Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) is a handicapping system used for yacht racing in North America. It allows dissimilar classes of sailboats to be raced against each other. The aim is to cancel out the inherent advantages and disadvantages of each class of boats, so that results reflect crew skill rather than equipment superiority. PHRF is used mainly for larger sailboats (i.e., 7 meters and above). For dinghy racing, the Portsmouth yardstick handicapping system is more likely to be used.icap, or rating, is the number of seconds per mile traveled that the yacht in question should be behind the theoretical yacht. Most boats have a positive PHRF rating, but some very fast boats have a negative PHRF rating. (If Boat A has a PHRF rating of 15 and Boat B has a rating of 30 and they compete on a 1 mile course, Boat A should finish approximately 15 seconds in front of Boat B.)
Racing results are adjusted for handicap by the race committee after all competitors have finished.
Each region has its own variation on PHRF rules and ratings, based on local conditions.
If a class of yachts is strongly outperforming their assigned rating, the PHRF committee of a region can adjust the handicap as they see appropriate. This prevents classes of yacht within a region from obtaining mistakenly favorable PHRF ratings and compromising the competitive nature of a fleet. All regions have slightly differing procedures for making changes but all have the same objective - keeping the racing fair for all.
The process of determining the PHRF for an individual boat begins with the regional PHRF rating, then adjustments are made for the individual attributes of the boat such as - modifications to the rig, the size of the largest foresail (jib or genoa), the size of the spinnakers, type of keel (full, fin, wing etc.), the number of blades on the propeller, and the style of the propeller (fixed, folding, feathering). Significant modifications to the mainsail can cause penalties.
A variant of PHRF racing is called a "pursuit race", where boats start in reverse PHRF order with the starting times staggered based on the PHRF ratings. In theory, all boats will arrive at the finish line at the same time, which can make for an exciting finish. This means that the boats cross the finish line in order of placement in the race.
No rating rule is perfect and all have flaws. Alleged flaws to the PHRF rating system include:
An assumption that a rated boat is in pure racing condition with a clean bottom, new sails and an experienced crew. This assumption excludes those with less financial resources and sailing experience from the winners circle and discourages many boats from racing.
PHRF tends to be viewed as extremely political since rating values are perceived as very subjective and not based solely on empirical data. It is not an uncommon belief that the PHRF officials strongly influence ratings of their own boats to their favor. Ideally, decisions are made based on review of history and when there is a conflict of interest thePHRF official should not be part of the decision process.
Design characteristics of boats yield different performance characteristics in various seas and winds. PHRF does not address these differences. The result is that it is not difficult to predict which boats have a better chance of winning based on conditions during a race. This is especially true where design characteristics are extremely different. An example would be a light displacement, planing hull versus a heavy displacement non-planing hull. PHRF suggests that race organizers assign boats with similar design in their fleet divisions. This reduces the planing boat vs heavy displacement variable. Typically fleets are split by handicap number 'brackets' which exposes the wind condition/design problem.
Where design characteristics are similar, PHRF is skewed to favor larger boats with longer waterlines.