Voyage to the Viking shores – A boater’s rendezvous with  Reykjavik, Iceland

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes  –  ABR* – Iceland, a land where fire and ice coexist, offers a myriad of experiences for those who seek adventures on land and waves. Its untouched landscapes and frigid azure waters hide secrets waiting to be uncovered by the intrepid boater. The allure of Iceland extends far beyond its geological wonders and the stark beauty of its icy realms. It’s where the ocean becomes a living entity, narrating the lore of the land, whispering the ancient rhymes of the sea. Boaters venturing into these icy domains are greeted with ethereal landscapes, where glaciers meet the sea and volcanic islands dot the horizon. Each ripple in the water seems to carry the echoes of the sagas, the poetic heritage of Iceland, inviting seafarers to traverse the boundless blue and discover the enchanting symphony of the Nordic tides. 

Iceland is comparable in size to England but is home to a mere 370,000 friendly inhabitants, many of whom are descendants of Vikings. Remarkably, the island is inhabited by more than 800,000 sheep. The geography of Iceland is characterized by its stunning and varied landscapes, featuring volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and expansive fields of lava. In fact, glaciers envelop 11% of its surface, while lava fields cover another 30%, with 130 volcanoes scattered around the country, 30 of which are currently active.

The country’s vast lakes, picturesque fjords, and extensive coastline make it a favorable destination for pleasure boating. While pleasure boating can be a serene and memorable experience in Iceland, it is crucial to thoroughly understand and prepare for this activity.

Be warned

Iceland poses formidable risks. Weather will kill you. The severe fluctuations in weather and the distinct characteristics of its natural environment are often beyond anything most visitors have ever encountered. Unfortunately, these elements have led to the loss of several tourists on the land as well as on the water. I was told that many of these regrettable incidents could have been avoided had there been a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings and a deeper understanding of the potential perils inherent in Iceland’s landscape and its weather. Hence, ensuring thorough preparation is crucial while traversing through Iceland, particularly for those embarking on self-guided tours.

The island, the weather, and the sea can kill you

Iceland has numerous beaches that have emerged as prime attractions for wanderers around the globe, with the Reynisfjara black sand beach marking its unique presence along the southern coast of the nation. This fascinating spot, visited by millions, unveils a dramatic spectacle of ebony sands, symmetrical basalt structures, and the mighty waves of the North Atlantic Ocean, promising a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The warning sign showing the status of sneaker waves of Reynisfjara black sand beach

However, the mesmerizing waves hold a hidden peril and are often one of the underestimated dangers lurking in Iceland. Their unpredictability, coupled with potent undercurrents in the icy waters, pose a significant risk, catching unsuspecting visitors unawares and can kill you.

Sneaker waves of Reynisfjara black sand beach

“Sneaker waves” are the prevalent risk, characterized by occasional larger waves that reach much farther up the shore than the regular ones. Additionally, the area is strewn with large, sharp rocks at the points where the waves meet the land, necessitating an extra measure of vigilance for explorers in the locale.

Pleasure boating in Iceland offers an opportunity to witness the unspoiled beauty of this Nordic island. However, you need to practice safe and responsible boating. Visitors can immerse themselves in Iceland’s pristine waters and diverse landscapes, but you are expected to do it without compromising the environment or the safety of local wildlife. Proper preparation, respect for local regulations and wildlife, and an understanding of the climatic conditions can ensure a rewarding and enriching pleasure boating experience.

Pleasure boating arrangements in Iceland

Opting to solidify your pleasure boating arrangements prior to your arrival in Iceland is always a prudent choice. Once you are in Iceland, if you are not planning to take tourist boat tours, navigating the arrangements for chartering sailboats can pose certain complexities in establishing contacts within the pleasure boating industry and its associated services. This is also the case for those bringing their own vessels. Locating and communicating with sailing clubs may also be challenging.  These clubs offer various activities for boating enthusiasts, such as sailing lessons, regattas, and social events. However, it’s always best to do further research to confirm the existence of any specific club and to determine if they meet your needs.

Sailing Millennial Falcon – Navigation skills PUT TO THE TEST! [in Iceland]

The pleasure boating industry is an integral part of Iceland’s tourism sector, but it is still a small niche market. As such,  expecting help and information from the tourism authorities may or may not return satisfactory results for you. Also, once you are underway, you should not expect too much information on the depths near the shores on your GPS charts. On the other hand, the country primarily caters to a large influx of mega cruise ships. They are like small traveling towns. This year, Iceland was expecting a schedule of 350 such ships, each with a plethora of excursions offered to passengers. Consequently, water sports and related activities on the land and water are meticulously organized. You will notice that it will be very easy to locate those and take advantage of them.

