Handicap System

Handicap System

The Dart 18 handicap system prevents the top sailors from taking all the silverware, and gives mid-fleet sailors a chance of glory. Handicap prizes are awarded at UKIDA Grand Prix events and the National Championships.

The system works in a similar way to golf handicaps, where each person has their own personal number. This number, between 1 and 1000, shows their predicted result in a theoretical fleet of 1000 boats.

A new helm starts with a handicap of 999 and is not eligible for a handicap prize in their first event. This event is used to establish their handicap number, which is calculated according to the formula below.


At all subsequent events, each helm’s result is used in conjunction with his handicap to calculate whether his performance has improved or deteriorated. The helm with the greatest positive difference between his current handicap and his handicap for that event wins 1st prize on handicap. (Handicap prizes are not given to any competitor who finishes “in the trophies”.)


After each open meeting the handicap numbers are updated by the UKIDA computer. lan Fraser added a “Race Standard” factor, so that a good result in a quality fleet results in a greater handicap reduction than a good result in a poor fleet. Helms whose performance is worse than their handicap suggests, will see their handicap increase, but only by 20% of the difference. These two controls mean that handicap numbers do not fluctuate wildly, and ensure that helms whose sailing abilities are steadily improving are rewarded.


At the Nationals, each race is considered to be an event in its own right, so that handicap prizes can be awarded for each race.


How it works

HC – Current handicap number
HR – Handicap for the event
HN – New handicap number
RS – Race standard
FP – Finish position of the crew for that event
ST – Number of starters at the event
I – a crew’s improvement(+), or deterioration(-)

At the event

HR is read from a set of standard tables.
HC is read from the latest set of handicap listings.
The simple calculation of HC – HR gives I, the improvement in handicap. Anyone already winning a main prize, and anyone with a handicap of 999, is excluded from the calculations. Everyone else is placed in order of improvement. (Note; no race standard is needed to work out the handicap prizes, because everyone is sailing in the same fleet!)

To calculate new handicaps

After the event, the event results are fed into the UKIDA handicap computer, which calculates the new handicaps based on the formulae below:

RS = sum of all handicaps at the event / ST
HR = (FP/ST) x 1000
I = HC – HR

If I is positive, showing an improvment:
HN = HC – (I x ((1000 – RS) / 1000))

If I is negative showing a deterioration:
HN = HC – (I x RS / 1000) x 0.2

The History of the Fraser Handicap System

When Kim Stephens, Terry Pearce and myself (Ian Fraser) originally drafted the requirements which produced the Dart catamaran, we didn’t restrict ourselves purely to the concept of the boat and what the class rules should entail, I had been thinking for some time about the problems of the Tornado class once it had joined the Olympic club, and I concluded that one of the main drawbacks in any class, once it is totally racing-orientated, is the lack of encouragement for the majority of the fleet.

It occurred to me that whenever sailors talked about results in the bar after regattas, they always used the finish position of a crew in that regatta to compare this result with what eight be expected of him, given past experience, a crew who finishes 5th in a fleet of 20 and who would normally finish about 10th, is readily seen to be sailing above their normal performance (the word ‘crew’ is used throughout this article to mean any combination of helmsman and crew, though the Darts use only the helmsman’s performance at present). It still does not put them in the prize money, and to a lot of people their performance during that regatta is lost forever. However, if this result was documented for future reference, and some means devised whereby they could be given some sort of score for their performance, and if no-one else in that fleet of twenty had done as well as them, then it could be said that they had performed better than anyone else in respect of improving their performance for that regatta. It should be stressed that the system is solely a measure of performance against ‘par’ and doesn’t favour the expert any more than the beginner.

It was evident that what I was looking for was something very similar to a golf handicap system, which enables players of varying skills to play each other on the golf course and still give good competition in spite of the fact that one player may be a far better golfer than the other, the golf handicap system is extremely easy to use, and no matter how complex the method for calculating that handicap, the simple fact of being allocated a number, knowing that the quality of that number is sufficient to give anyone an indication of the skill of the player, Since race results, for obvious reasons, are always available at a regatta and these entail the order in which boats finish over a line, it seemed sensible to use this to keep a record of the crew’s performance over successive regattas and to allocate them a handicap number which would be adjusted up or down as they improved or sailed badly, Whereas a golf handicap is a number between 0 and 24, I felt that this range of figures would be too restrictive for what I wanted, so I chose the range of handicaps to be a number between 0 and 1000, I then proposed that the helmsman’s handicap would be determined by dividing his finish position by the number of starters in the race and multiplying this by 1000, Thus a helmsman finishing 10th in a fleet of 20 boats would establish his handicap as 500.

Once a handicap has been established aver a couple of meetings this can be used to determine whether a crew has improved or not. By examining all the helms’ performances right through the fleet it is possible to find the helm that has done the best in that regatta and award prizes according to performance. Once handicaps have been established for everyone in the fleet, adding all the handicaps together and dividing by the number of starters will give an average handicap, which can be a measure of the overall standard of the fleet during that regatta. It is then possible to modify a crew’s achievements in a particular regatta by awarding them more points for an improvement in a fleet of higher standard compared to their achievement, than in a fleet which may include on1y average helmsmen. The converse is also true, in that if they do badly in a fleet containing many top helmsmen, they should not be penalised quite so much as for a poor performance in a poor fleet. This ‘race standard’ as l have called it, was the first modification to be applied to the performance achieved in a race.

It became evident that, if handicaps were to be adjusted after each regatta, a crew would be able to increase their handicap on purpose before a major regatta simply to win a pot, and this may discourage the crew who are steady improvers and should be the ones who are rewarded in the results. I therefore proposed that any improvements in a race should be added in total to their existing handicap, and any downgrading in handicap should be multiplied by 0.2. In practice, this has been found to work extremely well and dampens out any wild fluctuations in a crew’s movements up and down the fleet, it has also been found to compensate for a bad regatta, and a crew’s handicap does not suffer unduly simply because of a gear failure.