Using a metal detector in the surf can be a fun way to discover gold and buried treasure.

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 submerged treasure you can wade out to. Some underwater treasure hunters use a snorkel while metal detecting or scuba dive 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 detecting is 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 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

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.

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 in 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 has been stirred—which brings forward otherwise buried items.

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. Tesoro also gets high marks for the Sand Shark and Tiger Shark. 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 detectors operate at depths of up to 200 feet, and are designed with deep-seeking metal sensitivity.

Pulse Induction Metal Detectors are the best for saltwater and will usually pick up the deepest targets. They are designed to ignore salt, which is ideal for ocean treasure hunters. Their short-coming is that they cannot discriminate 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 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. Waterproof VLF detectors 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 in shallow water, look for resources in the “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.

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