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Regardless of why you bought your first metal detector, sooner or later the idea of looking for treasure on the beach will cross your mind. You might hear about someone who was beach hunting and pulled up a diamond ring, or daydream about shipwreck Spanish silver washed up on shore.
Odds are you'll be considering a beach vacation, after seeing what some lucky hunters pull out of the sand! Unlike coin and relic hunters who hunt for old or historic items, beach detectorists don't mind if something is new, just as long as it's gold or silver!
In this article, we'll go over what is involved in beach hunting with a metal detector, and some general tips to get you started.
Treasure Hunting In Dry Sand
Beach hunting with a metal detector, especially ocean beaches, is like two different worlds that share a border. The dry sand isn't much different than hunting very sandy soil, or a huge tot lot (playground), except that popular beaches will have FAR more trash. Since gold jewelry will ring up as foil or pull tabs, set your discrimination to only reject iron. This means digging more trash, but with practice, you can use the audio tones of your metal detector to learn what a piece of foil sounds like compared to jewelry.
Keep in mind, hunting beaches involves being around far more people than hunting local parks, and you'll attract more attention. You're likely to see far more competition at the beaches as well. There's a silver lining to having a lot of people hunting the same beach – less buried trash!
Places to Hunt In Dry Sand
If you tried to grid out and hunt every part of the typical beach, it would probably take days to cover it all. Much of the beach is pretty bare when it comes to valuable targets, because the people tend to congregate in certain areas. Since these people are the suppliers of the targets you're hunting, you want to follow the crowd to find the treasure.
See how people naturally key off one another and lay their towels in a line in certain areas of the beach? That's a prime hunting spot. Just don't be “that guy” and step all over people to detect the area. Find a section of the towel line that is empty to hunt. A good idea is to reserve the late afternoon near sundown on Saturday and Sunday for hunting the towel line. You can also try the early morning, but the beach cleaning tractors may have come through, and either picked up or buried any drops.
Look around picnic areas or refreshment stands, where things may have fallen out of shorts pockets. Fire pits and cookout areas are also good. Another great spot is at beach volleyball areas. Who knows what has been lost while diving for a ball? Lifeguard towers are a popular place to congregate, as well as large rocks or piers that can give shade.
Metal Detectors for the Dry Sand at the Beach
Most good entry-level coinshooter or relic machines will work well in the dry sand. With a little fiddling with sensitivity and settings, some can work the part of the wet sand near the boundary with the dry sand as well.
If you aren't going to regularly work the wet sand, there's really no reason to buy a specialized metal detector for the beach. Just use your regular one. Keep in mind though, that 14k and 18kt gold can register as foil or pull tabs. Prepare for a lot of digging, or you'll leave the treasure behind!
These good, entry-level detectors will work well in the dry sand.
Many treasure hunters have started with one of these detectors, and used their finds to buy a specialized machine to hunt in the wet sand. Speaking of the wet sand...
Treasure Hunting in Wet Sand
Once you drop below the high tide, the treasure hunting game changes drastically. Salt and even fresh water can make for fluctuating background conditions. Coping with this requires frequent ground balance adjustments, or a multi-frequency machine that can automatically ground balance. Working the shallow water introduces drag on the coil from the water, which can quickly tire out someone who isn't used to it. Many beach hunters use a large coil for the sand, and a smaller coil for the water, because of this.
Even though you may be working in the water, remember to fill your holes. No one wants their vacation cut short by twisting their ankle in an underwater hole. Again, set your discrimination to only reject iron, because the signals from gold jewelry will be in the same range as foil and pull tabs.
You will want to work during the low tide, unless you're scuba diving. A low tide exposes more area for wet sand hunting, and allows you to get farther out from the shore to hunt new territory. If your favorite beaches have webcams, bookmark and check them before heading out. Not only can you check the weather and tide, you can see where the crowds are congregating.
Places to Hunt In Wet Sand and Surf
Beaches can often get “sanded in,” which means sand has been piled up on the beach from natural or man-made causes. Since we want to get as deep down into the ground as we can in order to find the heavy stuff, we want to look for places where wind or water has eroded the beach. Look for dips perpendicular to the waves. These are called “scallops,” since they make a scalloped design in the sand. Also look for troughs running parallel to the beach, or drop-offs where the high tide eroded a little cliff into the beach. Good targets can often be found at the bottom of these features.
Also look for natural pockets of shells and other debris. If the waves pushed a bunch of shells and junk into a certain location, it probably pushed some good stuff into the same place.
Best Metal Detectors for Wet Sand Beach Hunting
Since conditions when hunting in the wet sand or water call for specialized machines, there really isn't a metal detector for under $500 that is suitable. You can pick up older, used machines like a Sovereign for around that price if you're lucky, but remember to check for cracks and check the seals. Try it out before laying down the money.
Mid-Range Metal Detectors for the Beach
If you are serious about beach hunting, and/or have been lucky enough hunting the dry sand to move up to a dedicated beach machine, here are some popular metal detectors for wet sand and water. If the areas you are hunting are not very trashy, a PI (pulse induction) machine will reach deeper than the VLF (very low frequency) machines, but cannot discriminate iron from the “good stuff.” If you choose a VLF machine, try to pick a multi-frequency machine. While the AT Pro makes our recommended list (as it's a great all-around machine,) it's a single frequency metal detector, and you will need to adjust the ground balance on saltwater beaches.
