Sailing handicap

Background to GSC Handicapping

In competitive sport and other competitive activities handicapping is always a difficult and controversial issue.  The challenge for each handicapping authority is to find a handicap system that, as far as possible, is fair and supports the ethos and aspirations of the sporting body.

By its nature sailing can be particularly difficult to handicap fairly and there is a great variety of handicap systems used in different circumstances and with different objectives.  A feature of racing in GSC is the wide diversity of boats in the club, with significant differences in relative performance capacities in different wind conditions.  A second area of diversity is that some boats have regular, experienced crew while others have less regular crew and variable capacity for competitive effort.  This diversity results in individual boat performances from race to race ranging from the consistent to the inconsistent, which in turn results in significant handicap anomalies when the more sophisticated, elapsed-time based handicapping models are uses.  In theory, these anomalies should be dealt with through manual overrides but, in practice, these overrides require difficult subjective judgements and often are not applied or, when they are, add opaqueness and controversy to the handicapping process.  Consequently, Garrykennedy Sailing Club has adopted a results based handicap system designed to side step the problem of significant variations in boat consistency and the need for ongoing subjective correcting of the handicap system outputs.

GSC Handicap System

Our objective is that racing prizes and trophies should be well spread across the fleet, largely pro-rata to participation, and with a bias in favour of boats showing improving performance. 

 The principal of the GSC handicap system is that, after each race, the handicaps of boats that receive 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes and win trophies are increased and, then, the handicaps of all boats in the race are reduced by equal amounts so that the total of the handicaps of the participating boats is the same before and after the race.  It is policy to keep the system as simple as possible and as free of manual overrides as possible so that it is predictable, easily understood and can be seen to be fair. 

The handicap adjustments currently in use are:



Handicap Increase











Trophy winner

0.010 additional


Example 1: If, between Class 1 and Class 2, 16 boats start in a trophy race, handicaps will increase by 0.130 (two firsts, two seconds, two thirds plus 0.010 for the trophy winner) and each participating boat will then have its handicap reduced by 0.0081 (0.130 divided by 16).

Example 2:  If 7 boats start in the race, handicaps will increase by 0.130 and reduce by 0.0186 per boat (0.130 divided by 7).

Therefore, the adjustment in handicap as between podium boats and non-podium boats will be as outlined on the table above.  In the 7 boat example the handicap of a first placed boat increases by 0.0114 (0.030 minus 0.0186) and the handicap of a non-podium boat reduces by 0.0186 (difference of 0.030).  But a boat’s actual handicap change will depend on the number of boats in the race.  In the 16 boat example the first placed boat has its handicap increased by 0.0219 (0.030 minus 0.081), as against 0.0114 for a first in the 7 boat race.  This has two effects:

a) The actual handicap increase for success in popular, prestigious races is greater than in races with fewer starters and

b) Participation in the less popular races is more beneficial to the handicap (or, if successful, less detrimental).

There are minor, special-case adjustments in the handicapping process relating to DNFs, but the high majority of races should see adjustments exactly as in the examples above.

Note 1:  The Sailing Sub-committee retains the right to make manual handicap adjustments. 

Note 2:  New boats join the fleet with a handicap set by the Sailing Sub-committee which will usually be RYA base + 7.5%*.  At the discretion of the Sailing Sub-committee the commencing handicap may be manually adjusted after 3 races based on actual performance.

Note 3:  A new boat is a boat that had not raced in the GSC/ISC Series in either of the previous two calendar years.

Note 4: The adjustments factors on the table above may be changed at the end of each series at the discretion of the Sailing Sub-committee.  In considering changes the Sailing Sub-committee welcomes members’ views on these weightings.

Note 5:  Entirely separate and independent White Sail handicaps are maintained on the same basis for all boats for use in White Sail races only.


*For RYA base google…/NHC/NHCBaseList.xlsx.