Bermuda Race FAQs: The ORR — what it is, why we use it

The Newport Bermuda Race is dedicated to safe sailing and fair racing:

  • Make sure the competitors are as safe as they can be. That’s why the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee has a rigorous process of inspection and qualifications.
  • Make sure the race is as fair as it can be. That’s why the BROC since 1980 has used a handicapping system that’s based on the actual measurements of each boat, and that predicts the boat’s velocity on all points of sail, in all conditions. The Velocity Prediction Program (VPP) was developed at MIT by the Cruising Club of America and other friends of ocean racing.  VPPs succeeded the Cruising Club of America Rule used to rate the race from 1930 to 1970.

    ORR aims to promote participation and fairness across a broad spectrum of boat designs. (Talbot WIlson)

    ORR aims to promote participation and fairness across a broad spectrum of boat designs. (Talbot WIlson)

Today the VPP system we use is the Offshore Racing Rule.  Other races using the ORR include the Transpac, Chicago-Mackinac, New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta, Rolex Big Boat Series, Marblehead-HalifaxRace, Marion BermudaRace, and West Coast, Great Lakes, and East Coast Offshore Series.

These races have chosen the ORR because it does the best job in fairly handicapping different boats in a diverse fleet without favoring one type of boat in any condition.

  • ORR does not favor old designs, new designs, classics, or high-tech downwind flyers.
  • ORR does not reward expensive boat reconfigurations.
  • ORR does encourage a well-prepared boat with a capable crew.

ORR says to boat owners, “Get the boat in good shape, set good sails, muster up your best crew, and come racing.  If you sail fast, make the right decisions, and don’t make too many mistakes, you have a shot at winning silver.”

Why use ORR and not a single number system like PHRF or IRC?

Systems like IRC and PHRF are simple and easy to use because they give each boat a single number.  But that also means these rules favor different types of boats. A single-number system rates some boats better in heavy winds, some better in light winds, some better when reaching, and some boats better when they’re beating. To say this another way, the philosophy for single-number systems is “every dog has its day.”

IRC favors a type of boat (the IRC rule book states as much) and PHRF is based on observed performance, where local observations and some politics can come into play.

To summarize: to provide a fair race for the largest number of boats and handicap them fairly, use ORR. The chances of type-forming and observed performance politics are reduced drastically or eliminated. When the starting gun is fired two things are true:  the boats have been equalized by their ORR handicap rating, and the crews that make the best decisions with the best prepared boats will be the winners.

Is my yacht eligible for an Offshore Racing Rule (ORR) Certificate? 

Most yachts are eligible for ORR Certificates.  ORR does place some restrictions on features that lack adequate aerodynamic or hydrodynamic modeling, e.g., rotating masts.  ORR has three categories of certificates, Full Measurement (like Endorsed IRC), Partial Measurement (like unendorsed IRC, based on sister-ship data), and Measurer Verified.  The Newport Bermuda Race requires Full Measurement, with very few exceptions listed in the Notice of Race.  Full Measurement requires that all of the yacht’s rating information comes from an ORR certified measurer.

Full Measurement is an added protection for fair competition by ensuring that the rating data for each yacht is accurate, but also giving every yacht a fair assessment of her characteristics.

How can I get an ORR certificate?

Go to the Offshore Racing Rule web page.  On the right side of the page, you will find links to apply for, or revalidate, an ORR certificate.  The certificates and measurement data are currently processed by US Sailing.

How much does it cost? 

The ORR Certificate itself costs $6.50 per foot for a yacht up to 45 feet and $7.50 per foot for yachts over 45 feet.  Full Measurement also involves a US Sailing certified measurer and a boatyard where the boat can be measured and inclined.

How does the race committee score the race?

The race committee enters the start and finish times (EDT) of each yacht into a scoring program.  The program computes the elapsed time and then uses the Performance Curve Scoring Program to determine corrected times and finish rank.

What is Performance Curve Scoring? 

The Newport Bermuda Race is scored using ORR’s Performance Curve Scoring (“PCS”) on the Bermuda Course.  The core of PCS is a Velocity Prediction Program (“VPP”).  (The VPP is the program that developed your yacht’s polars, if you ordered them through US Sailing.)  ORR’s VPP-based scoring system provides a scoring model designed specifically for the Newport Bermuda Race by replicating the historic conditions of beat, reach, and run seen during a typical Bermuda Race.