- Fisher 1280X^
- Garrett AT Pro~
- Garrett Sea Hunter MkII*^
- Minelab Excalibur II^
* pulse induction (PI) metal detector
^ submersible to 200ft. or more
~ submersible to no more than 10ft.
Best Metal Detectors for the Beach at Any Price
Some treasure hunters go “all the way” and buy an underwater metal detector like the Excalibur II (above) or CZ 21, which are rated for depths up to 200ft, and scuba dive for treasure! While the targets in deeper than chest-high water may be a lot fewer, there's not as much competition in retrieving them, and not as much trash. Many pieces of Spanish shipwreck gold have been found by snorkelers and scuba divers in Florida.
- Fisher CZ 21^
- Minelab CTX 3030~
^ submersible to 200ft. or more
~ submersible to no more than 10ft.
Other Equipment for the Beach Hunter
With the number of pull tabs and bottle caps on most beaches, you will want something that speeds up your recovery. Sand scoops allow you to quickly sift the sand in a target area. There are two styles of scoops: The first is made for dry sand, and comes without a long handle These scoops are often made of lighter material than those meant for use in the heavy wet sand. The second type of scoop is made for water use. These scoops are usually made of heavier metals such as stainless steel, and have long handles that allow use in deeper water without submerging your detector (or yourself!)
While there isn't as much worry about digging big holes at the beach, sometimes a hand-held pinpointer can be useful. These small, wand-like detectors are used to scan a hole to locate your target. Sometimes, the target may be in the side of the hole, out of sight. If you just swung your regular detector over the hole and still got a signal, you might think the target is actually deeper than you've dug, leading to lost time and frustration.
Popular pinpointers include the Garrett Propointer, the Detectorpro Pistol Probe, and the Vibra Probe 580, which is waterproof and vibrates instead of beeping.
Headphones are almost a necessity when working on the beach. With all the noise from the waves and the people having a good time, it's very easy to miss a target. This works both ways, as few sunbathers want to hear the BEEP BEEP of your detector all day. Some underwater detectors come with an option for wireless headphones.
A finds pouch for recovered items is much better than sticking wet and sandy things in your pockets. If you are working in a trashy area, a separate plastic shopping bag for the trash you dig is a great idea. Just drop it in the garbage can on the way to your car. If you see any lifeguards or the beach patrol, be sure to let them know about all the junk you just cleaned off the beach for free. It never hurts to make friends with the people in charge.
First Aid may not be the first thing on you mind when packing for the beach, but you'll wish it was, if you step on a piece of glass or a dead jellyfish. You can pack everything you're likely to need in a small case, like an Altoids tin. Sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat will make your expedition more comfortable. Remember, you're going to be staring down at bright sand all day, which is reflecting the sunlight into your eyes.
Bottled water is also good to keep on hand. Get one of those bottle holders that clip onto your belt.
Things To Keep In Mind When Beach Hunting
Beach hunting means interacting with more people than other sorts of metal detecting, as well as presenting some unique situations. Here are some general pointers regarding hunting with a metal detector on the beach.
Respect Goes A Long Way
Respect beachgoers. Not only do they have as much right to enjoy the beach as you do, they're the ones that drop the goodies you're hunting for! Don't invade the personal space of people lying out on their towels, or lounging around. There's tons of places to hunt on most beaches, and you can wait until they leave before checking that location.
If someone comes up to you asking for help in finding something that they've lost, do what you can to help them. Ask “What” they lost, “Where” they lost it, and “When” it was noticed as missing. It should be an easy target to hit if someone else hasn't found it first. Some people will give you something for finding whatever it was that they lost, but if they don't, don't sweat it. Consider it a good deed that the treasure hunting gods may reward you for, later on.
On the flip side of the previous point, NEVER show strangers your good finds. What will you do when they go to the Beach Patrol and claim that it is theirs? Also, you don't want someone following you back to your car and robbing you. Don't hunt on dark beaches late at night alone. With your headphones on, and concentrating on the display of your detector, you're an easy target to sneak up on.
Be discreet. Don't tell people how much your detector costs (especially if you have a $1000-$2000 detector) unless you want to be a mugging victim. Likewise, when someone asks if you've found anything good, tell them just a bunch of trash and some change. Don't jump up and down and make a scene if you find a gold ring or necklace.
Watch for hazards while hunting. Jellyfish can dish out a lot of pain if you touch them, even after they are dead. Shuffle your feet when in the water, to avoid stepping on a stingray and ending up in the emergency room. Broken glass, sharp shells, and rusty fishing hooks can mean a tetanus shot in your future.
Fill your holes, even if the beach looks like the scene of an artillery attack because of all the holes the kids have dug. ALWAYS haul out the trash you dig up. Don't rebury it, or throw it in the water, or leave it there. It will just come back to haunt you on your next hunt.
Taking your metal detector on vacation and hitting the beach can be a fun introduction to a different sort of treasure hunting. If you live in a big tourist area, and are willing to put forth the effort, you can actually make a decent amount of money. Some people can actually make a living at hunting beaches for lost jewelry. In any case, doing a little beach prospecting with a metal detector is a good excuse for getting out and enjoying the sun and fresh air.
Garret Metal Detectors