Jet skis can be a nuisance. I’ve ridden a couple of them in my life, but glared at many more from across the water. A jet ski is a zippy, bouncy bundle that is fun for exactly one person: the one in the driver’s seat. For everyone else, they’re the vuvuzelas of watercraft—buzzing, obnoxious, and often wielded by drunkards.
To keep the peace, these dirt bikes of the sea are banned from many lakes, rivers, and other waterways altogether. From my usual standpoint of a lowly landlubber, I say good riddance.
But Taiga Motors, a Canadian powersport vehicle company, wants to change that long legacy of aquatic nuisance. Its Orca personal watercraft is a sleek machine that dares to ask the question, “What if there were a jet ski that didn’t make you want to blow it out of the water with a cannon?”
The Orca is not the first ever electric personal watercraft. Other competitors include the Swedish company Narke’s Electrojet and the T3mp3st. Sea Doo makes an electric hydrofoil board. Other companies have debuted versions that were short lived or haven’t yet made it past the development stage.
Indeed, Taiga’s own efforts have hit some snags. The Orca was initially slated for release in 2020, but the process was slowed down by supply chain woes and general pandemic-related problems. The first model, the $26,500 Orca Carbon, came out in 2022. Taiga’s latest Orca Performance, which features a redesigned hull and revamped battery, launched in August 2023. It’s slightly cheaper, at $19,490. Taiga says it has built and sold a thousand of these watercrafts.
Incidentally, for the pedants out there (WIRED salutes you), technically this is not a jet ski, but a personal watercraft, or PWC. Jet Ski is a brand of vehicle made by Kawasaki, though it has become a sort of Kleenex-esque catchall for the product type.
Like other watercraft of its ilk, the Orca can be really fun to ride when you’re on it. I got the chance to test out the Orca Performance and speed it across the San Francisco Bay. Taiga has rented a berth to demo its jet ski at Westpoint Harbor in the southern part of the Bay Area.
The marina is nearly spotless, filled with elegant sailboats and yachts. The gorgeous 1920s-era yacht used in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 Great Gatsby—the Hurrica V—is docked in the next berth over. The two expensive, all-electric Orcas floating nearby fit right in here.
The most immediately noticeable thing about the Orca is the silence. Thanks to the Orca’s total lack of an internal combustion engine, the machine is blessedly, mercifully shushed. Its soft whine gets louder the faster you go—it is a motor, after all—but even then the sound is remarkably low compared to the thundering cacophony spewed forth by a gas-powered jet ski. Once an Orca gets maybe 10 meters away from you, it’s hard to hear anything at all, apart from the slapping of waves against its hull.
It does sensibly emit a beeping sound if the motor is left on while you’re sitting still, just as a reminder that the Orca is ready to zip away at the slightest touch of the throttle. Other than that, there’s no noise whatsoever when floating in place. Close your eyes and it’s almost possible to feel like there’s no jet ski nearby at all.
Sam Bruneau, Taiga Motor’s CEO and a cofounder, says the goal isn’t to compete with the Teslas or Rivians on the road, but to stay in its own outdoor, off-road lane (or, rather, lack thereof). Taiga Motors was started by three college buddies with the express intent of electrifying outdoor powersport vehicles. The company also makes an electric snowmobile and is working on an electric side-by-side, like similar off-roading vehicles from companies like Nikola Motors and Polaris.
Back off dry land, some electric watercraft have turned to technologies such as hydrofoils to pop vessels up out of the water and reduce drag on the hull, increasing battery life and smoothing out rides (great if you’re trying to keep the contents of your stomach where they are). This can be less desirable on a jet ski, of course, when part of the fun is bouncing around on the whitecaps. Thus, Taiga has opted to recreate the long-established sit-down ski formula, forcing it to figure out how to squeeze a big enough battery inside the craft.
The battery in this case, then, is built into the hull, and so is inaccessible unless you manage to take the whole bottom of the Orca apart. The hull is sealed and watertight, so as to avoid any risk of water getting into the battery and zapping anything in the vicinity.
Taiga says the Orca can get up to two hours of battery life. It can plug into any 120-volt charger (that’s your standard plug North America) and takes around three and a half hours to charge. Charging at a high-capacity station could cut that down to about 30 or 40 minutes.
I spent about an hour blasting through the waves, during which the battery on my machine diminished from 80 percent to 16 percent, which suggested two full hours would require less hooning around. Speaking of which, there are three settings, each speedier and quicker to accelerate (and less energy efficient) than the last: Range, Sport, and Wild mode. Naturally, I spent most of the trip going Wild.
The power of the electric motor is something to behold. I rode the Orca Performance model, which boasts a 120-kW motor with 160 hp. The throttle response is, as you’d expect, nearly instantaneous, and the torque follows. This immediate acceleration is another benefit of the electric motor over a gas-powered one. When clamping down on the throttle, the Orca shoots off so fast it can be hard to keep a good grip on the handlebars. At full throttle, I managed to get the Orca up to 75 km/h (47 mph). This is way more than the Narke, which costs nearly $50,000.
Taiga says top speed maxes out at 100 km/h, or 60 mph. This may seem moderate if you’re used to traveling at freeway speeds on land, but it is a ludicrously fast speed to hurl yourself through the water. Bruneau says the machine is beefy enough to tow someone on a tube or even a water ski.
Controlling the machine at those speeds is easy once you get the hang of it, whipping around turns and maneuvering with ease. The Orca’s steering can be touchy, though, and one wrong overcorrection of the handle can send your flailing body skipping across the waves.
That said, launching myself off the thing was more difficult than I expected. The Orca handled sharp corners very well, and as long as you can keep your grip on the handle it’s possible to stay on. I did manage to fall off one time, but it took quite a lot of sharp turns and sudden movements.
Some jet skis are designed to spin around in a circle after a rider falls off, but the Orca does not have that feature. If you do fall off, the throttle will stop, but you’ll have to swim to catch up with it. There’s no ladder to climb back up, but the flooring sits low in the water so getting back on isn’t too much of a problem.
In addition to the instant power and silence, the electric motor has environmental benefits that Taiga is eager to tout. The Orca doesn’t use fuel or oil, so there’s no risk of that excess gunk leaking into waterways like a fossil-fuel-powered engine would. The Orca motor also doesn’t need to be winterized—a common scourge of gas-powered boat maintenance—because it pulls water through a separate channel to power the device, leaving no risk of the interior parts freezing in the cold.
All this forward thinking means the Orca is also, of course, pricey. The Orca Performance will set you back $19,490. The lighter, limited edition carbon-fiber model starts at an even heftier $26,500. Taiga motors has a less expensive craft in the works, the 90-hp Orca Sport for $17,490, but it is not yet available.
These prices aren’t exactly out of line with Taiga’s competitors, though. Gas-powered watercraft from Kawasaki, Sea Doo, and Yamaha can range from $5,000 to $20,000. Luxury models can go upwards from there to something as eye-watering as, say, Bouvet Marine’s $900,000 Supermarine watercraft.
With this in mind, the Orca is a great personal watercraft. But then again, it would be staggering if it wasn’t. It’s just really hard to have a bad time on a jet ski, especially one as slick and thrilling as Taiga’s.
Personally, I hope it does well enough that the company can expand and lower the price a smidge. But right now, if cost isn’t an issue, and you have a yen for high-speed water-based hijinks, this seems like the jet ski to get—both for the sake of the person riding it, and everyone else around you.