How Racing Rating Rules Work (and how to maximize yours)

Racing ratings can seem confusing and overwhelming. Our team at Quantum is here to help you understand how ratings work, decipher the various systems, and help you maximize your ratings to ensure your best shot at the podium. Our sail designers have outlined a few key elements about ratings. Understanding them can help you get the most out of your racing rating.

Rating rules are a powerful tool that allows a variety of yachts to compete on a level playing field. If you race a tortoise against a hare (assuming the hare is smart enough not to take a nap in the middle of the race), the hare will always win. Not really a fair match-up. The same goes for non-one design racing. Being the first yacht over the finish line, while impressive, does not necessarily mean you sailed the best race comparatively. Therefore, rating rules come into play. It is important to understand how they work so you can work with your sailmaker and other specialists to optimize your program and level the playing field, so your crew’s talent shines.

There are four main rating rules: Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF), International Racing Conference (IRC), Offshore Racing Congress (ORC), and Offshore Racing Rule (ORR). We will give a brief overview of how each rating rule assigns a rating, why it is important to your program, and how Quantum can help make sure you have the best rating possible. While there are other rating systems, these are the four we focus on in this article.

The Rating Rules

In general, rating systems assign a value to a yacht or a particular yacht setup. This number is then used to correct finish times after each race. With all four rules, the most common way to score a race is to use a time-on-time (TOT) or a time-on-distance (TOD) correction. TOT corrections consider how long it takes to race; the TOD formula looks at the distance of the race. However, ORC and ORR ratings consider additional factors and have some flexibility for a custom correction formula.

PHRF is a simple handicap system, similar to the system used in golf. Considering the type of yacht, an assumed sail plan, and the team’s performance, a corrected-time handicap factor is assigned to the team. Races under PHRF rules correct times using TOD or TOT.

The other three rating rules are a bit more complicated. These rules use formulas to assign a rating to each yacht based on the yacht’s dimensions, construction, and design features. The formulas for IRC and ORR are closely guarded secrets; however, it is still possible for sailmakers, yacht builders, and other specialists to understand how various factors affect the rating. ORC has two categories of classification, ORC International and ORC Club. In this article and for most applications, we refer mostly to ORC-International rating that requires a measurement performed by an official and certified measurer. ORC has a published formula that gives designers information to analyze and data to work from.

IRC looks at several yacht elements from sail size to weight and beam. It compares yachts as a percentage and then assigns the yacht a rating that is corrected using TOT.

ORC and ORR take their rating system to the next level by using complex formulas to predict the speed of the yacht with a given setup. These formulas are often referred to as Velocity Prediction Programs (VPP). There are a few ways these ratings can be used to score a race, including TOT, TOD, and performance curve scoring.

What Goes Into a Rating?

A large amount of data is plugged into IRC, ORC, and ORR proprietary formulas that generate ratings for various conditions and situations. For example, an ORR certificate has multiple standard and custom ratings for specific events such as the Newport Bermuda Race. Common data used to determine ratings includes hull data, sail measurements and types, crew and yacht weight, waterline, hardware, sailing trim, and other rigging data and measurements.

How Ratings Change

Due to several factors, your ratings can change even though your yacht hasn’t. The most common factor in rating change is sail size. Smaller sails equal a better rating across the board, and, since all modern sails shrink with use, your ratings can change over time. Every time you fold, hoist, or tack your sails, they shrink a bit, not unlike the way a piece of paper shrinks each time you crumple it up and re-flatten it. Some sail constructions, such as those using a lot of Dyneema, tend to shrink more than carbon sails.

General yacht specifications from the yacht manufacturer are often used to compile data points; however, each yacht is unique, so having the correct data for your yacht and rig can go a long way toward improving your rating.

How to Optimize Your Rating

Because IRC, ORC, and ORR ratings consider a number of elements that affect the speed of the yacht, there is a lot of room to tweak your setup to optimize your yacht for a particular racing rule. Sometimes a simple sail re-measurement is all it takes to better your handicap. That can be a real game changer when you are racing the 333-mile Chicago-to-Mackinac, the 475-mile Annapolis-to-Newport, or the 2,225-mile Trans Pac.

PHRF is harder to optimize due to the way ratings are assigned. Since the rating is based on boat type, it assumes these boats all use the same sail inventory. The best way to improve your PHRF rating is to improve your performance by using the sails your handicap is rated for. Quantum can help you review your rating and inventory and ensure the form is accurate. Our team can also explore how your regional PHRF committee measures the impact of switching from a pole and symmetrical spinnaker setup to a fixed-pole asymmetrical setup, as that can also greatly affect your handicap.

Whether you have an existing rating or need to apply for a new one, there are essentially three ways you can get the best, or at least a better, rating.

Option 1: Maximize what you’ve got.

This is the most common, easiest, and cheapest way to improve your rating. Bring your rating certificate and your largest sails to your local Quantum loft. We will start by verifying the sails listed on the certificate and re-measure them. We’ll discuss your yacht and sail plan, regatta schedule, overall program, and where you want to take it. This gives us a better understanding and helps us identify other areas that can improve your rating. Sometimes it is as simple as helping you re-submit your form with updated sail sizes.

Option 2: Deeper Analysis and Inventory

If your team is looking to take things to the next level or has a specific goal in mind, Quantum can help guide you through the second option. It is a bit more expensive than the first option but yields results. After assessing your current rating, goals, and budget, we will help coordinate and guide you through a whole-yacht optimization process using our in-house design team as well as other industry partners.

A Quantum sail designer will look carefully at your existing inventory, identify gaps or areas that could be improved, make recommendations for tweaking current sails, and add new or swap different sails to your inventory. We’ll run various simulations to dial in your rating based on your sail plan and help you create a long-term plan focused on optimizing your rating and sailing objectives.

Then we’ll work with other industry experts and review your yacht for potential changes or upgrades. These experts will run multiple analyses of your setup and identify areas that could benefit from re-evaluating your measurements, such as weighing your yacht to get an accurate weight instead of using the rules default values. 

Option 3: Weather and Location Ratings

The third option builds on the first two options and fine-tunes your rating for specific wind conditions and/or locations. Working within our network of industry experts, we’ll gather historical weather data for a particular event and run multiple simulations for the venue to further optimize your overall plan. This is a common practice with professional and Grand Prix racing teams


This is a rather complex question that ultimately involves weighing and prioritizing factors that answer other questions. Is there an offshore race you’ve always wanted to sail? A destination regatta with a variety of classes to compete in? How much value is placed on the potential outcome, thereby determining which event to sail? Ratings and measurement systems evolve, and your boat, using one rating, may be more favorable in the same race with a different rating in a different class or suited for a different race altogether. While we can’t recommend one system over another, we can walk you through your sailing program plans and goals and help you decide which is the best system and then optimize that rating.

Regardless of where your program stands, we are here to help you understand how rating rules work and guide you to a better rating so that you and your team get the most out of the hard work you put in to cross the finish line. Email our team at to get the process started.

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