Inventions Shaping Our Oceans: Rafnar Hull

Rafnar Leiftur 1100
Rafnar Leiftur 1100, “Askur”, visiting South Portland Maine, March 2018. Photo credit New England Ocean Cluster, Chris Cary

By Ariadne Dimoulas – This article series will look into inventions shaping today’s seascape. How has our mariner history resulted in today’s groundbreaking inventions? Which inventions direct our future? What is the catalyst for these inventions, meaning what is the intersection between a particular place and particular person that causes such a revolutionary spark? Finally, we will take a look at the story of a particular invention shaping the marine world today with far-reaching consequence for tomorrow.

There is a saying “necessity is the mother of inventions”, yet defining the spark of an invention as a simple human or societal need doesn’t fully describe what an invention is, or its place in humanity. When we consider today’s boats, planes, trains, cars, phones etc. it seems obvious to consider our species modern existence is possible only because of inventions. Perhaps less obvious are how inventions in systems such as agriculture and aquaculture have shaped what we eat. Inventions in microscopes shaped our understanding of disease transmittal and therefore increased our longevity. Inventions in water transport from Greeco-Roman aquifers to modern sewer systems have influenced the development of communities into a world that now boasts 31 mega-cities, on a trajectory of 41 megacities by 2030, where a mega city has more than 10 million residents.

Many times inventions can be conceived through the blending of necessity, expertise, and circumstances. Arctic ship developments and improved ballast water treatments could be considered examples of inventions created from cross-disciplinary thinking driven by new opportunities. Scrubbers and scrubber adaptations for shipping exhaust appear to be inventions driven by changing policy creating necessity. For this first article, let’s dive into an exciting advancement seen in our marine seascape utilizing cross-disciplinary collaboration and new thinking to overcome an old problem.

Leiftur 1100 Cabin
“At Rafnar, our favorite season in Iceland is winter, as it provides the best opportunities to test our craft in the conditions they are ideally suited for. Yesterday was a good day at the office when the Rafnar team took a Leiftur 1100 out for sea trials in significant wave heights of 2.5 meters and 10-13m/s wind speeds. As winter has only just arrived, more fun days out at sea are certainly still to come in steadily “improving” conditions. –“ Photo Credit Instagram rafnar_shipyard November 15,2017.

Cruising around and slamming against seas because of rough weather is not safe or enjoyable. Thankfully a solution is brought to life in the form of innovative boat hulls from an Icelandic company, Rafnar. Their disruptive technological breakthrough in boat hull design could change our entire seascape industry, with implications reaching from luxury boat markets to search and rescue vessels.

One might not normally want to go sailing in rough seas, but a Rafnar Hull cleaves through the water even in the roughest conditions. The boat is always planed, as you increase speed you have an impression that the keel is being sucked into the water resulting in a feeling that is both controlled and nimbly gliding. Bear in mind, this is through huge swells that normally would slam you into the ceiling of your cabin.

Rafnar’s groundbreaking technology Rafnar Hull was invented by a broad thinking individual who founded Rafnar, Össur Kristinsson.

Össur Kristinsson was already renowned for his revolutionary developments in prosthetic technology. Kristinsson is both a prosthetist and a prosthetic user. His company named “Össur” became very successful and inspirational through innovations in silicone lining interface of prosthetic socket technology, which has improved millions of lives. As a serial inventor, Kristinsson brings the invention to a final mature stage, then hands the project over to his commercialization team in order for the invention to reach full market potential.

Though the Rafnar Hull is not his first groundbreaking invention, Kristinsson had always been interested in sailing and when he studied in Sweden he became particularly interested in Fredrik Ljungstorm’s circular hull. From the success of his prosthetic company, being now an affluent mariner, Kristinsson decided to buy himself a yacht that has a tender. It was then Kristinsson realized how much he hated being bounced around in a small boat and wondered why people just accepted being bounced around in small boats in rough weather?

Out of this necessity, for comfort and safety in all types of seas, Rafnar’s vision was born. In addition to the world needing a hull that mitigates wave slamming, Kristinsson also believed it was time a company was named after his wife. Her family name, Rafnar, was selected as the company’s name. With Iceland’s Viking naval history, the name also fit appropriately to the story of Raven-Flóki, the first Norseman to deliberately sail to Iceland, in 868 AD. He took with them three ravens to aid him in his search for the land up north, and the third raven guided him to Iceland. Rafnar resembles the Icelandic word for raven and the company’s logo is a silhouette of a raven gliding above the water, its body conveniently mirroring the unique curves of the Rafnar Hull.

Kristinsson with his team of naval architects and engineers took 10 years of developing and improving prototypes through tank tests, field trials and computational fluid dynamics simulations to build the final product. During the last four years of development, from 2011 to 2015, the team collaborated with the Icelandic Coast Guard in order to improve and enhance the design with end-user feedback. Not only a local for Rafnar, but the Icelandic Coast Guard are arguably among the most demanding marine end users in the world due to the arctic sea states their boats need to navigate in around the coast of Iceland.

