Icelandic Coast Guard
Landhelgisgæsla Íslands
Icelandic Coast Guard insignia
Icelandic Coast Guard insignia
Racing stripe
Ensign and roundel
Common nameGæslan (The Guard)
MottoVið erum til taks
Always Prepared
Agency overview
Formed1 July 1926
Employees200 officers
Jurisdictional structure
Operations jurisdictionIceland
Constituting instrument
  • Icelandic Coast Guard Act[1]
Specialist jurisdiction
  • Coastal patrol, marine border protection, marine search and rescue.
Operational structure
Agency executives
  • RADM Georg Kr. Lárusson, General Director
  • CDRE Ásgrímur L. Ásgrímsson, Chief of Operations
  • CAPT Auðunn F Kristinsson, Chief of Maritime Division
  • CDR sg Bjarni Á. Sigurðsson, Chief of Aeronautical Division
  • CAPT Jón B Guðnason, Chief of Defence Division
Boats2 x Patrol vessels
2 x Patrol/survey boat
Patrol aircraft1 Bombardier DHC-8-Q314
Transport aircraft3 Airbus H225s
Significant operation

The Icelandic Coast Guard (Icelandic: Landhelgisgæsla Íslands, Landhelgisgæslan or simply Gæslan) is the Icelandic defence service responsible for search and rescue, maritime safety and security surveillance, national defense,[2] and law enforcement.[3] The Coast Guard maintains the Iceland Air Defence System which conducts ground-based surveillance of Iceland's air space and operate Keflavik airbase.[4][5] It is also responsible for hydrographic surveying and nautical charting.[6]


Its origins can be traced to 1859, when the corvette Ørnen started patrolling Icelandic waters. In 1906, Iceland's first purposely built guard-ship, Islands Falk, began operation. Iceland's own defense of its territorial waters began around 1920 and the Icelandic Coast Guard was formally founded on 1 July 1926.[7] The first cannon was put on the trawler Þór in 1924 and on 23 June 1926 the first ship built for the Coast Guard, named Óðinn, arrived in Iceland. Three years later, on 14 July 1929 the coastal defence ship Ægir was added to the Coast Guard fleet.[8]

Cod Wars

The Icelandic Coast Guard played its largest role during the fishing rights dispute known as the Cod Wars, between 1972 and 1976, when the Coast Guard ships would cut the trawl wires of British and West German trawlers, resulting in confrontations with Royal Navy warships and tugs from the British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). The Icelandic Coast Guard goal was to enforce a disputed expansion of Iceland's exclusive economic zone. Engagements between Icelandic gunboats and British warships involving ramming became the tactic of choice during this conflict.[9] At least 15 British frigates, five Icelandic patrol boats and one British supply ship were damaged by ramming between 1975 and 1976.[10] In the end, Iceland achieved its overall ambition of expanding its exclusive fishery zone to 200 nautical miles (370 km) by June 1976.[11]


From left to right: Captain of Þór Cdr. s.g. Sigurður Steinar Ketilsson, Director of the Icelandic Coast Guard R.Adm. Georg Kr. Lárusson, former President of Iceland Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, and former Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson (2011)

The Icelandic Coast Guard's (ICG) primary mission as stipulated in Section 1 of Act on Icelandic Coast Guard is conduct search and rescue, maritime safety and security surveillance, and law enforcement inside the 200-nautical-mile (370 km; 230 mi)-wide economic zone.[1] The Coast Guard operates Joint Rescue and Coordination Centre (JRCC) Iceland which is responsible for search and rescue of vessels and aircraft in Iceland's search and rescue region (SRR) according to International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual.[12] Additionally the ICG is in the charge of defusing naval mines, most of which were laid during the Second World War,[13] and monitoring fisheries in international waters outside of the Icelandic economic zone in order to blacklist any vessel partaking in unregulated fishing and thus bar them from receiving services from any member of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission[14] in order to make unregulated fishing unprofitable. The Icelandic Coast Guard also occasionally operates within Greenlandic and Faeroese waters, following a bilateral agreement with Denmark regarding mutual aid in security, rescue and defence matters.

