Handicapping the Fleet

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” – Benjamin Disraeli

One of the reasons the twice-weekly club racing at the Lake Providence RC Club is so popular and well attended is the use of start handicapping using the RYGG Race Handicapping System.

By having the lower ranked sailors start earlier than those with a higher rank, the novice sailors have a chance at winning races against experienced sailors. Because of the staggered starts, it is not uncommon to have six to eight boats of ten, finish a race within ten seconds of each other. The handicapping also gives the better sailors more of a challenge than just sailing away from the fleet in every race.

The Lake Providence RC Club has the benefit of two career engineers well versed in the science of math and the art of statistics. The final design of our ranking system incorporates a buffer to ameliorate wide changes in ratings.

What this means is that if you have a particularly bad day at the races, you won’t suddenly drop two levels and blow the fleet away the next time you race. This buffer also minimizes reward for inconsistency and negates sandbagging, not that that is a problem for us in the first place. This isn’t golf.

The handicapping process

  1. Calculates a score for each skipper based on his* finishing place in each race.
  2. Then calculates a rating for the skipper based on his 20 best scores in his 50 most recent races.
  3. That rating is used to rank skippers and to divide them by class.

The score calculated for a skipper’s finish in any race is a calculated value that is a function of the finish place of the boat and the number of boats in the race. Specifically, the score for a particular race is 100 times the place (1st, 2nd, etc.) divided by the number of boats in the race.

The best boat in a race will have the lowest score. Moreover, the more boats in a race, the lower that score will be. Logically, this means winning a race against 10 boats gets a better score than winning against 5 boats. By using the 20 best scores of a skipper’s last 50 races for the rating, the handicapping emphasizes the best finishes and poor finishes won’t make any significant changes in your rating until you’ve racked up a bunch of them. This keeps your rating at your potential.

Skippers are assigned a handicap class based on this numerical rating: 0 to <25 = White (no handicap); 25 to <35 = Green (10 second start advantage); 35 to <45 = Yellow (20 seconds start advantage); 45 to 100 = Red (30 seconds start advantage). This whole process sounds complicated when you write it out like this but we have an Excel spreadsheet that has all the formulas embedded and all we need do is enter in the finish places for each race. The rest is instantly calculated.

It is important to note that all variables (e.g. 20 best of 50 scores) and scales (e.g. 25, 35, 45 ranking cutoffs) can be changed to reflect the results of your fleet and adjust the size of the ranking groups. Moreover, changes can be applied retroactively as all relevant values for each boat for each race are stored in the Excel spreadsheet History database.

If you had trouble following this I suggest you reread the last two paragraphs while taking pencil in hand and write down some example finishes. It is just simple arithmetic. But no matter what system you may use or devise, I can’t stress enough, the beneficial effect upon fleet participation and overall fleet skill improvement when using a handicapped start. The novices stay with the fleet and see how their boat moves alongside the more experienced skippers. They learn tactics, mark rounding, and Rules of the Racing by being there right in the fleet. The experienced skippers have to keep their skills up to catch up to the early starters and they have to mix it up with the fleet instead of sailing in clear air all the time. Everybody wins no matter where you place.

* For reading clarity I generically used the male gender pronoun, but I must point out that our fleet includes several sailors of the female persuasion who give quite a good showing in our ranks.

This Tips & Tricks article was written and submitted by Steve Churchill, Lake Providence RC Club (LPRCC) Secretary. To submit your tips and tricks, email us at info@rclaser.org.