Beach metal detecting is relaxing, rewarding, and requires a slightly different plan of attack than land metal detecting. This guide will prepare you for your day at the beach.
Beach metal detecting combines the skills of land metal detecting with a new environment. Dry and wet sand, plus water immersion, add a new dimension. You’ll need to know what technology is best, what signs to look for, beach detecting etiquette, location-dependent permissions, as well as beach-related accessories.
Beach metal detecting also affords you relaxation, exercise, and the opportunity to be an ambassador for the hobby. Meeting people, perhaps helping them find something they lost that day, adds to the whole day.
Finding treasure and other goodies on the beach is nothing new. Beachcombers have been doing this for centuries. We are fortunate to have affordable technology on our side to up the game. Here’s what I’ve experienced and learned from others that will help you make the most of beach metal detecting.
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Why Metal Detect at the Beach?
It can be a bit easier to find things at the beach than on land. This is because of target replenishment. Simply put, people lose things. On top of that, wave action moves lost items around, washing them up on rocky areas where they get deposited. Then there are storms that undercut the sand, exposing fresh areas to hunt.
There are a lot of places to look for targets on the beach, some obvious and some not. Besides the sand in general, try detecting here:
- Next to and around picnic and playground areas. These can be more trash-filled, but where people congregate, things get lost.
- Hіgh-trаffіс аrеаѕ. Search near рublіс rеѕtrооmѕ, paths people use to travel to and from the beach, and places where people rinse off.
- Check areas where drop-offs in the sand have formed by tides and wave action.
- Lifeguard chairs. Don’t interfere or distract the lifeguards, but this region can be a high traffic area.
Are Metal Detectors Allowed on Beaches?
This overview is based on US locations, other countries may have different laws or rules.
Can you metal detect on the beach?
Answer: Yes – with some exceptions, and the rules and regulations vary from location to location. For example, as of this writing the visitflorida.com website states “In general, stay out of the water, whether it’s salt or fresh water. On the beach, all lands below the mean high-water line are state sovereignty submerged lands. That even means wet sands.”
Some locations have laws about how old a found object is and whether it’s legal to keep it. Search for something like “beach metal detecting in [your state]” for more details. If you’re at a town or state park or area regulated by some governing body, check with them first.
In general, though, beaches are a place people go to relax, swim, sun, dig in the sand, and occasionally lose things. Digging in the sand to find lost things is part of the landscape and with no legal reason you can’t be there, have at it. Golden Rule: be respectful of beach-goers, don’t mess with their relaxation and personal space. Keep the hobby alive.
Rocky Beaches versus Sandy Beaches
Most people picture vast expanses of sand when they hear the word beach. In some areas of the country (picture the New England coastline or Puget Sound in the northwest), you can find rock beaches. The rocks are small and rounded, they’re different but not difficult to walk on.
Is metal detecting different on a rocky beach?
A few differences:
You’ll probably need a trowel or shovel instead of a scoop and you’ll want to bring a small prybar to lift any larger rocks. A pinpointer is almost a requirement so you can probe around and between rocks to precisely home in on targets.
Rocky beach areas can act like a sluice box where items are carried up and over them by waves, storms, and high tides. Rocks can catch whatever is brought up to the shoreline with the aid of high tides and storms.
Tidal action helps rock pools catch lost оbјесtѕ. These fascinating pools also draw explorers looking at marine life. On occasion, they lose things, too.
Two Potential Downsides to Rock Beach Metal Detecting:
- The presence of “hot rocks” will give you fits because they alert like a metal target. Hot rocks contain non-valuable minerals (basically iron oxides) and your detector alerts on those as if there was metal down there.
- People walk along beaches for relaxation. At rock beaches, they don’t generally stay long or spread out a towel. There’s no playing around in the sand and surf, so there’s less chance they’re going to lose something.
Metal Detecting in Beach Surf
You’ll want a multi-frequency metal detector, which works better than a normal single frequency detector. They’re better for dealing with mineralization and black (magnetic) sand.
A Pulse Induction (PI) detector is an option as well, but doesn’t discriminate targets. You’ll get a signal on good targets and trashy ones. Speaking of good targets, PI detectors are great for finding lost items containing gold.
What is the Best Metal Detector for the Beach?
Opinions abound, but let me tell you what I know. You’ll want a multi-frequency detector if you’re at an ocean beach because of saltwater and its mineralization effects. PI detectors are good too, but more expensive and alert on every piece of metal you run across. This can be annoying. Unless the find had gold in it.
Best Beach Metal Detector Under $300
Again, opinions abound, but this model on Amazon has overall great reviews, is light, and the Simplex name bubbles to the top in conversations. The tiebreaker is that it’s one of the very few budget-priced waterproof detectors under $300.
Pinpointers – Is a Metal Detector Enough?
If you don’t have a pinpointer, consider getting one. Targets in sandy beaches or submerged sand can be elusive. Once you get a good tone from your detector, a pinpointer can quickly pinpoint (!) the item(s) you hit upon.
These are especially useful on smaller targets that might get through the larger holes in your scoop.
The size of your detector coil makes a difference. If you’re looking to swap out for a bigger or smaller coil than the stock one, consider this:
- Larger coils will generally provide better depth and a slightly larger sweep area because of the diameter. That will help you cover the search area a little faster. However, larger coils weigh a bit more and after a lot of swings it gets noticeable.
- Smaller coils tend to be better at pinpointing and are also lighter.
- Bigger or smaller, if you’re in the water with the coil, its size relates directly to water resistance.
What Else Do You Need for Beach Metal Detecting?
