Welcome to the Handicap System Page

HLSTC, like many other clubs, uses the RYA's Portsmouth Number (PN) handicapping system for its club racing between boats of different classes. This is designed to give a fair comparison between sailors' performance, compensating for the differences in their boats' capability.

Setting the handicap numbers

Sailing dinghies aren't all the same - that's pretty obvious. Some can be twice as fast as others. You can usually tell quite easily whether a boat is faster than most, but it's not so easy to say just how much faster: it depends on the conditions. You may find that one very sleek boat glides smoothly along in the slightest breath of wind, when most boats are going nowhere, but then it becomes a bit of a handful when the breeze gets up, so you spend all your time trying to keep control of it, and don't actually go as fast as you might expect. Another one may not want to go anywhere very much in light airs, but comes into its own when there's a bit more drive to be had, and actually goes faster than the sleek one. So which one do we say is the faster? Again, it all depends. You have to take some sort of average.

What the RYA does is to collect results and timings from thousands of races over the course of a year, taking in a variety of locations, and all the practical weather conditions, and analyses them to produce a single number for each class.

This number stands for the time that a boat of that class would take to cover a notional course, in average conditions; and the numbers range from 700 or less (for a very fast boat) to 1500 or more (for a slow, training type boat). Most of the boats we see at Hawley are in the middle of this range, at around 1000 to 1200.

But these numbers are not set in stone. The RYA says we shouldn't follow the published numbers blindly: we should make adjustments as appropriate to allow for local conditions and experience. Fair enough, but with the limited size of our fleets, at HLSTC, there just isn't enough evidence to work out an adjustment for most classes, so in general we stay with the RYA's numbers. We have noted, though, that the fastest classes are affected more than most, by our fluky winds and the relatively short distances between marks. In view of this, we apply an upward adjustment to classes with a PN below 1000.

The published figures are normally updated in the spring of each year. (There was a pause from 2020 to 2022, because of the pandemic). We review these, and if there is a significant movement applying to any of our classes, we update our table. We are now moving onto the 2024 figures, and you can see our table here.

stylised sailboat

Here is a link to the RYA's Portsmouth Yardstick System webpages. You can also go on from there to other related pages.

The Portsmouth Yardstick System

2024 Handicap Numbers

So now, how do we use these handicap numbers

If we are running a single-class race, we don't need the numbers at all. We just start all the boats at the same time, and the one that is first to complete the course is the winner. That's it! But we don't currently have many races like that.

The handicap race

The format we use most often is referred to as a "handicap race" - a misleading name, perhaps, but it's been in use for a long time.

The basis of this format is that we start all the boats at the same time, with our stopwatch showing zero, let them all sail for a number of laps over the agreed course, while our stopwatch counts up, and record the time when each one crosses the finishing line. This gives us their measured sailing time. (Sometimes we may divide the fleet up, and have more than one start, but we still measure the "elapsed time" for each boat.) Then to "correct" their time, we multiply each sailing time by the appropriate factor to take account of their Portsmouth Number. Finally we sort the corrected times into numerical order, and the boat with the shortest time is the winner.

The pursuit race

The other format is called a "pursuit race".

In this one, we have a succession of timed starts, with the slowest class going first, then we work through all the classes until we reach the fastest. Each boat, after its start signal, sails along the set course for a defined time, when we give a finish signal for all the boats. The faster boats should gradually gain on the slower boats (hence the name "pursuit"), and some may actually overtake. In fact, the start times are so calculated that, by the time of the finish signal, all the boats should have had time to cover the same distance (though we don't know how far this might be). In practice, some boats will have sailed further than expected, and others less, and the one that is furthest ahead is the winner.

You can see more detail on how we run a Pursuit Race by clicking HERE.