PHRF Explained

 In Club Racing

It’s the time in the year where PHRF certificates are due for renewal.  Yachting New Zealand has already received dozens of PHRF renewal applications, as some of the winter racing events get underway. RNZYS publishes PHRF results for its biggest Club Racing Series including the North Sails Winter Series and the PIC Insurance Brokers Wednesday Series run throughout summer. The recent Helly Hansen Three Kings Race was raced on PHRF across all divisions with a major prize of an Omega watch awarded to the fastest RNZYS boat on PHRF results. This year the always popular SSANZ Triple Series is also adopting PHRF for the vast majority of its race fleets.

PHRF is a national performance handicapping system for keelboats designed to facilitate open and fair competition between boats, in particular when boats from different clubs come together. PHRF is designed to be understandable for boat owners and race organisers and provide fair racing across the NZ fleet.  It’s particularly effective for interclub and mixed fleet racing – especially keelboats and trailer yachts – any of which can apply for a PHRF handicap via the Yachting New Zealand website. The 2024/25 season PHRFs take effect from June 1 2024, and are valid until May 31, 2025.

The PHRF framework is overseen by the small PHRF Committee, which is a subset of the Yachting NZ Cruising, Inshore and Offshore Racing Committee (CIORC) – https://www.yachtingnz.org.nz/about-us/our-team.  The PHRF Committee comprises a number of experienced sailors and boat owners who all contribute as each rating is reviewed and finalised.

Supporting the committee is a sophisticated database of race results, measurements and a calculation tool.  If you look at the Racetrack website (http://www.racetrack.org.nz/), which was developed by Mark Mulcare, you will get a sense of some of the race data that is available to the committee. 

The recent 2024 RNZYS Helly Hansen Three Kings Race used PHRF results across all divisions. Photo: Suellen Hurling / Live Sail Die

All races are included where appropriate, categorised into the type (e.g. inshore, passage etc) and some are assigned a higher weighting – for example the size and mix of the fleet is taken into account.   A base rating for the design is established for inshore racing, passage racing (typically over 25 nm and/or point to point races) and short-handed racing. A Performance rating is also developed for each racing category for the actual yacht when it races.  For example there is a base rating that is the same for every Young 88 sailing in class trim, and each individual Y88 also has an individual Performance rating based on their own recent performance.

Before being confirmed and issued, the committee will assess those ratings for a sense check, including looking at other similar boats and recent racing. 

Alongside its own calculations, the committee also utilises other overseas ratings – these are useful for assessing international designs that are also in the fleet in NZ and also to keep the local fleet more-or-less in step with overseas handicaps like IRC.  The committee will occasionally liaise with other experienced sailors around the country for assistance when working with unfamiliar boats and crews.

The committee often answers queries and suggestions from boat owners and sees such dialogue as an important way to demystify and explain their process.  Committee Chair Mark Mulcare says “We may not always agree 100% with owners views but at least we’ll know more about the boat, and they’ll know more about the rating process.  Anything that increases our understanding of the fleet is valuable.”.

The committee constantly considers ways to further refine the PHRF system and processes.  Mark says “There’s a balance between keeping things relatively simple, while always trying to improve our approach.  We also need to keep pace with the race fleet – for example various sail developments and other boat modifications such as water ballast are constant and we need to make sure we are assessing each fairly. “

Changes to a yacht may affect any handicap rating.  For owners operating under the PHRF framework there is a requirement to notify the committee of any changes to boats.  These include:

  • Change of ownership
  • Any changes which affect information declared during the PHRF certificate application
  • Keel or rudder modifications
  • Changes to a boat’s rig, spars or materials used in standing rigging
  • Any change that either increases or decreases the weight of a boat
  • Changes that may affect the rigidity of a boats hull or structures
  • Partial or complete replacement of decks or cockpits
  • Any change which modifies the shape of a boat’s hull
  • Any other change which could be reasonably expected to affect a boat’s performance

Documentation to support or further explain these changes will usually be requested and can be attached to the revalidation form. Full details and the links you need to apply or reapply are here:  https://www.yachtingnz.org.nz/racing/handicaps-phrf-irc-general

RNZYS fleet lining up for a start off Westhaven. Photo: Suellen Hurling / Live Sail Die
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