A tsunami is a natural hazard consisting of a series of unusually large waves formed by a large-scale disturbance of water bodies. One of the primary causes of tsunamis is an earthquake, but tsunamis may also be triggered by landslides, volcanoes or explosions.

If you are near the ocean and feel a major earthquake, or if the motion makes it hard to stand, get to higher ground immediately - do not wait for an official warning. The shaking is your warning.

Local government officials may not have enough time to issue a warning to residents in the event of tsunami created by a near-shore earthquake. Roads may be congested and communications systems compromised.

Generally, 4 metres or 13 feet elevation above sea level is considered a safe distance from the ocean on Southern Vancouver Island. You do not need to go to the highest point in the Region.

Tsunami Preparedness

The probability that a tsunami will do damage along British Columbia's coast is small, but very real. If you live in a coastal area of the Capital Region, you and your family need to know what to do in the event of a tsunami and be prepared to respond.

Stay Alert for Natural Warnings of Tsunami

Tsunami signs to watch for:

  • A sudden rise or fall of ocean level
  • A loud roaring noise coming from the ocean
  • Ground shaking

Tsunami Alerts

If a tsunami Warning, Advisory, or Watch is issued for your area, listen to your local media and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.

In the Event of an Immediate Tsunami Threat:

  • Move to higher ground, and go on foot if possible.
  • Follow the instructions of all emergency officials for your safety and the safety of those around you.
  • In the first 24 hours, use the telephone only to report life threatening emergencies.
  • Do not go to the beach to watch.
  • Stay tuned to local radio, TV and trusted social media sources for updates

All areas of the coastline will not be impacted equally. Within very short distances, the effects of a tsunami may vary considerably and there could be dramatic differences in wave height and impact.

Local emergency programs have pre-identified safe areas that you should be aware of, and you can find out if you are in a hazard area by checking with your local emergency program. Stay tuned to your radio and other media for updates.

Tsunami Warning

This is issued when a potential tsunami with significant widespread inundation is imminent or expected. Warnings:
  • alert the public that widespread, dangerous coastal flooding and powerful currents is possible and may continue for several hours
  • alert emergency management officials to take actions like the evacuation of low-lying coastal areas, and the repositioning of ships to deep waters when there is time to safely do so
  • may be updated, adjusted geographically, downgraded, or cancelled
  • are initially normally based only on seismic information to provide the earliest possible alert

Tsunami Watch

This is issued to alert emergency management officials and the public of an event which may later impact the watch area. Watches:

  • May be upgraded to a warning or cancelled based on updated information and analysis.
  • Indicate emergency management officials and the public should prepare to take action.
  • Are normally issued based on seismic information without confirmation that a destructive tsunami is underway.

Tsunami Advisory

This is issued due to the threat of a potential tsunami which may produce strong currents or waves dangerous to those in or near the water. Coastal regions historically prone to damage due to strong currents induced by tsunamis are at the greatest risk. Advisories:

  • may continue for several hours after the arrival of the initial wave, but significant widespread inundation is not expected for areas under an advisory
  • may result in local officials closing beaches, evacuating harbours and marinas, and the repositioning of ships to deep waters when there is time to safely do so
  • are normally updated to continue the advisory, expand/contract advisory areas, upgrade to a warning, or cancel the advisory

Protect Yourself, Your Family and Your Property

Know where you and your family will evacuate to in the event of a tsunami.

  • Have a family emergency plan and emergency kits.
  • If you are in school and you hear there is a tsunami warning, you should follow the advice of teachers and other school personnel.
  • If you are at home and hear there is a tsunami warning, you should make sure your entire family is aware of the warning. Your family should evacuate your house if you live in a tsunami evacuation zone. Move in an orderly, calm and safe manner to the evacuation site or to any safe place outside your evacuation zone. Follow the advice of local emergency and law enforcement authorities.
  • If you are at the beach or near the ocean and you feel the earth shake, move immediately to higher ground. DO NOT wait for a tsunami warning to be announced. Stay away from rivers and streams that lead to the ocean as you would stay away from the beach and ocean if there is a tsunami. A tsunami from a local earthquake could strike some areas before a tsunami warning could be announced.
  • Tsunamis generated in distant locations will generally give people enough time to move to higher ground. For locally-generated tsunamis, where you might feel the ground shake, you may only have a few minutes to move to higher ground.

If You Are In A Boat Or At Sea

Boats in Deep Water

If you are in deep water (at least 200 fathoms or 400 metres) when a tsunami warning is issued, stay there. Tsunami waves are small in deep water and probably won’t cause any damage. Stay tuned to your marine radio (Channel 16) for reports when it is safe to return to port.

Boats in Harbour

If you are still in the harbour when a tsunami warning is issued, you may have time to get to deep water. Listen to official estimated tsunami wave arrival times and plan safely. Do not motor your boat to open water if it is too close to the wave arrival time.

Moored Boats

If there is a local tsunami and you are moored in a harbour, abandon your boat immediately. Head for high ground.


If you are in a floatplane in a harbour, take off as soon as possible. Land safely on a lake or another area not at risk.

Additional information for boaters can be found here.

Tsunami Warnings

If a tsunami warning is issued, head inland or to high ground immediately! Try to do so on foot or bicycle to keep roadways clear for emergency personnel.

A warning may be issued in the form of a siren or through radio and television broadcasts.

If you feel a large and strong earthquake, that is the warning. Don't wait for any other alert and head to higher ground.

Additional Resources

Learn more about Tsunami Hazards in the Capital Region by downloading a Tsunami Hazard Line Map.

Visit PreparedBC to download the Earthquake and Tsunami Guide.

Visit the National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC) which provides tsunami warnings to California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.