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

February 4, 2018

By John Rousmaniere

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, which is the most up-to-date, scientific rating system of its kind.  Other races using ORR include the Transpac, Chicago-Mackinac, Rolex Big Boat Series, Marblehead-Halifax Ocean Race, Marion Bermuda Race, Pacific Cup, Puerto Vallarta Race 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 or another VPP rule like ORC?

Systems like IRC and PHRF are simple and easy to use because they give each boat a single number. ORC has similar issues even though it uses a VPP to calculate ratings. These rules favor different “types” of boats and are “type forming rules”.  A single-number system rates some boats better in heavy winds, some better in light winds, some better when reaching and some better when they’re beating. To say this s different 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. ORC favors certain boat types due to its method of calculating stability along with other factors.

To summarize: to provide racing for the largest number of boats and handicap them fairly, use ORR or its companion rule for lower-key racing, ORR-Ez. 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 boat eligible for an Offshore Racing Rule (ORR) Certificate? 

Most boats are eligible for ORR Certificates. ORR does place some restrictions on features that lack adequate aerodynamic or hydrodynamic modeling, e.g., rotating masts, but there isn’t much ORR can’t rate including monohulls with “vertical lifting” foils and Multihulls using ORR-MH. ORR has two categories of certificates, Full Measurement and Partial Measurement. The Newport Bermuda Race requires Full Measurement, with very few exceptions listed in the Notice of Race. Full Measurement requires that all of the boat’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 boat is accurate, but also giving every boat a fair assessment of her characteristics.

How can I get an ORR certificate?

Go to the Offshore Racing Rule web page. In the drop-down menu, 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 costs for a fully measured ORR Certificate can be found on the US Sailing Offshore web page. In addition to the US Sailing charges, Full Measurement also requires engaging 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 boat 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 boat’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 boat’s rating information (design, sails, etc.) to predict the boat’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 boat on the scratch sheet).  The time that boats owe each other changes with wind speed.  And a boat that owes time in one wind speed may be owed time in a different wind.  PCS captures this by using the appropriate ratings for slow, average and fast races.  How does it do this?

ORR Full Measurement looks like this.
ORR Full Measurement is used to develop VPPs.

As each boat finishes, the boat’s elapsed time is divided by the course distance (635 NM) to calculate the boat’s elapsed seconds per mile.  The scoring program drops this figure onto the boat’s performance curve to find the average wind speed it appears the boat sailed in, often dubbed the “Implied Wind.”  This is then converted to a corrected time using a scratch boat.  As it turns out, the boat 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 with a disincentive to optimization built into it.  ORR aims to promote participation and fairness across a broad spectrum of boat designs.  ORR is not intended for boats that thrive on 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.  The TransPac is a prime example where the historic wind conditions are primarily downwind so the boats are usually rated with the largest spinnakers possible.  Smaller spinnakers are usually used in rating boats 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:

East Coast - Newport Bermuda Race, East Coast Racer Cruiser Association,  Screwpile Race,  Marion Bermuda Race, Annapolis to Newport Race,  Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race, Annapolis to Bermuda Race, Annapolis to Miler River, Governor’s Cup, Baltimore Harbor Cup and more…......Great Lakes - CYC Race to Mackinac, Bayview Mackinac Race, Clipper Cup. Hamilton, Verve Cup, Queens Cup, Trans Superior Race, Mills Trophy Race, Tripp Memorial Cup, Trans Michigan Cup, Bayview Boat Club Long Distance Race, Ugotta Regatta and more…......West Coast – Transpacific Boat Race, Pacific Cup, Ensenada Race, Rolex Big Boat, Puerto Vallarta Race, Cabo Race, Aldo Alessio Race, Corum Cup, Islands Race, Phyllis Kleinman Swiftsure Cup, MEXORC, Fast 50 Class, SoCal 300, California Offshore Race Week and more…..

Updated in January, 2020, this FAQ was written with assistance from the Offshore Racing Association. Learn more about the Offshore Racing Rule at their website.  



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