From Iceland — The Islanders: Júlíus Guðnason

The Islanders: Júlíus Guðnason

Published August 11, 2022

The Islanders: Júlíus Guðnason
Photo by
Emma Ledbetter

Hundreds of boats come into Reykjavík Harbour every year, but we often forget the harbour’s biggest helpers and keepers of order, the tugboats. Reykjavík Harbour boasts four tugs, and these busy-beavers help make sure everything runs smoothly.

However, the actual tugboat is only half of the package. The captain and the crew are the true rulers of the harbour. Captaining tugboats in the Reyjavík Harbour since 2005, Júlíus Guðnason, understands oceanic navigation better than anyone.

Ports (and starboard)

Born and raised in the coastal town of Akranes, Júlíus grew up with seamanship at the forefront. “The port was the main playground for the boys,” he recalls. “Wanting to be a sailor was always on my mind.”

At 19, Júlíus started working on fishing vessels and eventually transitioned to working the passenger ferry to Akranes. When the Hvalfjörður Tunnel was built, Júlíus was left without a job which led him to start captaining tugboats.

Switching from fishing vessels and ferries to tugboats required Júlíus to learn some new rules. “When you’re on a different boat, if you are too close there is danger of collision and you have to do something about it,” says Júlíus. “But in a tugboat, you are mainly hitting other vessels and pushing them.”

Bigger is better

Even though tugboats stay relatively close to shore, tugboat sailing is still a dangerous job. “If you’re on a smaller boat and make a mistake, it is easy to capsize the boat,”Júlíus explains.

Knowing that bigger boats are safer, Júlíus has been an advocate, encouraging the harbour to purchase more large tugboats. “I’m most proud of being the leader and spokesperson for encouraging the port to buy bigger and better tugboats, more equipment, and new technology,” says Júlíus. Thanks to Júlíus’ campaign, Reykjavík purchased the port’s newest—and biggest—tugboat, Magni.

Friends and family

One of the reasons Júlíus likes tugboat sailing is he is able to stay close to home. “It gives me a lot of opportunity to have a normal family life,” says Júlíus.

Júlíus met his wife while participating in the nightlife at sailing and navigation school. The couple have two sons, but he says neither of them are interested in following in his sailing footsteps. “I am very happy they chose another path,” laughs Júlíus. “Working on the ocean is very dangerous and I would always worry.”

The bond between captains and their crew runs strong and Júlíus says that his friendships with his colleagues are likely deeper than people in other professions have with their colleagues. “Even the retired people maintain those connections,” says Júlíus. “You can often see them around the harbour!”

“We see everything!”

Unsurprisingly, working on the harbour at all hours of the day, Júlíus has some tales to tell. “We see everything!” exclaims Júlíus. “Some of the things we see are not possible to print!”

After hearing some of the stories, we have to agree with Júlíus. Some things that happen at sea were meant to stay at sea…

The Islanders is our series where we interview interesting people in Iceland about their unique lives. Know someone we should speak to? Email

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