Numerous reputable companies offer an assortment of experiences ranging from boating and river rafting adventures to kayaking. For those inclined to explore the rich marine life and natural phenomena, there are options like whale watching and Northern Lights boat tours. Additionally, well-coordinated land tours are available, providing access to both the interior and the coastal regions of the country.

Iceland is endowed with a variety of lakes and coastal regions conducive to boating activities. Travelers typically land at Keflavík International Airport, the main gateway for international arrivals. From this point, the capital city of Reykjavik and various other coastal locales are easily accessible. By planning in advance, you can ensure a seamless experience and delve into the boating experiences Iceland has to offer, exploring the pristine Icelandic waters and the country’s multifaceted landscapes.

The island is a good place for pleasure boating, with its stunning mostly foggy coastline and abundant marine life. Whether you’re looking to go sailing, fishing, or simply enjoy the scenery, there are plenty of opportunities to do so in Iceland. One popular spot for pleasure boating is Reykjavik, where you can explore the city’s harbor and nearby islands. The nearby Faxafloi Bay is also a popular destination for whale watching, with several tour operators offering boat trips to spot these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

Floating docks to accommodate commonly experienced 14-foot high tides in Reykjavik Harbor

Boating excursions

Iceland is home to multiple lakes such as Thingvallavatn, which is the largest natural lake in Iceland, and Myvatn, known for its geothermal activities. Several companies offer boating services, providing rental boats and even guided tours for those unfamiliar with the region’s waters. The picturesque Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is also a famous spot, offering a unique boating experience amidst floating icebergs.

Preparation and planning

Proper planning is essential to make the boating experience seamless. The weather in Iceland can be quite unpredictable, hence checking weather forecasts and planning accordingly is crucial. Visitors should also acquaint themselves with local marine regulations and safety guidelines to ensure a hassle-free experience.

Sailboats in Reykjavik Harbor in front of Harpa

Pleasure boating in Iceland is a vastly different experience compared to tropical locations. The cold climate necessitates warm, waterproof clothing and protective gear. Layering is recommended, with waterproof outer layers and insulated inner layers to maintain body heat. Also, equipping yourself with sunblock and sunglasses can help protect against the reflective glare from the water and ice.

While Iceland is flexible regarding pleasure boating, abiding by regulations is of utmost importance. Tourists might not need a special license for small, motorless boats, but operators driving larger or motorized boats will usually require appropriate certifications. For those less experienced, hiring a licensed guide or operator is advised.

Safety can never be compromised when boating in unfamiliar waters. Even in the seemingly calm waters of a serene Icelandic lake, undercurrents or sudden weather changes can pose risks. Wearing life jackets, having emergency equipment on board, and ensuring that the boat is in good condition are all paramount.

Experiencing Icelandic marine life

While navigating the waters, pleasure boaters will likely encounter Iceland’s diverse marine life. Observing seals, dolphins, and various seabird species is a common occurrence. Maintaining a respectful distance and refraining from disturbing the local wildlife ensures a sustainable interaction with Iceland’s rich biodiversity.

As responsible travelers, maintaining the purity and integrity of Iceland’s natural environment is a duty. This involves practicing sustainable boating, such as avoiding littering and minimizing water pollution. In addition, tourists are encouraged to contribute to local conservation efforts and respect protected areas.  

Noteworthy essentials

If you’re planning to go pleasure boating in Iceland, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s important to dress warmly, even in the summer months, as the weather can be unpredictable and temperatures can drop quickly. It’s also a good idea to plan ahead and book any boat tours or rentals in advance, as availability can be limited during peak tourist season. Additionally, it’s important to be respectful of the marine environment and follow any guidelines or regulations set by local authorities to help preserve Iceland’s natural beauty for future generations to enjoy. Overall, pleasure boating in Iceland can be a unique and unforgettable experience for those who love the sea and adventure.

Well, that’s it for now. Stay well. I hope to say hello to you if you spot my boat, Life’s AOK. I bid you Fair Winds and Following Seas.

