Abstract This paper compiles the available information on historic tailings dam failures with the purpose to establish simple correlations between tailings ponds geometric parameters (e.g., dam height, tailings volume) and the hydraulic characteristics of floods resulting from released tailings. Following the collapse of a mining waste dam, only a part of tailings and polluted water stored at the dam is released, and this outflow volume is difficult to estimate prior the incident. In this study, tailings’ volume stored at the time of failure was shown to have a good correlation ( r 2 = 0.86) with the tailings outflow volume, and the volume of spilled tailings was correlated with its run-out distance ( r 2 = 0.57). An envelope curve was drawn encompassing the majority of data points indicating the potential maximum downstream distance affected by a tailings’ spill. The application of the described regression equations for prediction purposes needs to be treated with caution and with support of on-site measurement and observations. However, they may provide a universal baseline approximation on tailing outflow characteristics (even if detailed dam information is unavailable), which is of a great importance for risk analysis purposes.