Left to Right, Björn Jonsson, Karl Birgir Björnsson and Kári Logason. Members of Rafnar’s commercialization team who brought their boat to the Maine Boat Show. Photo Credit: Ariadne Dimoulas

To learn more about the stages of Rafnar’s revolution in hull design, and their plans for the future, I reached out to Kar Birgir Björnsson, Rafnar’s Director of Business Development. Karl officially joined the company in 2016, after having worked with them on their transition into commercialization.

Karl starts by explaining how Rafnar is entering its next stage of commercial development. The plan from the beginning was to conduct early stages of prototypes designs and initial commercial boat building in Iceland. Rafnar now works with commercial and build partners in key locations around the world in order to have Rafnar Hull boats available and produced locally.

Karl: “We are building strategic partnerships around the world and will continue doing so for the next year and a half to 2 years. The last 6 months have been spent building initial partnerships with boat builders for a future where we franchise the Rafnar Hull design with our new partners. We will continue to develop these relationships and we welcome more opportunities for collaboration.”

“We have already achieved a franchising partnership in Europe. Our strategic partner in Athens, Greece is now operating under the name Rafnar-Hellas, and has already begun taking orders of Rafnar boats, with orders quickly building up. Rafnar-Hellas is building the most powerful Leiftur 1100 to date. Whereas the standard Leiftur 1100 is equipped with twin 300hp outboards, this one will carry three 350hp outboard engines. Our partners in Abu Dhabi specialize in making autonomous vehicles and are working on making a version of our Rafnar boat Leiftur 1100 semi-autonomous. Rafnar and Knarr Maritime Consortium very recently signed a letter of intent to cooperate on manufacturing, marketing and sales of Rafnar Hull and Rafnar Boats in Russia. Operating through Knarr Rus, this moves marks Rafnar’s first steps into the Russian Market.”

“Currently all of Rafnar’s boats are made from fiberglass, however, we do have many requests for aluminum boat builds so we have opened discussions with an aluminum boat builder. Though the curvature of the hull is quite different from a deep v or shallow v hull design, we know that it is indeed possible to build our boats out of aluminum. Due to the numerous requests, we are investigating the potential of having aluminum Rafnar boats sometime in the next two years.”

Rafnar hull
Leiftur 1100 “Askur” moved by shipping company Eimskip from Iceland to Portland Maine. Photo credit Ben Davis of True Course Yachting

Will the aluminum build be as robust as the fiberglass builds?

Karl: “With the fiberglass vessels, we produce them to be as robust and durable as possible. The same will be true for the aluminum. Though the exact details remain to be seen. Building and testing of aluminum boats will be performed to the same standards as the fiberglass Rafnar boats we have today.”

Without sharing proprietary information, could you give me a synopsis of the stages of Rafnar Hull’s invention to the creation process? Were there many pitfalls, dead ends, or noteworthy breakthroughs?

Karl: “Initially the design was thought up for larger vessels, originally for yachts. In fact, a lot of the early concept designs were for large yachts, and a lot of pitfalls were avoided in the early stages by then avoiding yacht design and having a RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) be the test platform. There were, of course, many prototypes that were unsuccessful and did not work, but others that showed promise, which became platforms for next stage iterations. Some of the early stage RHIB concepts went into submarine mode. To mitigate this aggressive diving, we focused on developing the bow further to prevent this effect, in the process creating further prototypes. When we felt we had something worth demonstrating to others, we contacted the Icelandic Coast Guard and asked them if they would consider becoming our trial partners. The Icelandic Coast Guard are arguably among the most demanding users around, operating in very rough conditions around the Icelandic coast. Our thought was if they can use this hull to their benefit, then anyone should benefit. Starting in 2011 we began to trial and test various hull prototypes with them. We then continued to make adjustments and improvements based on the Coast Guards’ feedback regarding function, structural integrity, deck plan and layout, and general ergonomics. This partnership carried on for about 4 years until 2015, when we were confident that we had our final boat product, which came to be called the Leiftur 1100, where the number refers to its 11-meter length or 36.5ft long vessel.”

Patiently waiting to be taken out in Atlantic winter conditions off the coast of Maine, USA. True to a Rafnar boat’s reputation, Rafnar Leiftur 1100, “Askur” is the only one in the harbor, ready to embrace in total comfort the less than perfect ocean conditions. Photo Credit Ariadne Dimoulas

Was there ever a time when there was serious doubt that this new design would actually work?

Karl: “There were of course early prototypes that did not work as intended. It took a lot of iterations and steps with considerable changes that needed to be made. It was a 10-year process of development. Though there were many “back to the drawing board” times, pushing through it ultimately became successful and what we have today is evidence of that. Very early on in testing, it became evident that there was something unique about the design. So we pushed on and continued to improve on the design.”