The Coast Guard accomplishes these tasks with the use of offshore patrol vessels (OPV), helicopters, surveillance aircraft, satellites and a network of land based surface scanning radar.

The Icelandic Coast Guard is also in charge of the Iceland Air Defence System, which operates four ground-based AN-FPS(V)5 air surveillance radars and a control and command centre.

In the 1990s the Coast Guard started hosting exercises such as "Northern Challenge" which had military units from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom, among others, participating along with the Icelandic Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has also taken part in peacekeeping operations on behalf of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit, although while usually using their own rank insignia, uniforms and weapons.

The fleet also takes part in Frontex operations, and in that role ICGV Týr played a major part in the rescue of over 300 Syrian refugees in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in January 2015.[15]


As of 2022, the Icelandic Coast Guard fleet consists of two OPVs, one coastal hydrographic and patrol vessel and an independent fast rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB), as well as numerous smaller boats assigned to the larger units. In 2011 the Coast Guard received ICGV Þór , built by the Asmar shipyard in Talcahuano, Chile.[16][17]

ICGV Týr, an Ægir-class offshore patrol vessel, the second youngest, built by Århus Flydedok a/s and launched in 1975. ICGV Ægir, lead ship of the Ægir class, is ICGV Týr's sister ship, built by Ålborg Værft a/s and launched in 1968. Each ship is equipped with two or more RHIBs of various sizes and armed with a 40 mm Bofors cannon. Various kinds of small arms as well as other man-portable weapons are also carried on board each of the ships. Týr and Þór are also equipped with sonar systems and the Ægir-class vessels have flight decks and a hangar for a small helicopter. While the Coast Guard doesn't operate small enough helicopters to use the hangars, the flight decks are often used by the helicopters of the Aeronautical Division on various missions.[citation needed]

The coastguard has as well a 73-ton patrol and hydrographic survey vessel, named Baldur, built by Vélsmiðja Seyðisfjarðar shipyard in 1991. This vessel has no mounted weaponry but it has nonetheless been used for port security and fishery inspection.[citation needed]

The newest ship of the fleet, ICGV Freyja, was bought in September 2021[18][19] to replace the 46-year old ICGV Týr.[20] It arrived for retrofit at Damen Shiprepair Rotterdam in Schiedam on 11 October and was formally delivered to the Coast Guard on 1 November 2021. She departed for Siglufjordur on 2 November.[21]

Aeronautical division

After World War II, the Coast Guard occasionally leased civilian aircraft for short term monitoring of shipping and fishing in the territorial waters, first in 1948 when a Grumman Goose was leased from Loftleiðir.[22][23] On 10 December 1955, the Coast Guard acquired its first aircraft when a Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina flying boat was acquired from the Civil Aviation Administration. It was originally from the Iceland Defense Force but was damaged near Langanes in 1954. It was named Rán and registered as TF-RAN.[24][25][23]

In 1972, the ICG, along with the National Life-saving Association of Iceland, bought its first specialized search and rescue helicopter, a Sikorsky S-62 that was named Gná, from the United States Coast Guard.[26][27] Three years later, Gná crashed in Skálafell, with no injuries, after a shaft in the tail propeller broke.[28][29]

It took five years for another SAR helicopter to arrive but in 1980, the Coast Guard bought a new Sikorsky S-76 which was given the name Rán. The helicopter performed admirably, including in March 1983, when Rán, along with a French Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma, one of two temporarily deployed in the country,[30] rescued 11 people from Hafrún ÍS-400 after it ran aground at Stigahlíð in the Westfjords.[31] However, in November 1983, Rán crashed in Jökulfirðir in the Westfjords of Iceland during a training mission, killing its four man crew,[32] in what remains the deadliest accident in the ICG history. The loss of Rán and some of the Coast Guard's most experienced flight members nearly caused the shutdown of its helicopter program.[33] After some deliberation, the decision was made in 1984 to continue the program and buy a new Aérospatiale SA 365N Dauphin II and rent another until the new one would arrive.[34]