When you apply for an ORR rating, the VPP uses the yacht’s rating information (design, sails, etc.) to predict the yacht’s seconds per mile ratings over a range of wind speeds, and to generate a corresponding curve of performance (or seconds per mile) versus wind.  (That’s why there are a series of ratings for each yacht on the scratch sheet).

ORR Full Measurement looks like this.

ORR Full Measurement is used to develop VPPs.

Performance Curve Scoring has a further refinement for the Newport Bermuda Race.  The course content used for the predicted rating at each wind speed can be different.  A slow race typically occurs because of low wind speed, a high percentage of VMG sailing (to windward or leeward), or both.  A fast race can result from high wind speeds and/or a lot of reaching.  So the course content for the low wind speed ratings is dominated by windward/leeward VMG sailing and the content at high wind speeds is mostly reaching.  The result, as seen in the 2012 Newport Bermuda Race, is that when the weather conditions provide for high winds and reaching angles, the yachts that do not excel in those conditions are given some chance against those that do.

The ratings reflect those different capabilities.  Although the precise conditions on the race course are not known before the race, the handicap system is sensitive to weather variations and provides a greater degree of fairness.

As each yacht finishes, the yacht’s elapsed time is divided by the course distance (635 NM) to calculate the yacht’s elapsed seconds per mile.  The scoring program drops this figure onto the yacht’s performance curve to find the average wind speed it appears the yacht sailed in, often dubbed the “Implied Wind.”  This is then converted to a corrected time using a scratch boat.  As it turns out, the yacht with the highest Implied Wind wins the race, because relative to their rating they sailed the course the fastest among their competitors.  In other words, they sailed so fast it looked like they had the highest wind.

Can I check how we’re doing during the race?

A “smart” scratch sheet will be made available in Microsoft Excel format on the race website near the time of the Captains’ Meeting.  The smart scratch sheet will allow you to determine how you are doing against your competition at any time by entering an elapsed time for each boat and a distance.  For example, if you wanted to know how you were doing against your competition during the race, you would enter the time each boat reached a given point along the rhumb or race course and the distance from the start to that point.  The Excel file will calculate the corrected times.

Does ORR favor certain types of yachts?

No.  ORR can handicap both dedicated racers and cruiser-racers using its Velocity Prediction Program.

How can  I optimize my yacht for ORR?

ORR is a limited access handicap system designed to disincentivize optimization.  ORR aims to promote participation and fairness across a broad spectrum of boat designs.  ORR is not intended as a Grand Prix Rule that could permit rating optimization by individual boats at the expense of the rest of the fleet.

Competitive owners will always optimize sail selection for the historic wind patterns of any given race (as Peter Rebovich has done with Sinn Fein in the Bermuda Race).  The TransPac is a prime example where the historic wind conditions are primarily downwind so the yachts are usually rated with the largest spinnakers possible.  Smaller spinnakers are usually used in rating yachts for races that have reaching or more upwind legs.

To be eligible for the Bermuda Race’s combined performance trophies, do I need to race in an ORR division of the Annapolis and Halifax races?

No.  Yachts/Captains will be scored by division placement whether those divisions in other races are scored under ORR or something else.

Where else can I race with my ORR certificate?

According to the Offshore Racing Association, ORR is also used in the following major sailing events:

Transpacific Yacht Race, Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, Pacific Cup, Ensenada Race, Annapolis to Newport Race, Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Yacht Race, Marion Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race, New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta, The Corinthians Yacht Race (Stonington to Boothbay), Ft. Lauderdale to Charleston Race, Rolex Big Boat Series, San Diego to Puerto Vallarta Race, Corona del Mar to Cabo Race, Newport Harbor Yacht Club Race to Cabo, Long Beach to Cabo Race, Aldo Alessio Race, Corum Cup, Verve Cup, Islands Race, Phyllis Kleinman Swiftsure Cup, MexORC, Ocean Race North, Hamilton Trophy, Charleston Race Week — and more.

The ORA offers an ORR Championship on the North American East Coast, West Coast, and Great Lakes by combining ORR race results each season.

This Bermuda Race FAQ (the first of several) is provided by the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee with the assistance of the Offshore Racing Association.  The Offshore Racing Rule is available on the ORR web page.  FAQs may be found on this website’s Entry tab.  




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