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The CSA Handicapping System

One of the hot topics at the organizers’ meeting was the Caribbean Sailing Association’s handicapping system. Participants did not talk about the nitty-gritty of how a myriad of numbers get plugged into a formula and a rating pops out, but rather, why this rule works so well in the Caribbean.

Paul Miller, Director of Caribdata, led the session, as he is uniquely qualified with a vast amount of experience with CSA as well as a number of other handicapping systems. For the past seven years Miller has been working closely with CSA, helping with the move to a paperless system and analyzing race results for fairness. He also can be seen at many events helping regatta organizers to register participants and then score races in record time.

While a vast number of other handicapping systems have enjoyed short-term popularity before disappearing into obscurity, the CSA Rule has been in continuous use for more than forty years. Those in the know in the Caribbean have refused to give it up, for the simple reason that it works well for us, as explained by Miller.

Boats perform differently as conditions change, and boats that perform well in twenty knots of wind are unlikely to perform well in five knots, or vice-versa. The Caribbean is blessed with fairly consistent conditions and a one number rule works well here in our narrow wind range, which is why the forty year old CSA Rule is still in use, making it the oldest continuously used sailboat measurement handicapping system. Its longevity is due to its use within the small geographic area of the Eastern Caribbean and the administrators being able to react quickly to changes in boat design and equipment to insure as level a playing field as possible for both visiting and local boats.

Paul Miller has had the opportunity to closely analyze the results of a number of regattas using the CSA Rule and what he has consistently found is that it produces tight results for the top competitors. With few exceptions, no one is walking away with top honours, winners have to work for the gold as corrected times are normally within 2% of each other. When the "rule beater boats" do appear, problems are relatively quickly sorted. Our dedicated CSA measurers, led by Chief Measurer Jeffery Chen, meet yearly to discuss how the rule may need to be tweaked to insure fairness to all.

What separates the CSA Rule from others, past and present, is that the ratings of every boat are easily accessed on-line; http://csa.cdl.vg

Although the formulae from which the handicaps are produced are secret, the handicaps and measurements are available to the public. As well, the measurers are specifically charged with helping competitors to have the fairest rating possible and are a valuable resource for interpreting the numbers on the rating certificates.

It was obvious, sitting in the room as Paul spoke that we, in the Caribbean, take a great deal of pride in the CSA rule. It works well here because it was designed for Caribbean conditions and it is constantly being evaluated and tweaked to insure fairness. Although the rating rule which enjoys the short term popular status of "flavor of the month" may seem attractive to some, the CSA handicapping system rules in the Caribbean because it works in the Caribbean.

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