In 1985, the new Sif arrived and with it, several changes where made to the helicopter program, including to training, expanding crew rosters, addition of helicopter doctors and shift plans to expand its availability.[33] Sif went on to become one of the ICG most successful aircraft to date. During its 22-year career it took part in several high profile rescue operations around Iceland[35] and is credited to have been involved in the rescue of around 250 lives.[36]

In 1995, the ICG received a second specialised SAR helicopter when it bought an Aérospatiale AS-332L1 Super Puma which was given the name Líf. The new helicopter continued on the success of Sif and gained national fame when it rescued 39 sailors in three separate incidents during a six-day period in March 1997.[37]

As a response to the withdrawal of the Iceland Defense Force in 2006, the Coast Guard expanded its helicopters to four in 2007. That number was later reduced to three and as of 2022, it operates three Airbus Helicopters H225 helicopters named Gná, Gróa and Eir.[38]

The Coast Guard also operates a single Bombardier DHC-8-Q314, registered as TF-SIF, modified for maritime surveillance and reconnaissance. This plane has been extensively modified by FIELD to carry a modern Mission Management System and suite of surveillance sensors, air operable door and communications/navigation equipment.[39] It is occasionally also used for surveillance of volcanic eruptions, such as the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull.


All major vehicles of the Icelandic Coast Guard are named after beings from Norse mythology.


The Chilean built ICGV Þór patrol boat
Vessel Origin Type Notes
ICGV Freyja[40] South Korea patrol vessel named after the goddess Freyja
ICGV Þór Chile patrol vessel named after the god Thor
ICGV Baldur Iceland patrol vessel named after the god Baldr, also performs hydrographic survey duties
ICGV Óðinn[41] Iceland special operation named after the god Óðinn

