Norwegian start-up Orca claims its new user-friendly navigation system will revolutionise the way boat owners plot routes. We take a closer look...
Considerable guts and self-belief verging on arrogance are required to take on the might of Garmin, Navico and Raymarine at their own game but that’s exactly what a team of ambitious young tech entrepreneurs are doing.
Their Norwegian-based start-up, Orca, has just launched a new type of smart navigation system that, according to them, will reinvent the way people go boating and make traditional fixed chartplotters seem unnecessarily slow, complex and overpriced.
With Orca’s new system, users simply click on a destination and in seconds the software will work out the best route for them, taking into account the charted depths as well as the boat’s draft and speed to ensure it’s safe and sticks to any marked channels.
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It’s just as easy to add an extra destination en route or drag and drop any of the recommended waypoints to fine tune the selected route. It will even check the weather conditions and alert you to potential hazards or challenges as you approach them. In short they want to do for marine navigation what Google Maps has done for in-car navigation systems.
“Traditional chartplotters and multi-functional displays haven’t kept up with the expectations of the modern boater. They are difficult to install, difficult to learn, and difficult to use,” says Orca CEO Jorge Sevillano. “Boaters deserve a better solution. We’ve set out to deliver that.”
Their system, called Orca Co-pilot, consists of two separate elements that can be bought individually or as a complete standalone kit.
The main unit, known as the Orca Core, is a high speed processor with a built-in GPS receiver and electronic compass that connects via Wi-Fi and an Orca app to any tablet, smartphone or computer. If you’d rather not use your precious iPad Pro on board, especially on an open RIB or sportsboats where it may be exposed to the ravages of salt, sun and spray, Orca can also sell you a waterproof, 10.1in daylight viewable HD tablet complete with integrated dashboard mount and charger.
Called the Orca Display Kit, it is in fact based around a standard ruggedised Samsung Galaxy Active Pro tablet that slots into an Orca sleeve/charging unit attached to a RAM mounting bracket. Orca makes no bones about using third-party components for this, pointing out that it’s better for them and the customer to buy in top quality proven hardware than develop their own at considerable cost.
Crucially, the Orca system also has access to the internet using a mobile 4G connection to automatically download and update charts, access weather and tide information and seamlessly synchronise routes between different units. Sensibly, it doesn’t rely on a mobile internet connection for any of its chart or routing software, all of which is downloaded in advance for the area in use, so it remains fully functional when cruising offshore or out of range of a 4G signal.
Integration with the boat’s other systems is via the industry-standard NMEA2000 protocol so it can also display engine information, fuel levels, battery state, depth and AIS but it won’t yet link directly to third-party hardware such as radar and sonar scanners which use their own proprietary interface. It can use this information to advise on the best route, optimise fuel consumption or even give early warnings of abnormal engine behaviour.
Although many of these features are already built into the latest generation of MFDs from Garmin, Raymarine and Simrad, Orca claims its routing software is faster, slicker and more intuitive than any existing offering. It is also cheaper than most comparable systems, with prices starting at €1,499 for the complete Orca Display and Core kit including a 12 month chart subscription, or €449 for the Orca Core alone.
Another claimed advantage is that rather than having to buy digital charts on an area by area basis, users simply pay an annual subscription of €119 per year giving them unlimited access to Orca’s entire portfolio of charts. At present, this covers Scandinavia, the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal but the team is busy doing deals with national hydrographic offices all over the globe to ensure it will ultimately cover all major cruising destinations.
Impressive as these claims sound, Orca acknowledges it still has some way to go to convince owners of larger cruising boats to give up the more integrated look and functionality of a dedicated MFD display, especially the latest generation of glass- bridge designs.
Not only do these come in much larger, brighter, more stylish-looking screen sizes but they all link seamlessly with other key systems such as autopilots, radars and sonar scanners – none of which Orca is currently able to offer.
While these are in the plans for the future (an autopilot update will be launched this summer), for the moment Orca’s focus is on owners of smaller craft looking for a standalone, low-cost, user-friendly, future-proof navigation device. On that basis it seems to hit all the right notes.
Orca Core specifications
Size: 118mm x 118mm x 35mm
Internal sensors: Nine-axis inertial motion unit, compass and 10Hz GNSS receiver
Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi 2.4GHz and BLE 4.2
Physical connectors: 1x NMEA 2000 Micro-C port (1 LEN), inbound power, outbound power for Orca Mount
Processor: 800MHz single-core ARM
RAM and storage: 512 MB SDRAM, 8 GB internal storage
Power: 9-32.2 V DC supply voltage. Approximately 200mA consumption
Operating temperature: -15 to 60°C
Orca Display specifications
Size: 253mm x 182mm x 22mm
Mount: RAM® arm with drill-through mounting bracket
Screen: 10.1 inch, 1920×1200 TFT wet touch and glove-friendly with Polarised sunglasses in portrait orientation
Ruggedisation: MIL-STD-810G environmental tests for temperature, shock, vibration and salt fog
Internal sensors: GNSS, nine-axis IMU, compass, barometer, front and back camera
Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi 2.4GHz + 5GHz a/b/g/n/ac, BLE 5.0
Cellular connectivity: 2G GSM, 3G UMTS, 4G FDD LTE, 4G TDD LTE
Physical connectors: USB-C
Processor: Octa-Core, 2GHz high-performance, and 1.7GHz high-efficiency cores
RAM and storage: 4GB RAM, 64 GB internal storage. Expandable up to 512 GB via MicroSD
Power: Fast charging via USB-C and Orca Mount connector
Battery: Rechargeable Li-ion 7600 mAh for approx eight hours of navigation
Operating system: Slate or regular Android 10
Operating temperature: -15 to 50°C
Price: €1,499 (inc Core and 1-year subscription to Orca Charts – €119 per year after that)
First published in the May 2021 issue of Motor Boat & Yachting.
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