We got to test the first commercially available electric personal watercraft, the Taiga Orca Carbon. We found it to be fast, fun, and nearly silent.
Personal watercraft are fun to drive, and they’re a heck of a lot more affordable than most boats. But a lot of people hate them, and some municipalities have outlawed them because they’re loud and polluting.
According to a 2020 University of Vermont research paper, most personal watercraft (PWC) use two-stroke engines that leak up to 25% of every tank of fuel into the water. The California Air Resources Board reported that a day’s ride on a gas-powered 100-horsepower personal watercraft emits the same air pollution as driving 100,000 miles in a passenger car. And, most are loud enough that hearing protection is recommended.
Silent, electric, and powerful as hell, Taiga’s Orca electric PWC solves both the pollution and the noise problem. The first commercially produced electric PWC, and the first commercially produced carbon PWC, the 160-horsepower carbon Orca can hit 65 mph.
There’s no throttle lag, and thanks to instant torque and a jet-driven reverse mode, the Orca handles better than a gas-powered machine. It’s also quick to recharge when plugged in at a marina.
We got a chance to test the Orca Carbon on Lake Champlain, and to talk with Taiga’s CEO about the Orca and what the future holds for electric watercraft.
Taiga Orca Review
Why It’s Notable
Taiga CEO Sam Bruneau says that the Orca is significant for many reasons. It’s the first electric PWC that’s commercially available and within the price range of other power sports equipment. It also doesn’t compromise on performance.
Because it checks all the boxes of a traditional PWC, Bruneau says that the Orca is a significant stepping stone to scale marine electrification.
“We’ve redefined what can be achieved with a personal watercraft that delivers performance and agility on the water, and that can be manufactured at volume,” said Bruneau.
“Orca” is an appropriate name for this craft. The hull looks a lot like the head of a killer whale.
Designing the hull of the Orca was, according to Bruneau, like designing an airplane wing. Taiga engineers looked at everything that affects a PWC’s drive characteristics and power consumption. They tweaked the craft’s geometry until they had a machine that’s efficient and that handles better than any other PWC on the market.
“We were striving for a hull that gives us maximum range, that’s also agile and fun to drive,” said Bruneau. “We wanted no compromises.”
Taiga also wanted the Orca to be distinctive. The Orca’s lines are inspired by its namesake, the killer whale, as well as the automotive industry, with two-tone body panels and smooth, sculpted lines that let it move through the water smoothly and playfully.
We loved the floating feet in the back. The foot channel is open, which is unique to this machine. Because there was no gas engine to design around, Taiga was able to suspend the seat over the back of the craft and allow water to enter and exit the foot channels freely.
There are a lot of things that make this craft appealing. That it’s zero-maintenance and hassle-free are some of the most compelling.
To winterize the Orca, you just take it out of the water and maybe throw a tarp over it. You don’t need to trickle-charge the Orca all winter. Taiga says that the batteries will hold their charge for 3 years.
The Orca uses the same powertrain as Taiga’s Ekko, Atlas, and Nomad snowmobiles. It can be charged while it’s in the water. Plug it in and the Orca bounces a low-voltage electrical signal from the power source to the machine to verify the connection is safe before it allows 240 volts of power to flow.
The powertrain is light with high-energy-density batteries to give the Orca good range and good power output, at an overall weight similar to a combustion engine PWC.
The machine is tuned to slow the impeller when the Orca is in the air, reducing noise. Taiga is able to spin the Orca’s impeller in the opposite direction to allow a reverse mode. The throttle lets the driver control the impeller precisely.
As with premium gas-powered PWC, the Orca has three drive modes — Range, Sport, and Wild — and it has 3 degrees of trim in each direction. It weighs 738.5 pounds and has 160 horsepower — a high power-to-weight ratio that places it between a light, recreational low-power PWC and a big, heavy powerful gas machine. Taiga says that the Orca’s power is on par with the highest-performance gas machine on the market.
Firmware Updates & User Controls
The Orca has a large and easy-to-read electronic center console display. It has an electronic connectivity screen behind it that owners will never see that lets Taiga remotely update the Orca’s firmware. Using that connectivity, the company can also remotely diagnose most operating issues.
Taiga’s app, which is available with purchase, lets owners control power levels based on who is riding the Orca — a handy feature for tour operators and families. It also lets owners control charging rates, and will presumably have security settings in the future. Taiga is adding features on an ongoing basis.
Electric Personal Watercraft Charging
Taiga’s Orca uses automotive standard J1772/CCS 1 connector ports built for all-weather recharging. Because marinas and personal residences both typically have power, recharging the Orca involves parking near an outlet and plugging in.