Decommissioned vessels

Name Type From To Notes
ICGV Þór (I) Armed trawler 1926 1929 The first ship own by the Icelandic Coast Guard. Originally a trawler and later a Danish research vessel named Thor, it was bought by Björgunarfélag Vestmannaeyja in 1920 to be used as a rescue ship. In 1926, the Icelandic government bought the ship for the Coast Guard. It stranded in Húnaflói in 1929.[42]
ICGV Óðinn (I) Patrol vessel 1926 1936 Arrived in 1926[43] and served until it was sold to Sweden in 1936.[44]
ICGV Ægir (I) Patrol vessel 1929 1968 Arrived new in July 1929.[45] Used for coastal patrol, rescue and research.[46] Sold for scrap in 1968.[47]
ICGV Þór (II) Patrol vessel 1930 1939 Built in Stettin, Germany, in 1922 as Senator Schäfer. Arrived in Iceland in 1930 and served with the Coast Guard until 1939. Used as a transport ship until sold to England in 1946. Stranded in Scotland in 1950.[48]
ICGV Gautur Patrol vessel 1938 1964 Built in 1938 in Akureyri.[49] Originally named Óðinn (II) but renamed when a new Óðinn (III) arrived, Gautur is one of Óðinn's pseudonyms. Put up for sale in 1963[50] and sold a year later.[51]
ICGV Baldur (I) Fast patrol boat 1945 1946 A fast patrol boat originally built for the Turkish Navy in 1943 but expropriated by the United Kingdom. Bought early in 1946 but used for less than a year and returned because of bad characteristics in rough seas.[52][53]
ICGV Njörður Fast patrol boat 1945 1946 Named after Njörðr the god of wind, fertile land along the seacoast, as well as seamanship, sailing and fishing. A fast patrol boat originally built for the Turkish Navy in 1943 but expropriated by the United Kingdom. Bought early in 1946 but used for less than a year and returned because of bad characteristics in rough seas.[52][53]
ICGV Bragi Fast patrol boat 1945 1946 Named after Bragi the god of poetry. A fast patrol boat originally built for the Turkish Navy in 1943 but expropriated by the United Kingdom. Bought early in 1946 but used for less than a year and returned because of bad characteristics in rough seas.[52][53]
ICGV Sæbjörg Patrol and rescue ship Built in 1947 to 1948. Owned by the National Life-saving Association of Iceland but operated by the ICG.[48] Decommissioned in the mid 1960s.
ICGV María Júlía Patrol, research and rescue vessel 1950 1969 Named after one of those who financed her construction. Joint ownership by the ICG and the National Life-saving Association of Iceland. Operated by the ICG. Decommissioned in the late 1960s[54] and sold in 1969.[55]
ICGV Þór (III) Offshore patrol vessel 1951 1982 Built in 1951 for the Coast Guard. The third coast guard ship to bear the name, she was the flagship of the fleet and served in all three Cod Wars conflicts between Iceland and the United Kingdom. Sold in 1982.[42][56]
ICGV Albert Patrol and rescue vessel 1956 1978 Built in 1956 and jointly owned by the ICG and the National Life-saving Association of Iceland, now ICE-SAR. Operated by the ICG. Decommissioned and sold in 1978.[57]
ICGV Óðinn (III) Offshore patrol vessel 1960 2006 An offshore Patrol Vessel named after Óðinn the all-seeing father of the gods. Decommissioned in 2006 and turned into a museum ship.[58]
ICGV Ægir (II) Ægir class 1968 2020 Danish-built Ægir-class offshore patrol vessel named after Ægir, the king of the sea. It was the flagship of the ICG during the last two Cod Wars. It was decommissioned in 2020 and put up for sale.[59]
ICGV Árvakur Lighthouse tender and patrol ship 1969 A lighthouse tender and patrol ship built in Holland in 1962 for the Department of Lighthouses and arrived in 1963. Transferred to the Coast Guard in 1969. Was put for sale in 1988.[60]
ICGV Týr Armed whaler 1972 1973 Armed whaler (Hvalur 9) borrowed during the second Cod War[61] It was nicknamed Hval-Týr by the Icelanders and Moby Dick by the British.[62]
ICGV Týr (II) Ægir class 1974 2021 Danish-built Ægir-class offshore patrol vessel named after Týr, the god of combat and heroism. It was decommissioned in 2021 and put up for sale.[63][64][65]
ICGV Baldur (II) Armed trawler 1975 1977 Named after the god Baldr, son of Óðinn. An armed trawler which served in the third Cod Wars conflict between Iceland and the United Kingdom. Due to its sharp stern, Baldur could inflict heavy damage on British ships colliding with its stern section and knocked out three frigates during the conflict.[66]
ICGV Ver Armed trawler 1976 1976 Built in 1974 in Poland for Krossvík hf. in Akranes. Operated by the ICG in the last Cod War in 1975–1976.[67]

In addition the Coast Guard has rented or borrowed a number of civilian vessels and aircraft for shorter periods, which are not listed.


Main article: List of aircraft of the Icelandic Coast Guard

A Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma during Search and rescue demonstration
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Maritime patrol
Bombardier Dash 8 Canada maritime patrol / SAR 1[68]
Eurocopter EC225 France utility / SAR 3[68]


Previous notable aircraft operated consisted of the Consolidated PBY Catalina, Douglas C-54, Fokker F27, Bell 47J/G, MD 500C, Sikorsky S-62, Sikorsky S-76, Eurocopter AS365, Eurocopter AS350[69]


Icelandic Coast Guard is located in Iceland
Iceland Air Defense System radar stations
Radar station with AN/FPS-117(V)5
Control and Reporting Centre

The Iceland Air Defense System monitors Iceland's airspace. Air Defense is provided by fighter jets from NATO allies, which rotate units for the Icelandic Air Policing mission to Keflavik Air Base. The Iceland Air Defense System's Control and Reporting Centre is at Keflavik Air Base and reports to NATO's Integrated Air Defense System CAOC Uedem in Germany.[5]


