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Reincarnation for retired flip-flops

Apr 30, 2019
Using the sole of a flip- flop to insulate battery terminals.

Using the sole of a flip- flop to insulate battery terminals.

Retired flip-flops have proven to be incredibly useful on board our Tayana 37, Active Transport. Over the years, I have devised many uses for the retired footwear. And every flip-flop that’s put to good use on your boat is one that won’t find its way to the windward shore of a South Pacific atoll. Besides, the price is right.

During the course of our seven-year equatorial circumnavigation, we went through lots of sunscreen and many pairs of flip-flops. Finding uses for retired flip-flops seems like the sort of thing that would result from improvisation in some remote location, but my initial use of flip-flops on board actually started during the commissioning of Active Transport several years before we departed San Francisco in 2008.

Insulation of battery terminals
I bought five Lifeline 4D AGM batteries for the house bank on my Tayana 37 and was confident that I would be able to find a secure home for all of them.

One of those batteries ended up under the pilot berth on the boat, and it was a little too tall for the space available. I was able to saw off the top quarter-inch of one of the lugs to get the top of the battery below the plywood that covered the compartment under the bunk, but there was no way I was going to get an off-the-shelf battery insulator to fit in the space and also deal with the angles that the cables would come into the terminals.

Since the batteries were wired in parallel in one large bank, and they were secured in tight places in many different lockers, all of the batteries had two cables attached to each terminal lug and many of the commercially available terminal covers did not accommodate multiple cables to each terminal.

Flip-flops used to insulate battery terminals can be held in place with wire ties.

Fate arranged for one of my flip-flops to break the day I was faced with the battery insulator problem, and it occurred to me that securing part of that flip-flop over the terminal would make a fine insulator that was low profile and also able to accommodate any angles the cables needed.

The idea worked so well that I used the same flip-flop insulator idea for all of the battery terminals.

You can trim the flip-flop if you want, but I usually ended up just leaving them foot-shaped, since the farther the insulation extended out from the terminals, the more space there was for securing it to the cables with wire ties.

Orient the flip-flop to provide maximum coverage of the battery lugs and cable terminals that are attached to them. Then, choose a few places to poke pairs of holes (using a Phillips head screwdriver) through the flip-flop so a wire tie can be run around the cables to secure the flip-flop in place. Three or four wire ties will secure the flip-flop to the top of the terminals and bend the flip-flop a bit so that it extends down around the terminals and cables. You will get more bend in the flip-flop if you don’t poke the holes too close to the cable.

For the batteries secured in lockers in the cabin, just the flip-flops by themselves were enough to protect the terminals. I was not concerned about protecting those terminals from water.

There were two batteries in the lazerette that were under the cockpit-operated manual bilge pump. I was concerned that the pump might start to leak at some inconvenient time and did not want bilge water dripping onto the battery terminals. So, in those cases I used heavy-gauge plastic (polyethylene) bag material to provide a water barrier around the terminals and taped the plastic in place before installing the flip-flop.

The fold-out table on Active Transport caused too much noise while underway.

One additional thing I did that probably was not necessary was to verify that the flip-flops I was using were not conductive. It’s easy with a multimeter.

Flip-flop insulators have been protecting the battery terminals on my boat for 17 years. Flip-flop insulators are much thicker and less likely to be cut when you drop your biggest crescent wrench onto the terminals.

Securing the water tank
When we were in Vanuatu, a weld on our water tank failed. We removed the tank from the boat and took it to a shop that fabricated thermo-welded polyethylene tanks for the Australian Navy. We needed some sort of cushion to protect our new tank on its wooden blocks.

Flip-flops came to the rescue again. It was easy to cut pads from old flip-flops to glue to the wooden blocks.

Stopping annoying noises
Ocean passages are a noisy business in a 37-foot boat, and it strikes me as strange that little noises can be much more annoying when trying to sleep than the roar of the ocean, intermittent operation of the autopilot or even the person on watch laughing at a movie he or she is watching on the nav computer in the pilothouse.

The sound of two scotch bottles clinking together in a locker, or locker doors that are a little loose can drive me nuts. The more expensive the scotch, the bigger the annoyance.

The piece of flip-flop John Lewis installed to silence the fold-out table when in a seaway.

I had a good selection of rubber bumpers on board, but most were not thick enough for most applications.

The easiest sound-deadening solution was just putting an old flip-flop between each of the bottles in the liquor locker.

The most annoying noise was caused by a fold-up table that provided extra counter space next to the galley sink. The table folded down and was tightly secured with a latch, but the fold-out support under the table flopped around in a very unpredictable way when the boat was rolling in seas.

I cut a small rectangle out of an old flip-flop and secured it to the table brace with a self-tapping screw. The thickness of the flip-flop material let me bury the head of the screw so it did not scratch the underside of the table. That little fix has been in service for more than 10 years.

John Lewis and partner Shawn Maxey circumnavigated aboard their Tayana 37, Active Transport, sailing more than 50,000 miles.

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