Cover photo: Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center and boats in Reykjavik Harbour, Iceland

20 things I learned

Icelandic culture and tradition:
  • In Iceland, folklore and traditions run deep. Elves, huldufolk or “hidden people,” have been woven into the fabric of Icelandic history since the first Vikings set foot on the island. Most Icelanders might not openly admit to believing in elves, but a significant number refrain from denying their existence outright.
  • Four Icelandic holidays have special connections to elves: New Year’s Eve, Thirteenth Night (January 6th), Summer Night, and Christmas Night.
  • According to Icelandic mythology, Gryla is a giantess who can detect children who’ve been naughty throughout the year. It’s said she descends from the mountains each Christmas to find and consume them.
A charming tourist guide demonstrating Icelandic (islenska) language with a fast pace while breathing in and breathing out.
Language and Naming:
  • The Icelandic language has a rich vocabulary, with more than 100 words to describe the various types of wind.
  • English and Danish are also commonly spoken, with all Icelanders learning them in addition to Icelandic.
  • Naming children in Iceland comes with its own set of rules; parents must choose from an authorized list of about 2,500 names per gender.
  • Surnames typically are patronymic, derived from the first name of one’s father or mother.
Lifestyle and society:
  • The cost of living in Iceland is notably high, with a dinner in a modest restaurant averaging $40 per person.
  • Iceland has no native ant species due to the severe climatic conditions making their survival impossible.
  • Vegetation is sparse, covering only 23% of Iceland’s territory, while 14% is enveloped in ice.
  • Pets like cats and dogs are only allowed with a permit.
  • Traditional Icelandic cuisine offers unique flavors. Hákarl, fermented shark, and Kútmagar, a pudding made from the cod stomach filled with its liver, are among the notable dishes.
  • The locals also have a penchant for Pilsur, Icelandic hot dogs. One vendor in Reykjavik gained fame after receiving praise from Bill Clinton for serving the world’s best hot dogs, which are typically boiled in beer.
  • Another culinary tradition involves consuming puffins, including their fresh hearts eaten raw.
Natural resources and environment:
  • The water in Iceland is renowned for its purity and requires no treatment, offering one of the cleanest natural resources globally.
  • Hraunfossar stands out as a unique natural feature, a waterfall where water cascades from the interior of a solid lava field.
Legislation and achievements:
  • Boxing, deemed to incite violence, was prohibited in Iceland until 2002.
  • Beer was legalized relatively recently, on March 1st, 1989.
National security:
  • Iceland is unique among NATO countries in having no standing army.
Popular names:
  • Common names in the country include Jón, Sigurdur, and Gudmundur for men and Gudrún, Anna, and Kristín for women.

8 things I recommend

  • As a pleasure boater, if you want to spend as little time as possible on land but still want to see Iceland, locating yourself in the capital city of Reykjavik would be the best choice. They have great city bus service, as well as taxis. 
  • Locate yourself near Harpa and Faxagarour Cruise Terminal on the waterfront. Harpa is a concert hall and conference center in Reykjavík.      
  • Visit the Fly Over Iceland show, Whales of Iceland exhibit with lifesize whale models, and the Saga Museum to meet the Vikings, all on the same day. It will take a few hours. However, they are within walking distance to each other. 
  • Visit Perlan, it may take easily two-thirds of a day. Plan to eat there.
  • Take the Walk with a Viking – Reykjavik Walking Tour. It is in the city center and caters to small groups.
  • Take the Golden Circle and Kerid Volcanic Crater, Small Group full day tour
  • Take the South Coast Adventure, Small Group full day tour
  • Don’t leave Reykjavik without eating at ROK Restaurant. Make a reservation in advance. Address: Frakkastigur 26a 101, Reykjavik. Tel: 354-544-4443.  If you have time, walk down the hill and explore a few streets of the city.
Don’t leave Reykjavik without eating at ROK Restaurant.

How easy?

Making on-land excursion arrangements

Planning for pleasure boating

*ABR stands for our new series, “A Boater’s Rendezvous.” This series focuses on our voyages to far-flung locations that we wouldn’t dare go to with our boat. Being fair-weather boaters who must see land at all times, we don’t dare to go anywhere and everywhere with our boat, Life’s AOK. So we fly in, rent a boat (with or without a skipper), and enjoy the local waters and camaraderie.

Join us on our journey of discovery of other lands where we fly in and explore the joys of boating. We’re taking you with us, through our blog, “Trips of Discovery.” In this series, we’ll take you to some of the most historic and charming cities of the world and their waters suitable for pleasure boaters like ourselves. Who knows, you might even be inspired to plan your own adventure!

My wife and I hope you’ll be able to join us on the journey, either by boat or by a combination of flying and car. Don’t hesitate to reach out and share your own insights or experiences about the locations we visit. We’d love to hear from you and keep the conversation going! And if not, don’t worry, you can still follow along as armchair travelers! So sit back, relax, and let’s embark on our Trips of Discovery of other waters.

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