What should a paddler do in case of tsunami warning

it might sound hypothetical, but let’s say your on holiday, kayaking, and see the sea receed quickly.

do you head in to the coast, and dash across the uncovered seabed to higher ground or head out to sea to put more space btwn you and the coast?


ps assume it’s a 2m tsunami on the way,but as a kayaker you wouldn’t know that at the time

If you are seeing the water recede and you are on it, I think it is too late to do anything but hang on for the ride


My sister has 2 friends that were in the 2004 Christmas Season tsunami off Thailand in a small sail boat with a motor. They went through them and said the best thing to do was to charge straight into them because out to sea they are only 2 feet high but about 200 feet wide or more. Sometimes a LOT more. They become dangerous when the water stacks up because the ocean bottom rises. In deep water, to boats, they are not dangerous as a rule . They said “get as far from shore as you can when you know one if coming”. The shallower the water the more dangerous they are, slowing down but getting taller as they get closer to shore.

Rogue waves from winds are far worse out to sea. Converging waves from 2 storms are the very worst from what they tell me.

My dad went through a bad Typhoon in WW2 in the Pacific when he was in the Navy. What he told me is enough to scare me ---- even thought I was not born yet. Waves big enough to threaten Aircraft-carriers and battle-ships are beyond my ability to mentally fathom.

A guy at work had been in a Navy destroyer during a typhoon. He had a photo of the ship taken from the air. The only part showing were the tips of the smoke stacks.
Stuff I hope to never see or be in.

thanks for the 2004 pointer. I googled that date & found this article. this kayaker implies heading inland was a mistake that cost half of their group their lives.

at what sea depth do tsunami waves start to break, and thus become an impassible wall for kayakers? thx

If there is a place on earth that makes experts on this subject, I live at the place it’s farthest from.

But just from talking to others that know more then I do I’d assume the depth of the water need to be fairly shallow for the waves to break. “Fairly” can be as deep as 60 feet because of the massive amount of water a big tsunami can hold. But it’s the breaking water that is the most dangerous. A very tall swell is still just a swell, and a kayaker can get over it if you are paddling into it. At the point it stacks and is about the break over the swell becomes a wall of water, and then a breaker. No kayak is going to get across or over a wall that is higher then the length of their kayak. But before the “stack” the swell could be 30 feet high, but is at a shallow enough angle that a good paddler can keep the bow forward and simply have that swell push them up and over it’s top.

So…that’s all I was told, but it does make sense to me.

I was in the Marines and did go through Amphib/RECON UDT training, where we worked in surf a lot in zodiacs and IBS rafts. Wind driven waves stack and break from water not having a “place to go” as it gets pushed up-hill from the sea-bed’s rising slope. But tsunamis are produced from the bottom of the sea bed. The tsunami’s swell is not from the swell’s crest down to the trough of the wave. It’s from the top of the swell to the bottom of the ocean. The power of that much moving water is beyond imagination. Such heaves in the water can be miles deep. So how deep the water has to be before the waves “wall’s up” or to where it breaks I can’t say.

All I know is what I was told by those two that went through it.

Speaking for myself, I’d rather avoid first hand knowledge.

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Yes being pounded against a cliff it does seem pretty obvious they should of headed out away from the rocks. There is isn’t one good answer for what to do, it depends on the local environment.

There is not one good overarching good answer. Everything depends on the local area where you are paddling at the time. I’ve been out when a Tsunami arrived at the California coast, I did not even have any idea it was happening until I got out of the water and people were commenting on the surging rise in sea level which changed about 2.5 ft. If you are in an area where there is an sea wall or cliff or in an area where a bay focuses the incoming waves it might be a good idea to turn around and head out to sea. From video I have seen of recent tsunami events that were destructive, I think I would paddle in and take my chances riding the first few sea level surges up the beach as far as possible and then run to high ground. In video of the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami in Japan very large breaking waves hit off shore quite a distance, probably where the ocean depth was 30 -60 ft or more. I would not want to be trying to paddle out through them. The piles of water came inland rapidly as a surge in sea level and not as a huge breaking wave in most places. I’m used to dealing with very large foam piles from heavy waves and would take my chances getting blasted in to the beach or riding a surge in sea level. Someone who is a tourist in a rented kayak with no surf experience would be in a lot more trouble. Also their chances of paddling fast enough to get to the “outside” of a tsunami event to just ride the swell would be very poor. This would be complicated by the fact that you would not be able to accurately guess where there would be huge breaking waves off shore, until they started breaking.