The Orca Carbon has level 3 charging capability. On a level 3 fast charger, it recharges to 80% in just 30 minutes. Plug in at a marina, grab lunch or a beverage, and you’re ready for another round.
At home, if you have a level 2 EV charger, plan on around 3.5 hours to recharge the Orca, or 14 hours with a standard wall outlet.
Electric PWC Challenges
Personal watercraft take a pounding. Taiga spent a lot of time and did a lot of engineering to find the sweet spot for this unit’s shock and vibration resistance both for the rider and the battery packs, to make it quiet and to make it last.
Also, the marine environment where a personal watercraft operates, including corrosive salt water, is harsh. Taiga was able to make the Orca robust. Its batteries and motor are protected and waterproof in all conceivable scenarios, from an accident that somehow pierces the craft’s hull, to a roll, or full submersion.
The Orca’s biggest challenge is range. On a full charge, it’ll run for around 2 hours and 28 miles depending on conditions and drive mode. I didn’t get to burn through a full charge to verify this claim, but the range is the one place where the Orca doesn’t match up to a gas-powered vehicle.
Taiga Orca Carbon: Ride & Handling
Climbing aboard the Orca and driving away was intuitive and user-friendly. I wrapped the “key” tether around my wrist, turned the unit on with the push of a button that lit up the console, and engaged the throttle to power away from the dock in Range mode. Once I was out of the no-wake zone, I squeezed the throttle to see what the Orca could do.
During the next 30 minutes, I pinned it in both Range and Sport modes to test the Orca’s speed — it was incredible and immediately responsive. Taiga says the throttle response is less than one microsecond. Wild mode was disabled for the test, which was appropriate for the mostly wavy day.
I looped in tight circles, and then zipped away at maximum thrust — and it was thrilling. The wind blew up, and I jumped wave after wave hooting with glee. That was the only sound other than the wind and splashing waves. It was kind of surreal, but in a good way.
To switch modes, I had to release the throttle and slow down. I could adjust the trim on the fly, which let me get the nose down and planing in a brief glassy stretch for max speed. When I adjusted the trim in the other direction, I had maximum wave-hopping capability, which was sheer joy.
The Orca was playful and so much damn fun. I could zoom in circles, I could pin it and launch off waves, and I could motor along at a cruising pace.
At first, it felt a little tippy, but the Orca had excellent secondary stability, and it was never in real danger of rolling or flipping.
The seat was comfortable both with and without a passenger.
The console told me everything I needed to know — the remaining charge, which mode I was in, motor and battery temperature, rpm, kilowatts, and trim.
To put the Orca in reverse, I squeezed a left-hand lever. For forward, I squeezed a right-hand lever. It was so simple and intuitive that docking the Orca for the first time, I was able to perfectly sidle up to land the Orca in its docking space by alternating between forward and reverse.
Taiga Orca Review Summary
I didn’t expect to love the Orca nearly as much as I did. It was thrilling and adrenaline-pumping without the noise, and without dumping gas and oil into a lake I consider home. Noise and pollution have kept me from using PWC, but the Orca is one I’d love to own.
It’s hard to beat the raw performance you get from the instant torque of an electric motor. The Orca was so much fun to drive, instantly responsive, and extremely powerful.
It would also be easy to own. It required zero trips to town for fuel, and winterization is a non-event. There’s also no maintenance required for the drivetrain or hull unless you get into an accident or operate the Orca where you suck something into the jets that needs to be manually removed.
Bruneau’s goal is to scale up production of the Orca ASAP and to convert as many gas units as possible. Taiga will continuously improve on the range, and its goal is to make the Orca and its other electric vehicles more affordable over time.
The company expects to expand in the boating market. With the release of its electric snowmobiles this spring, and the Orca this summer, both of which are built on the same technology platform, Bruneau and the Taiga team are looking at what vehicle they should make next to bring electric technology to the off-road and powersports markets.
The Orca starts at $17,500 for the non-carbon models, which will be available in spring 2023. Currently, Taiga is shipping the Orca Carbon, which starts at $26,500.
Check out the Taiga Motors website to find a dealer near you.
Taiga Orca Carbon Specs
- Range: Up to 28 miles (45 km)
- Performance: Up to 160 horsepower
- Power: Up to 120 kW
- Weight: 738.5 lbs. (335 kg)
- Rider capacity: 2
- Hull: Carbon fiber composite
- Charging: 6.6kW onboard charging, J1772/CCS1 combo coupler
- Storage: Center console compartment, front storage compartment
- Control systems: 7″ HD display, adjustable trim, OTA connectivity
- L: 3.53′ (2,905 mm)
- W: 3.31′ (1,040 mm)
- H: 3.79′ (1,156 mm)