Site updated:

20th August 2019

The amazing FLIP ship.

The FLIP (Floating Instrument Platform) is the US Navy's oldest and most unusual research vessel. FLIP was created in 1962 by scientists who wanted a more stable space than a conventional research ship to study wave forms. FLIP was given a 2 million USD makeover in 1995 and currently resides in California, although it operates all over the world.

Commonly referred to as the FLIP ship, it is actually a 355 foot long, spoon-shaped buoy which can be flipped from horizontal to a vertical position by pumping 700tons of seawater into the 'handle', causing it to rise up out of the sea. Once the 28 minute transformation from horizontal to vertical has taken place, 300 feet of the buoy are submerged underwater, keeping the 700 ton mass steady and making it perfect for researching wave height, acoustic signals, water temperature and density, and for the collection of meteorological data.

FLIP can operate equally well in shallow water or depths of over 2,000 fathoms. Once the 300ft of buoy is submerged, the vessel is so stable it is almost unaffected by vertical wave motion. A 30ft wave only causes FLIP to move three feet vertically in the water column. For FLIP to flip back to a horizontal position, air compressed into eight tanks is used to push the seawater out of the ballast tanks. The submerged end of FLIP rises until the buoy is once again level with the water.

Most rooms on FLIP have two doors; one to use when horizontal, the other when FLIP is vertical. Bunk beds, toilets and stoves are built on swivels and gimbals, so they will turn along with the buoy, but things that would not rotate so well, like sinks, are built both horizontally and vertically in each room. Crew and researchers normally number 16 and typical stays in the cramped conditions last for 30–45 days. During the flip, everyone has to stand on deck whilst the deck below them gradually becomes a wall, before stepping onto a deck that was a wall just minutes before. The last 15 degrees of movement prior to arriving in the vertical happens quickly and is reasonably exciting, as the exterior decks where everyone is positioned appear to be heading into the sea.