A metal detecting beach scoop is invaluable. You can use a hand scoop like the one I have:
Or you can use one with a long handle (like on a shovel), like this Quest model on Amazon – the advantage there is the handle allows you to use the scoop in shallow water. This configuration is also referred to as a sand scoop shovel.
А mеѕh bag is great for holding your finds. It keeps your stuff together, frees up your hands, and keeps sand out of your pockets! More importantly, it lets wаtеr аnd ѕаnd раѕѕ thrоugh.
Other: Consider sand shoes (water shoes) and possibly a wetsuit. For even more “what else?” items, check out my article on Accessories.
Pulse Induction Metal Detectors for the Beach
If you use a VLF detector, look for one with adjustable ground balancing. A multi-frequency model will help you with mineralization. VLFs are good for dry sand and non-salt water environments. Look for one that has a “beach mode” such as this one on Amazon.
Pulse Induction (PI) is a better choice of technology in the wet sand and out towards the water (surf line and shallow areas beyond.) They’re more expensive, though, and don’t filter out trashy metals. The upside is they’re built to ignore salt and can detect targets buried much deeper below the surface.
Different Types of Sands
There are 3 main types of beach sand to consider: Dry, Wet, Black
Dry sand detecting is essentially the same as in sandy soil, except on a beach you’re more likely to find trash than you would in soil. If you’re just staying on the dry sand areas, a normal VLF metal detector with ground balancing works fine.
Wet sand can be telltale sand, especially after high tide. If you look for areas of wind or water erosion, dips in the sand, or areas where shells collect, those can point to lucrative finds. Wet sand at saltwater beaches increases the impact of mineralization. Wet sand in freshwater, not so much.
Black sand is more magnetic. It’s more likely to be found near areas of past volcanic activity or heavy mineralization. Unlike the tan or white sand found elsewhere, black sand has magnetite mixed in. This gives the sand a black or grey color and its iron oxide content is what makes the sand magnetic to a degree that metal detectors don’t do well. A multi-frequency detector can improve performance in black sand.
- As annoying as black sand can be, since it’s heavier than normal sand, you may see it collect in waves or stripes due to wave or wind action. Heavier objects like coins may be found in those stripes as well.
Strategies for Beach Metal Detecting
Successful treasure hunters, archaeologists, and recovery teams are methodical in their searches. Metal detectorists should be, too. It’s not hard for you to visualize an area and break it down into a grid. Cover the grid by going back and forth, like you would when mowing the lawn. Try to overlap your swaths.
Another popular method is to zig-zag the search area, then reverse and repeat or move to a different area and zig zag again.
A third pattern is really useful in the sand. A spiral pattern, centered on a good target, covers a lot of nearby areas. Drag your handled scoop behind you and trace the spiral to make the pattern most effective.
Check High Tide
Look for the high-tide line. This soft sand area is often a good spot for finding things.
After the Storm
When the storm’s passed, check out what the heavy wave action left behind. Low tide is the best time. When the wind blows the beaches can get opened up, so be ready for a good Nor’easter.
If you’re going to a popular area, start early. It’s a sure bet the other detectorists will be there. You stand a better chance of finding stuff that way before it’s gone.
That said, after a day full of beach activity is over and the crowds have thinned, the last hour or so of the day is a good time.
Planning Your Beach Metal Detecting Trip
It’s fun to grab your detector and just go. If you want to increase your chances of finding good items, do some research.
Here are a few tricks of the trade:
- Make use of online beach cams, social media pictures that tourists post, and driving by the beach while out on other errands. See what you can learn about the best spots to visit next time out. Notice where the chairs, towels, tents, and umbrellas are.
- Check for times of high and low tide.
- Prepare for heat, sun, cold, rain, etc. Bring water, snacks, SPF suntan lotion, your equipment, good beach shoes, brimmed hat, sunglasses, a pancho, layers… prepare for whatever conditions you’ll encounter.
Some Final Beach Metal Detecting Tips
- Don’t disturb the dunes
- Take the trashy targets you find to the trash can
- As in dirt detecting, take a second to smooth or push sand back into the holes you make
- Follow posted rules
- Respect personal space, let the relaxers relax
- Use headphones to keep your beeping to yourself
- On windy days, be careful not to create a cloud of flying sand when you dig
Consider Returns: Consider locating the owner of really valuable personal items, check with the beach/park office or local police.
Upscale Beaches: These may have more interesting, possibly lucrative finds.
Towel Lines: People tend to lay out their towels based on where others have. Try to spot an empty space or two in a towel line and search there. Be super respective and don’t irritate people. Golden Rule.
Undercut Areas: If you find what looks like a vertical wall of sand, try detecting there. Hit both the vertical face and the area in front of it where the sand fell down and spread out. Be careful not to disturb dunes.
Beach Metal Detecting Safety
Here are some safety tips:
- Be wary of jellyfish and stinging nettles in salt water. They are sometimes hard to see and easy to brush against. You’ll know when you do. Check online for a remedy, but I was always told to bring some meat tenderizer to sprinkle on the welt. It seemed to help.
- Check the weather and leave enough time to get back to your car if lightning is an issue.
- Consider something like a ziptop bag for your phone so you don’t get sand and water on it.
- Dangerous items: be wary of fish hooks and even drug needles. Walking barefoot on the beach these days, or poking around the sand with your hands carries a little risk. Unfortunately, it’s the times we live in. Consider gloves and sandals or water shoes.
- Let someone know where you are and when you plan to return.
- Don’t get yourself in too deep. Know your swimming abilities in case you happen to trip and go under the water.