Metal Detecting in Water

By Daniel Bernzweig

If you're willing to get adventurous and wet, shallow water treasure hunting can turn up some amazing finds. Many swimmers inadvertently lose rings, coins, and other valuable jewelry that lay waiting to be found. Treasures lost on the beach also roll out with the tide. Since most beach detectorists hunt the sandy area, you'll get first dibs on the submerged treasure you can wade out to. Using an underwater metal detector in the surf can be a fun way to discover gold and buried treasure.

Metal detecting in water can be a great way to find hidden treasures. As with any activity, it's important to be aware of the dangers and take precautions before you begin. Underwater metal detectors have made it possible for people to find all sorts of treasures that were hidden underwater. This includes everything from lost jewelry and how to find a precious metal object to sunken ships.

Metal detectorists often use special wetsuits and waterproof headphones to help them stay comfortable and protected while they search. There are, however, a number of dangers associated with the use of metal detectors in water, which is why you must be aware of them. There are a few things that you should keep in mind before getting started, which we will cover in this article in greater depth.

Diving with a Scuba Detector

Some underwater treasure hunters use a snorkel while metal detecting or scuba diving on the ocean floor. If you prefer to use your metal detector with your head above water, walking or wading is the way to go. You will delight in what you can find in up to six feet of water!

Shallow water and beach metal detector hunting are exciting and profitable at ocean beaches, lakes, and ponds. The type of treasure you'll find depends on your region and its history; and the amount of traffic to the area. East coast shorelines and lakes often turn up Civil War relics and coins. Spanish gold and silver coins from a galleon may be found on the southern U.S. coastline. Gold nuggets are often found in rivers and streams with a specific gold metal detector in Colorado as well as the west coast.

Here of some examples of treasure, you can find in up to six feet of water:

  • Gold and diamond rings
  • Gold and silver necklaces, bracelets, and watches
  • Spanish silver and gold coins
  • Civil War uniform buttons
  • Pre-Civil War trade tokens
  • Gemstone-mounted religious medallions

Shallow Water Hunting

Shallow water hunting includes detecting from the high water mark to approximately knee deep. The high water mark is the level reached by sea water at high tide.

Required Equipment: Waterproof metal detector - either a VLF with a ground adjust or a Pulse Induction model. Short or long-handled scoop and boots or waders in colder water.

When walking in shallow water at low tide, you should find more coins and jewelry and less junk than on the dry beach. Shallow water hunters should always work the tide. If you arrive at the beach a few hours before low tide, you can search while the tide is receding and until it starts rising again. Experts say the most productive areas are in deeper water, where people swim during high tide. They also advise that wind and storms deposit items of similar weight together in small areas or along the same tide line. That's why several rings can be found in one outing. Once your detector has signaled a target, be sure to mark the spot-it's easily lost in rolling surf. Use your scoop to dig your target, but check the hole with your detector again before dumping the scoop. This way, you won't lose track of your target. If there's no target after a few scoops, move 90 degrees on each consecutive scoop. When the signal stops, the target should be in your scoop. A waist-mounted bag is perfect for storing treasure.

Wading for Treasure

Wading for treasure can easily pay dividends, but it also requires more equipment. Depending on the season and water temperature, you may need a wet suit to keep warm. In colder water, many detectorists also equip themselves with wet suit boots and a weight belt to counteract the buoyancy from the wet suit. A long-handled beach scoop is necessary to recover your targets from the lake or ocean floor-which may be sandy, rocky, or clay. Experts also recommend that you have a floating screen. Once you have located a target, take a deep scoop of sand. Then, recheck your target hole. If the target is still there, dump the scoop and take another scoop before putting it on your screen. When you sift the sand through your screen, your target should become visible. If you secure your floating screen to a waist belt, it will free up both hands for dumping and sifting the contents of your scoop. Detecting after a storm increases your chances of finding valuables because the surf and sand have been stirred-which brings forward otherwise buried items.

Required Equipment: Waterproof metal detector- VLF (very low frequency) for fresh water; either a VLF or Pulse Induction model for salt water. Long-handled or looped scoop for digging targets and a floating screen for sifting out treasure.

