Sailing handicap

In GSC boats compete using the National Handicap For Cruisers (NHC) System for Club Series, introduced by the UK’s Royal Yachting Association. The aims to improve the fairness of handicaps by gradually altering them based on each boat’s performance

The core principle of this handicapping system is that handicap is for the boat and its normal crew (so it’s not just a boat handicap like IRC), and presumes that every boat is being sailed to the best of that crew’s abilities, with a view to winning the race. Progressive handicapping simply adjusts that handicap over time based on the boat’s (and crew) actual performance.

For a new boat joining the fleet, it will be given an initial Base Handicap, provided by NHC base list, specific to that boat type, and which uses the best available theoretical performance data for that boat type. The Handicap will apply initially but will be adjusted after every race as the boat’s (and crew) true performance emerges based on actual races sailed. This adjustment is smoothed so it takes some races and results for the handicap to adjust to the boat’s (and crew) normal performance. This is what the Progressive bit means. Over time and with handicap data accumulated, a boat’s handicap will stabilize within a small range, and that figure becomes the Club Handicap.

Handicaps are thereafter adjusted after every race and after every series, to take account of actual performance. The more races a boat sails the better (and more accurate) its handicap will become.

Where a boat does something which, in the opinion of the GSC Handicap Committee, might improve its performance, things for example like bringing a more expert helm & crew aboard for a race or series of races, buying new sails, altering its hull, mast or sails, changing its weight (or the number of crew), then the GSC Handicap Committee reserves the right to alter that boats Club Handicap upwards, including after the start of a given race or series (usually because it only becomes aware of this change after the fact), and so give a boat an Adjusted Handicap which will be used to calculate the result in that and at any subsequent race. Once a boat receives an Adjusted Handicap, then its handicap will be recalculated after every race until again, its handicap reflects it new performance level.

There is a high degree of science involved in any handicapping system, but that science is only as good as the data available for a given boat and crew, so the more data, the more races that a boat sails, the better the handicapping will become. It must also be recognised that there are many external things which impact on a boats performance, from getting a favourable wind shift, boats that are relatively faster in heavy air, to a bad tack, all of which impact your performance and are completely outside the scope of any handicapping system. Don’t expect perfection, just consistency in application.

For more information on the detailed calculation of the NHC System for Club and how the HAL Race Results implements this in its calculation visit the following websites



Old links for past handicaps