The Icelandic Coast Guard possesses over 200 firearms, with more than half of them in storage.[71][72][73] In 2014, the Coast Guard received 250 Heckler & Koch MP5 from the Norwegian Armed Forces.[74] The acquisition of the weapons caused an uproar in Iceland due to several facts, including that the mostly unarmed Icelandic Police was to receive 150 of them and conflicting statements from Icelandic and Norwegian officials on whether they were a gift or bought.[75] In June 2015, the weapons were returned to Norway.[76]

Currently in use

Model Calibre Type Origin Quantity Details
AR-15 5.56mm Semi-automatic rifle United States 6 Model 2017. Bought the same year and first used during a peace keeping mission.[77][78]
Bofors 40 mm L/70 40mm Autocannon Sweden 4 Purchased from Norway and refurbished.[77]
Bofors 40 mm L/60 40mm Autocannon Sweden 4 Model 1936. Gift from Denmark.[77]
Glock 17 9mm Semi-automatic pistol Austria 20 Models 1990, 2006 and 2012. Bought from a dealership in Reykjavík.[77]
H&K MP5A2N 9mm Submachine gun Germany 50 Model 1990. Gift from Norway in 2011.[77][79]
Rheinmetall MG 3 7.62mm General-purpose machine gun Germany 10 Model 1990. Gifted by Norway in 2013 along with 50 sets of body armour.[77][79]

Currently in storage

Model Calibre Type Origin Quantity Details
Browning M2 .50 BMG Heavy machine gun United States 3 Model 1939. Came with a seaplane which the ICG had in operation.[77]
H&K G3 7.62mm Battle rifle Germany 20 Model 1959. Gift from Denmark 2006.[77]
Cannon 37 mm 37mm Cannon 3 Model 1898. Gift from Denmark.[77]
Cannon 47 mm 47mm Cannon 3 Model 1909. Gift from Denmark.[77]
Cannon 57 mm 57mm Cannon 5 Model 1892. Gift from Denmark.[77]
M1 carbine 30 Carbine Carbine United States 30 Model 1940. Lent to the Reykjavík Police 1986.[80]
M2 carbine 30 Carbine Carbine United States 20 Model 1940. Lent to the Reykjavík Police 1986.[80]
QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss 47mm Cannon France 1 Model 1912. At a museum in Ísafjörður.[77]
Remington Model 870 12-gauge Pump action shotgun United States 4 Model 2000. Bought from a dealership in Reykjavík.[77]
SMLE Lee-Enfield .303 Bolt-action Repeating rifle United Kingdom 10 Model 1910. Unknown origin.[77]
S&W .38 Police Special .38 Special Revolver United States 12 Model 1940. Marshall aid.[77]
Steyr SSG 69 7.62mm Sniper rifle Austria 8 Model 1989. Bought from a dealership in Reykjavík.[77]



NATO code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student officer
 Icelandic Coast Guard[81]
Forstjóri Landhelgisgæslunnar Framkvæmdastjóri aðgerðasviðs Framkvæmdastjóri siglingasviðs / Framkvæmdastjóri varnarmálasviðs Flugrekstrarstjóri / Flaggskipherra / Yfirflugstjóri / Tæknistjóri Skipherrar / Flugstjórar / Deildarstjórar Næstráðandi / Yfirstýrimaður / Flugmaður / Yfirvélstjóri Yfirmaður eftir 6 ár / Stýrimaður / Vélstjóri / Flugmaður Yfirmaður eftir 2 ár / Stýrimaður / Vélstjóri / Flugmaður Byrjandi í yfirmannastöðu


NATO code OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
 Icelandic Coast Guard[81]
Yfir Bátsmaður MS-3 Bátsmaður MS-2 Bátsmaður MS-1 AS-4 AS-3 Háseti AS-2 AS-1

See also


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