First, the bottom line: to compete in scored races conducted by PYC, you need a PHRF rating. Learn about the application process and download the application form here.
PHRF: What and Why
In one-design racing (e.g., J/24) racing, it’s easy to know who won: since all the boats are essentially similar, first one over the line wins. In many races, however, participating boats are not essentially similar. They are different lengths, displacement, sail area, and a host of other factors. That makes some boats inherently faster than others. Who would want to race against a boat that is almost assured of winning?
Over the years various handicap systems have been developed to even out the chances of winning. Most of these systems were based on a series of physical measurements of various elements of each individual boat. The measurements were time-consuming, often expensive, and fostered a culture of designing boats to emphasize speed-gaining elements that were not measured.
More recently the PHRF system has become the most popular method of handicapping boats. It originated with a study of the actual performance of many types of boats over an extensive period. Analysis of the data produced general knowledge of which boats seemed consistently faster than others. Deeper analysis identified a few physical aspects that affected performance, aspects that could be measured easily.
Today the PHRF system assigns a base handicap to all commonly raced boats. The handicap is expressed in seconds per mile. Adjustments in the base handicap are made to take into account differences in things that affect boat speed, such as larger vs. smaller jibs, spinnaker use vs. non-spinnaker, folding vs. fixed prop, etc. Handicaps are always numbers that are divisible by 3 (reason for that is unclear). The faster the boat, the lower the handicap.
In most races, the handicap is applied to the elapsed time of the boat. Example: Boat A has a handicap of 99 seconds a mile, Boat B 72 seconds a mile. By the numbers, Boat B is typically faster. In practice, how each boat is sailed can make a difference. Assume that over a ten-mile course, Boat A finishes in two hours, five minutes, and ten seconds. Boat B finishes in two hours, one minute, and 45 seconds. Now apply the handicaps: Boat A has 990 seconds subtracted from its elapsed time, while Boat B has 720 seconds subtracted. The resulting figures are called “corrected time.” Boat A’s corrected time is one hour, 48 minutes, 40 seconds. Boat B’s corrected time is one hour, 49 minutes, 45 seconds. Boat A wins!
PHRF handicaps also take into account the sailing conditions in various areas of the country. Maine is part of PHRF-New England.