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Roll, roll, roll your boat,
in event you’re submarine.
Invariably there will be a shallow hydrology,
go to great depths to not get creamed.

thanks for all the input. here is some video from a Japanese coast guard . at 2miles out , 38m sea depth, the 10m tsunami was already starting to break at some places, they gunned engines towards a stretch of unbroken
wave & passed over.

safety depends a lot on the sea depth, but
in reality it will be rare for a kayaker to be enjoying kayaking that far off shore to be able to escape breaking waves. heading inland seems like the only option.
with that decision it would be matter of out running it. at 10 to 20 mph, i doubt i could run that fast , let alone paddle.

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I’m no expert but from the footage I’ve seen a breaking wave is way more survivable than getting strained against something and possibly crushed by debris. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oPb_9gOdn4

I am not convinced anyone made a mistake here. The threat of a tsunami wave depends on how big it is and how fast it is moving. Those variables change with each incident based on the level of force that started it. A tsunami wave could be three feet or ten feet, like any other wave how it breaks varies based on the change in depth of the water as it approaches the beach.

In sum there is not magic formula saying if you are at a certain specified distance out, the wave will be something a kayaker can handle.

My first inclination would be to get away from land because being smashed into a cliffside or onto the beach and caught in the break is the most dangerous place to be. But in the case of the Boxer Day tsunami, people had to be well out for that to work because it was moving so fast. It had a lot of force. There were boats that reported having it pass under them. But they were way further out than a kayaker would normally have been.

SeaDart’s idea may be the best for someone who could stay upright and ride a wave. But most people could probably not do that for a big, fast one like that was, would have come out of their boat and ended up getting run into objects.

Mostly a theoretical question. If you can see the water’s edge receding or see some flat waves on the horizon you do not have much time to do anything. `The best bet is going to be to paddle out to sea as fast as possible. Absorb the hit of the wave or waves in deep water.

As others have said, go seaward. Depth of water under the keel is your friend when in a boat/ship of any kind. And for a kayak or other small boat, pray that the crest has not started breaking or creating a massive foam pile…once clear of that situation you should be safe to see the devastation ashore later in the day.

I was on the USS Kitty Hawk in 1994 when it went through a typhoon near Japan. The flight deck is 65 feet above the waterline. The nose of the flight deck dipped down into the water several times. Water washed completely over the flight deck and blasted into the hangar deck around closed doors.
YouTube has video of all kinds of accidents and hijinx with that ship. Probably the only things missing are the sub collision in 84 and a recent small boat collision near Long Beach.

i enjoy watchimg footage of naval vessels in heavy seas , the "little " destroyers seem to punch through waves like kayaks

improving ones chances surviving a tsunami while kayaking might be recognizing a tremor has occurred. but what does this feel like on a kayak?

In the case of a tsunami warning, stay away from the coast. There are always news reports of the idiots that went down to the shore to see one that were washed away and drowned.

If out on the water, if you see one coming, it is almost certainly too late to make it to shore and outrun it. I would probably try and head for deeper water. Most of the people killed by a tsunami are killed by being churned up with the debris that is picked up on the land or swept out to sea as it recedes. Of course the odds of being killed in a tsunami are probably much less than being killed by a shark or leaping fish.

Out in deeper water beyond the break many boats are completely unaware of one. Depending on the sea bottom some tsunamis are not huge breaking waves like you see in the movies. Some manifest as a swell that just keeps coming washing away everything in its path.

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A father of a friend of mine served in destroyers in WW2. He was on convoy duty in the North Atlantic in a winter storm. He watched as a sister ship dove into a wave and disappeared with all hands.

The plimsol line or mark on the side of a ship back in those days, with shows the limit to which a ship can be loaded to operate safely had as its lowest line WNA, which stood for Winter North Atlantic. Plimsol marks these days are a little more elaborate.

This question may be relevant if there were advance warning as recently for the West coast for a tsunami of 2’. But, If a tsunami generating event happens nearby, this is pretty much a hypothetical question. There would no warning and little time given the speed of a tsunami wave. It becomes more a matter of chance or grace.

One of my colleagues was vacationing in Indonesia when the Boxer Day Tsunami occurred. There was no advance warning. She was actually on a “kayak (tourist) tour”. (She is neither a kayaker nor an athlete.) Her group just happened to paddle into a high wall, almost 360 atoll, when the first tsunami came by. She noted the water receding and backfilling while they were inside. Obviously, the guide knew what was happening since the group stayed inside the atoll until it was safe. The estimate is that over 150,000 people perished that day, mostly along the shoreline where her hotel was located.

By the grace of…


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“Warning”…sounds like a thing received on the TV or radio. Stay home, inland and “up land”.