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Breaking The Ice On Cutting Edge Boating Technology

A first-of-its-kind hybrid-electric powerboat begins its life as stealthily quiet tour boat operating in a cold and remote Arctic archipelago.

Kvitbjorn sailing by Svalbard a Norwegian archipelago

This new hybrid-electric powered boat will open up new worlds for adventure-seeking marine tourists. (Photo: Volvo-Penta)

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, about midway between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole. This is where cold polar air from the north meets mild, wet sea air from the south, creating low pressure, changeable weather, and strong winds, particularly in winter. With the whaling industry long gone, tourism and research are driving industries to support the population of about 2,600.

For the emerging market of exploration tourism, quiet is a key selling point.

"The difference from a traditional boat is the feeling of silence," says Tore Hoem, Adventures Director at Hurtigruten Svalbard, a world leader among ecologically sustainable expedition cruises. "In electric mode, you can hear the sound of the glacier ice in the water, the breath of walruses. It will allow us to offer a truly unique experience to our customers."

Kvitbjorn cruising by Svalbard a Norwegian archipelago

The vessel boasts a top speed of 30 knots, a cruising speed of 24 knots, and a range of 500 nautical miles. (Photo: Volvo-Penta)

Hurtigruten recently partnered with Volvo Penta to launch a new state-of-the-art vessel with a goal to change how tourists experience the natural wonders of Svalbard and its breathtaking seascapes, landscapes, and unique natural wildlife — which includes polar bears, puffins, seals, walrus, and a variety of whales.

The result is the Marell M15, an enclosed cabin powerboat designed for high-speed performance in heavy seas, powered by Volvo Penta twin D4-320 DPI Aquamatic hybrid-electric engines. The vessel Kvitbjørn ("Polar Bear") is now in operation for sightseeing tours in Svalbard during the high season (May–October). The vessel boasts a top speed of 30 knots, a cruising speed of 24 knots, and a range of 500 nautical miles.

Volvo Penta Hybrid Concept Behind The Scenes

"We are so excited to see this vessel go into operation," says Johan Inden, President of the Volvo Penta Marine Business Unit. "We see electromobility as an enabler for many marine commercial operations — that have short, dedicated journeys — as our industry strives towards a zero CO2 emissions future."

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Rich Armstrong

Senior Editor, BoatUS Magazine

A journalist by training, BoatUS Magazine Senior Editor Rich Armstrong has worked in TV news, and at several newspapers, then spent 18 years as a top editor at other boating publications. He’s built a stellar reputation in the marine industry as one of the most thorough reporters in our business. At BoatUS Magazine, Rich handles everything from boat and product innovation and late-breaking news, to compelling feature stories, boat reviews, and features on people and places. The New Jersey shore and lakes of lower New York defined Rich's childhood. But when he bought a 21-foot Four Winns deck boat and introduced his young family to the Connecticut River, his love for the world of boats flourished from there.