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Understanding Yacht Ratings: What’s the difference between ORCi and IRC?

Let’s debunk the myths and get our heads around the fundamental differences.

By Mike

Yacht racing, a sport of endurance and strategy, is not just about the fastest boat crossing the finish line. It’s about ensuring a level playing field where boats of different designs, sizes and budgets can compete fairly. This is where yacht ratings come into play. But how do these ratings work? And what are the differences between the prominent ORCi and IRC systems?

The Essence of Yacht Ratings

At its core, a yacht rating is a numerical representation of a boat’s potential speed. It takes into account various factors, from the yacht’s weight and sail area to its hull shape and design. By assigning a rating to each yacht, race organisers can adjust finishing times, ensuring that races are competitive regardless of the boat’s size or design. Think of it as a handicap system in golf; it levels the playing field.

ORCi: A Glimpse into its History and Rules

The Offshore Racing Congress International (ORCi) is a globally recognised rating system. Born from the merger of the IMS (International Measurement System) and the IOR (International Offshore Rule), ORCi has a rich history that traces back to the 1970s.

ORCi’s strength lies in its detailed measurement process. Every aspect of the yacht, from its hull and appendages to its rig and sails, is meticulously measured. These measurements are then fed into the ORCi’s Velocity Prediction Program (VPP), which predicts the yacht’s performance across a range of wind conditions and angles.

The publicly available rules of ORCi are continually evolving, reflecting advancements in yacht design and technology. This ensures that the system remains relevant and fair for all competitors.

IRC: Delving into its Legacy and Regulations

The International Rating Certificate (IRC) is another dominant force in the world of yacht racing. Originating in France in the 1980s as the Channel Handicap System, it was later adopted by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and the Union Nationale pour la Course au Large (UNCL) to become the IRC we know today.

Unlike ORCi, which is measurement-driven, IRC is more of a ‘black box’ system. Yachts are assigned a rating based on measurements as well as other undisclosed factors. The exact formula used by the IRC is a closely guarded secret, ensuring that yacht designers and owners focus on creating well-rounded boats rather than optimising for a known formula.

The IRC system is praised for its simplicity and the diversity of its fleet. It’s not uncommon to see vintage yachts racing alongside modern designs in IRC-rated events.

ORCi vs. IRC: A Quick Glance

Transparency

ORCi is detailed and transparent in its measurement process, using the VPP to predict performance. Conversely, IRC keeps its formula under wraps, leading to its ‘black box’ reputation.

Evolution

Both systems have evolved over the years, but ORCi’s rules are more dynamic, frequently adapting to technological advancements in yacht design.

Adoption

Both systems benefit from global recognition, with ORCi being most prevalent in European regattas and IRC still favoured in the UK and the global offshore circuit.

Is there a truly fair rating system?

In my opinion, yacht ratings are the unsung heroes of competitive sailing, ensuring fairness and excitement in races – although ask any sailor who has under-performed at a handicapped event and they’ll definitely tell you that their poor performance was the fault of the rating system!

While ORCi and IRC have distinct histories and methodologies, both play a pivotal role in shaping the world of yacht racing. Whether you’re a sailor, a designer, or a spectator, understanding these systems enriches the racing experience, making every race not just a test of speed, but of strategy, design, and most importantly crew skill.

Story Adventure

17th July 2025 to 29th July 2025

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