze where the light displacemnt boats and/or low wetted surface boats run away from the heavier “cruising” types.

What is Time on Time scoring?

The vast majority of handicap racing in North America is scored by the Time on Distance (TOD) method. Here a fixed time allowance, based on the length of the course, is used to compute the corrected time. An advantage of TOD is that is simple and you can tell exactly where you stand at any point in the race.

In Europe the Time On Time (TOT) scoring method is popular. Here the time allowance for a given race depends on the time of the race. The reasoning being that smaller boats are at a disadvantage if the race is a slow race if the time allowance doesn’t change to account for the conditions of the race. This TOT method is only slightly harder to understand than TOD as the allowance at any point in the race can be affected by a change of conditions later in the race.

Over the past few years a number of PHRF fleets have started using TOT scoring. It has been found to help some when there is a very large handicap spread in a class or if the race conditions are “abnormal”. The following is a TOT conversion formula that is commonly used to convert the standard PHRF TOD handicap into a TOT Time.

Correction Factor(TCF) = —————

The denominator, B + PHRF, is the number of seconds it takes to sail a nautical mile in the expected conditions. Another way to look at it is that the denominator divided into 3600 is the average boat speed in knots. Here are some commonly used B factors:

B Factor

When Used


Heavy Air or all off the wind


Average conditions


Light air or all windward work

The numerator, A, is merely a coefficient that makes a “nice” looking TCF. Select it so that the TCF for the middle of the fleet is about 1.000. The A coefficient has absolutely no effect on the corrected finish order. Changing it will only affect the various margins. Thus if your middle handicap is about 100 and your conditions are average, then the TCF formula would look like the following:

TCF = ————–
550 + PHRF

To get the corrected time, simply multiply the elapsed time by the TCF. TOT scoring is not a cure-all for all the inequities of handicapping. TOT scoring will not turn a fleet upside down. It usually does not affect the top boats. It usually moves the boats in the middle around a little. If the handicap spread in a class is large, it will tend to tighten things up a bit.

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