I don’t spend much time thinking about boats or marine research these days, as I gave up on the marine biologist dream when I was 9 years old and found out the plesiosaur was extinct. But when I run across a boat as weird as the RP FLIP, as happened to me today, my brain goes into overdrive and it’s all I can think about. I’ve fallen into an information hole, so won’t you join me?
The Reserach Platform FLoating Instrument Platform was originally built in 1962, and has served as a mobile platform for observing and testing various oceanic properties ever since. Its initial purpose was to research undersea sound waves, which required it to be very wave stable.
The FLIP is a 355 foot long boat that can fill the front 300 feet with water ballast. Once full, the boat will upend 90 degrees with the aft 55 feet of boat acting as a vertical platform out of the water. When flipped, FLIP acts something like a spar buoy with most of its ballast well below the surface. The surrounding water at these depths is not influenced by surface waves, so the vessel remains as stable as it needs be. Sometimes it is anchored to the ocean floor, but in many instances FLIP can float freely.
Which explains why the floors are walls and the walls are floors. And why the bathroom needs two sinks.
This research vessel continues to operate today under the control of the Scripp’s Institute out of the Navy’s San Diego base. The FLIP can study a variety of things like wave activity, acoustic signals, meteorological data, and the temperature and density of the surrounding water. Because the instrument readings can be affected by various propulsion methods, the FLIP cannot travel under its own power. It must be towed out to open water by another boat.
Once filled with water, most of the boat flips straight down into the depths. You can see how this operates with the video below. When the research is done, and it’s time for the FLIP to be towed away again, a massive air compressor pushes the water back out again, and the platform returns to a horizontal position.
That captain has got to keep a really clean ship, otherwise could you imagine the amount of stuff that would go flying off the shelves when the boat flips? Based on this walking tour of the FLIP, it looks like the boat is never in transit for very long, as the beds, showers, and toilet are on the wall, while only the sink has two different operational locations. Once flipped upright, the station doesn’t look like it can accommodate more than a handful of crewmembers.
Boats can be fun, but this thing is cool on a whole other level. I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to be on board the FLIP while it’s flipping. I bet that’s a really weird experience. I bet it would feel a bit like you were Lionel Richie.