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40 years of IRC Rating - Made by sailors for sailors

by IRC Rating Office 20 Mar 05:39 PDT
Nielsen 59 Hound and Lombard 46 Pata Negra © Tim Wright / Photoaction.com

In 2024 the International Rating Certificate (IRC) celebrates 40 years of yacht rating around the world.

Back in the early 1980s, most boats were racing under the International Offshore Rule (IOR), but it was starting to be more concentrated on racing boats and leading to extreme type-forming and pinched sterns, causing "too much rock and roll" in the words of the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) Commodore at the time, the late Robin Aisher.

In 1983 he and the Commodore of l'Union National de la Course au Large (UNCL) Jean Louis Fabry, whilst enjoying an evening out in Paris, decided that a rule was needed that would rate any size and shape of boat. Follow-up conversations, usually held at the end of a RORC cross Channel race and including RORC Racing Manager Alan Green, clinched the deal. A brief summary of the idea was jotted down on the back of an envelope, and the RORC-UNCL joint venture: Channel Handicap System (CHS) was born to allow cruiser/racers to compete with a simple but mathematical rating rule while IOR continued to cater for the top end racing boats.

The first CHS certificates were issued in 1984 and the system evolved into IRC in 1999. It became a World Sailing (ISAF) international recognised rating system in 2003. Over the last 40 years IRC has continued to rate a huge variety of monohulls including IOR, production cruiser/racers, superyachts, sportboats, classics and cutting edge race boats, always with the fundamental policy of protecting the existing fleet. It has been at the forefront of permissive development taking an early stance on rating features such as retractable bowsprits, asymmetric spinnakers, canting keels and water ballast. For decades IRC has been used for the major trophies in world-renowned inshore and offshore events and continues to provide a simple, inexpensive foundation for competitive sailing around the world.

In the early days CHS certificate processing was a laborious process, unlike the user-friendly systems in place today. Two decades of development later it became possible to import application data into the database and certificates were available as PDFs. The current application system was developed by the current Director of Rating, Dr Jason Smithwick, and has allowed improvements such as the certificate boat data page including an image of the boat, and IRC data published online.

The stability and endurance of the IRC rating system and its development owe much to the unparalleled continuity within its team, both past and present. The RORC Rating Office in the UK prides itself on longevity of service and depth of experience, boasting a combined 70 years of service amongst its current four-person technical team, and similar long-term experience is seen across the Channel in France at the Yacht Club de France Centre de Calcul IRC, and on the IRC Technical Committee. The unwavering dedication and collective experience of this international team underscore the resilience and longevity of the IRC rating system, ensuring its continued fairness, relevance and effectiveness in the world of competitive sailing.

For more information visit ircrating.org

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