I have learned that Rafnar’s founder Össur Kristinsson was inspired by Fredrik Ljungstorm arc-of-circle radius, invented for its circular arc hull. Although I have heard that this design, referred to as a Ljungstorms Sailboat, was unstable for heavy weather as the circular arc hull similar to a shallow v hull, does not cleave the water well. Though your hull design cleaves the water exceptionally well. How does your innovation overcome the typical circular hull drawbacks?

Karl: “While the symmetrical curve and keel were inspired by Ljungstorms design, the Rafnar Hull itself is a completely different design. Aside from symmetry, the only connection to the original Ljungstrom designs is inspiration. Our keel nicknamed the “Cuba keel”, so named because inventor Össur Kristinsson had the idea while on a trip to Cuba, is designed for heavy weather condition. It works by forcing the bow wave towards the back of the keel, where a low-pressure situation is created, sucking the keel back into the water, reducing and mitigating vertical motions which would otherwise slam traditional planning vessels aggressively downward.”

Are emissions regulation and efficiency important to your team? Do you know any emission statistics for Rafnar Hull designs?

Karl: “While emissions are very important, we cannot make any claims that Rafnar Hull boats are more efficient than similar-sized craft, simply due to its nature of wanting to remain in the water, which creates more resistance. Though we have not seen fuel consumption exceed more than 2-3% that of comparable craft, so we are roughly on par. Having said that, we have seen that fleets can become more efficient using a Rafnar craft due to the fact that the average size of their vessels can be smaller. The Leiftur 1100 can be used in operations where the sea state would otherwise call for larger vessels being used, simply due to its unique ability to handle rough seas. As such, fleets needing to operate in poor weather conditions no longer need to be made up of large vessels. The Icelandic Coast Guard, for example, can now use their Leiftur 1100, an 11m vessel, to accomplish fisheries inspections where before they would use 20-90m vessels. Clearly, it is significantly more efficient to use an 11m boat than having to start up and operate up to 90m ships .”

Where can people try Rafnar’s revolutionary technology? Are you and the boat crew touring, if so where?

Karl: “We don’t really tour. Our trip to Maine, USA, came about due to our connection with the New England Ocean Cluster primarily. Also, Iceland has established itself in the region primarily due to the presence of Icelandic cargo shipping company Eimskip. We received a very warm welcome in Maine. Everyone was extremely helpful and supportive, as well as being interested in the boat and the company. It was a very pleasant place to visit and we hope to be back there soon. We do attend boat and industry shows of course, such as the Monaco yacht show and others, but with an increased focus going toward strategic partnerships we will be delegating some of that to our partners.”

“Currently, our demonstrator vessel, Askur, is in the UK and will likely remain there until early next year with our Rafnar UK partner. Until it heads for its next destination, we will, of course, welcome anyone keen to try to ask for a trial.”

“There was a storm recently during Askur’s stay in Poole, England, and waves got up to some 5 or 6 meters (16 to 19.7 ft.). When all the other boats stayed in, we went out, as we did during Askur’s visit in Maine. Common sense would tell you not to go out in those conditions, and common sense would also tell you not to do a very sharp turn in huge weather. But this boat cuts through all that. Each time we go out it proves itself better and better. It is truly a product of the harshest conditions, and that’s where it performs best.

“The maiden voyage and trial run of our other Leiftur 1100 demonstrator, “Embla” was from Reykjavík, Iceland, to Gothenburg, Sweden. The boat was ready to go the exact same day it needed to go, and it hasn’t had a hiccup since. The only maintenance the boat has required since it set off from Reykjavík in April 2016 was a bit of work on the inflatable collar and engines, which only occurred after about 5000 nautical miles of operation. She has gone all over Scandinavia and down to Monaco, from where she went over to Florida and to the Caribbean, back to Florida, then over to Spain, and Greece, and eventually down to Abu Dhabi, where she is now. She has now done about 6,500 nautical miles on her on belly and has maintained her structural integrity fully intact, even though she is always at the hands of different operators who receive the same instructions of “drive it like you stole it”.”

This all is pretty amazing, and I am very thankful you were able to share some time to explain more about Rafnar’s vision. What ways could this article help achieve some of your goals?

Karl: “Overall, it is simply great that you are so keen to learn more about us and in so doing are helping us to spread awareness of the Rafnar Hull and our craft. We are very often faced with non-believers and those who believe that our claims could not possibly be what we say they are. We look at this as an opportunity to show people what is indeed possible and have done so through both trials and studies. We engaged with the University of Iceland to perform comparison research on the Rafnar Hull and deep “v” hulls, which they did. We loaned them a boat and left them to it. When they were done, they had studies that showed that the Rafnar Hull slammed on average 82-95% less than the deep “v”s they tested against. We like to share our story and its result with anyone keen to listen, which this article surely accomplishes.”

Karl Björnsson has invited readers to reach out to him directly with questions, [email protected]