Underwater Metal Detecting Tips

Before you start metal detecting in water, it's important to research the area where you'll be searching. If you are searching on private property, obtain the landowner's permission. Many town or city-owned areas are just fine to metal detect on. You should, though, also check local laws to make sure that you're not breaking any regulations.

Treasure hunters should also be aware of the depth of the water before searching in it. It's important to use a waterproof metal detector if you're going to be searching in deep water. You'll also need to take special safety precautions if you're going to be diving down to search for treasures.

In terms of underwater metal detectors, some of the best underwater metal detector options for beach hunting and underwater metal detecting are the Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector, XP DEUS II, and the Fisher CZ21 submersible metal detectors. The best metal detectors for beach hunting will have a waterproof coil so you can search in the water and wet sand.

Detecting metal underwater can be a great way to find hidden treasures, but you should be aware of the dangers and take precautions before you begin. Here is a metal detecting tip or two for beach metal detecting and underwater treasure hunting with a metal detector:

  1. Do your research - Make sure you have permission from the landowner and check local laws before getting started. Swimming holes are great places to look for lost treasures, but make sure you know the depth of the water before you start searching.
  2. Check the search depth - Be aware of the depth of the water you'll be searching in, and use a waterproof metal detector if necessary. Specialized scuba detectors can be used to search in depths up to 65 feet.
  3. Be safe - Take special safety precautions when diving down to search for treasures. Always wear the proper safety gear.
  4. Bring some accessories - Bring a sand scoop to quickly dig in wet and dry sand to find your target.
  5. Choose the right metal detectors - Gold metal detectors will help you find gold nuggets, while all-purpose metal detectors can be used for various types of treasures. So the best metal detector for land use will usually not be the same as the best underwater detector.

Types of Shallow Water Metal Detectors

  • When it comes to choosing a detector, there are two main types: Very Low Frequency (VLF) and Pulse Induction (PI). VLF detectors work by sending out a low-frequency signal that is then reflected back from the target. The receiver in the detector then amplifies the signal so you can hear it.
  • A pulse induction detector will work differently in that it sends out brief pulses of electricity instead of a continuous signal. The receiver then picks up these pulses when they are reflected back from the target. The biggest advantage of pulse induction detectors is that they're not affected by saltwater or ground minerals, making them ideal for use in the water.

Which Metal Detectors are Best for Shallow Water Hunting?

Beach and underwater treasure hunters have strong preferences for specific underwater metal detectors. In reviews, the Garrett AT Pro is often praised for its superb discrimination in fresh water. The Garrett ATX and the Fisher CZ-21 are both excellent choices for use at both salt and freshwater beaches. Underwater metal detectors are available in different varieties, Pulse Induction or (VLF) Very Low Frequency. Most underwater metal detection units operate at depths of up to 200 and even 250 feet and are designed with deep-seeking metal sensitivity.

Pulse Induction Metal Detectors

These types of detectors are great for saltwater and will usually pick up the deepest targets. They are designed to ignore salt, which is ideal for an ocean treasure hunter. Their shortcoming is that they cannot discriminate between iron and junk without also losing good signals. PI detectors do not require motion, so they will continue to sound when held directly over a target.

Here are a few of the top recommended PI Metal Detectors:

Very Low Frequency (VLF) Metal Detectors

The Models typically operate in the 3 to 30 kHz frequency range and are also referred to as motion detectors. They are very adept at locating coins, relics, and jewelry. A waterproof VLF detector can be used in fresh or salt water and on the beach. However, they are known to react to salt and can become slightly erratic around wet ocean sand. It is important that your VLF metal detector has the ability to filter out the minerals by ground balancing all the way down to wet salt sand. Popular waterproof VLF Metal Detectors with this feature include:

To learn more about metal detecting underwater and start a real treasure hunt of your own, look for resources in the MetalDetector.com "Books & Videos" section, such as Advanced Shallow Water Metal Detecting. If snorkeling or scuba diving with a detector interests you, be sure to read other articles in our Learning Library, including Underwater Metal Detectors - Reviewing the Best Options.

© 2014 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised November 2021 | Revised August 2022