The brainchild of three marine electronics specialists who set out to combine the performance of a chartplotter with the nimbleness of mobile apps, Orca is aimed at the 70% of boaters who now use a chartplotter alongside their smartphone. Being such a sailor myself, I tested Orca while sailing the Baltic.
This is really two devices and a subscription. The Display 2 is a robust waterproof Samsung tablet that runs the Orca app. It pulls in instrument data from the Orca Core, which combines a GPS and heading sensor with an NMEA 2000 bridge. I found it easy to fit, plugging it straight into the NMEA backbone by my chart table with a special cable to convert from Raymarine STng to Micro-C. Both devices work without the subscription, but the ‘premium’ option gives enhanced features that run offline.
The Display 2 runs any app from the Google Play store, so I could toggle between PredictWind, AyeTides and Orca. Being a tablet, the processing power is phenomenal with a super- smooth action. It’s also exceedingly bright with a wide viewing angle.
Orca really requires its own SIM card to work to full effect. Failing that, you could connect the unit to your on-board WiFi or your phone’s hotspot. Functions, though, are limited without internet access.
Luckily you can download charts for offline use. I did this for my 400-mile passage from Kristiansand, southern Norway, to the north German Baltic. The download used up barely 500MB.
AIS overlay is a core feature, and so now is radar (initially only with Raymarine Quantum radars). The new Core 2 offers a fast ethernet socket for radar integration, which will also support the roll-out of OneNet in the future. Orca integrates with most autohelms.
Combining chart data with wind and current forecasts, Orca is able to suggest incredibly detailed passage plans. Taking into account the draught, air draught and performance on different points of sail (polars) for my Sadler 34, it plotted a course for me that included tacks and gybes. At present, you need a live internet connection to retrieve the weather to plot a sailing route, but Orca says it is working to overcome this.
The subscription is the final piece of the puzzle. To get the sail routing, offline routing, offline charts and satellite overlay, you pay £99/yr (first year free). This also gives you automatic chart updates.
I found Orca fantastically capable, with an attractive and intuitive user interface. It costs £899 for the display and another £499 for the Core 2. Hardly cheap, but less than its competitors’ 9in chartplotters, and there’s no need to buy additional charts. The navigation interface could do with a bit more detail about the courses and distances between waypoints on a route. But its great strength is the flexibility and portability of the display, which can also be used for watching films or writing emails.
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