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Handicapping in a one-design fleet


New Member
In our club (Laser fleet) there are certain sailors that are always at the front of the fleet, and sailors that are always at the rear. We are looking for an on-the-water system to handicap the leaders so that the trailing boats are somewhat on par with the leaders.

This would give the perpetual trailing boats a chance to sail with the leaders for more than a few minutes at the start. And sailing at the front of the fleet is different from sailing at the rear, so it would give valuable practice to both groups.

One method that has been suggested is that the first boat around a mark must do a 360 before continuing. Or the last half of the fleet gets a 30 or 60 second head start over the first half of the fleet.

Anyone have any other ideas?


Upside down?
Staff member
Having the leaders do a 360 will create havoc around the windward mark, assuming the races are short.
I think that a delayed start would be a nice change for some of the racing. Give it at least 1 min, so that the slow guys in the first batch are off.


Just sailing
Been in a similar situation before. I asked for A/B fleets but got resistance. Here's what we did instead.

Work on the social aspects of the fleet, both off the water and on the water training sessions. That way everyone feels they belong even if they aren't out in front in every race.

After every weekend of racing, we went as a large group to a restaurant. Made a lot of friends for life. Most other sailing groups I have been in, people pack up and go home immediately after the races. Most people in this group didn't have kid, which is definitely a consideration.


Active Member
The other thing you could consider is using a personal handicap for each sailor. Start off using the same number for everyone then whoever wins then get 10% knocked off (2nd 5%. 3rd 3%). Whoever is last gets 10% added on, scond last 5%, 3rd last 3%.

Run this for a while as a separate series so you can still have you 'first past the post' series and see what results it chucks out, maybe even have a separate prize for it. The only downside is that you would need to time everyones race.

Combine that with some training and coaching and/or a buddy system where you pair people up and the 'faster' buddy helps the 'slower' buddy by giving them some hints and tips and follows them round a bit before the race. Then have a Buddy Trophy for the pairing that does the best over a series (many UK National Champs do this, it works really well socially).

This should also raise the base level for the entire fleet and help make your fleet look welcoming to potential new recruits.
At our club we use a program called "Sail 100", but there are others. It adjusts individual H/C's each race over a season/

I inherited it from whoever found it first and it is designed to allow for mixed racing or for different standards.

It is a lot of work but satisfying for me when I can get adjusted times of the first 7 boats to within 10 seconds/



I agree with Torrid's approach. The guys at the top of my fleet are always very helpful with tips & suggestions and we are all pretty social. Frankly, I prefer to sail as one fleet because I can see exactly how I am performing during each race - in real time.

This past season I've finally worked my way up to the middle 1/3 group (occasionally finishing in the top 1/3). Besides, you really end up racing against others with similar skills week after week, those are the same guys you regularly see going with you around the marks and at the finish. About a 1/2 dozen of us informally compete against each other with the winner getting a free beer - bragging rights.

Until I can bust out of my middle 1/3 group I personally don't care to be scored next to the guys constantly at the top, don't care about a handicap, don't care to have a staggered start. Because I want to see with my own eyes those times I perform better. I get immediate feedback and don't have to rely on some artificial results later - and that makes the experience soooo much sweeter...until the very next race when I come in dead last and have to take back all the smack I was just talking to my middle 1/3 friends).

Another thing to consider is how scoring works (at least in my club). We have about 45 active members in my fleet. I am in 9th place this season, which does NOT reflect my ability to sail better than 37 other people. It just means I show up every Wednesday night and get scored, so I simply ignore the standings. There are folks in my fleet that if they raced every week would destroy the rest of us, but they are scored much lower because they don't come out regularly. So I am only ranked better on paper.

If people in your fleet are becoming dissatisfied or discouraged then just about any of the handicapping suggestions above might help. As Torrid and Jeffers said, consider also having the fleet front runners conduct informal post racing critiques and offer to mentor those less experienced sailors. That might go a long way too...along with a beer or two.


Active Member
In AU it is more common than not to have a handicapping system in place. I found it strange when I first arrived. We often sail in mixed fleets, which is good and bad for the Lasers depending on whether its a sailing or swimming day. We have a handicapper with a good program who adjust the handicaps on a weekly basis. I've always been near the top so weekly awards don't happen often unless I decimate the fleet. I really don't pay attention to it. Until the end of a series, when they award the top finishers handicapped and non-handicapped. I compare myself to the other sailors who are in my skill level on a race to race basis.

Its a hard sport, because the distance and time between first and last can be large. You really want the guys in the back to sail with the guys in front but its hard to organize. I think it is important for everyone to start at the same time. The newbies need to see the faster guys on the line. I would be inclined to set a 2nd windward mark higher up the course for the fast guys and likewise a longer leeward mark. We do this in our big boat races and it keeps the fleets together. It also gives the fast guys the opportunity to come from behind a couple of times down the course, which is challenging.