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Steve Herschbach

Prospectors Guide To Beach Detecting

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I am an avid metal detector user and I like always being at it. Just because there is no gold prospecting for me in a given time frame is no reason to not go metal detecting for gold. There are a lot more ways to find gold than prospecting, and so jewelry detecting is very high on my list. If you like finding a gold nugget, I do not see how you could not also be excited about digging up a gold ring.

Jewelry detecting and nugget detecting share many common traits, not least being the hunt for gold. Both also require a high tolerance for digging trash items, and both are best done with detectors made for the purpose. It just so happens that the detectors best used for nugget detecting are often the best to use for jewelry detecting.

In other words, a lot of you guys are already outfitted for this!

There are two general ways to hunt for jewelry - on dry land, or in and around water. Let's leave the dry land for another article and focus on the water detecting for now, since I am gearing up for a water hunt myself right now.

Almost any detector, with the remarkable exception of the most expensive one you can buy, comes with waterproof coils and can be submerged to the control box. Minelab PI stock coils are not warranted waterproof but only water resistant so it takes aftermarket coils to get them up to speed. But they are a poor choice for wading as there is probably no machine I would like dropping in the water less than a Minelab GPX 5000 with high amp battery attached.

Detectors that can be hip or chest mounted offer even more flexibility for wading applications. Few nugget detectors are fully submersible, but there are some, most notably the Garrett AT Gold, Infinium and ATX, all waterproof models. Jan 2019 note: see also Makro Gold Kruzer and Equinox 800.

Water detecting can be broken down into fresh water and salt water detecting. Fresh water detecting is pretty straight forward since fresh water is invisible to your detector. The tuning and operation of the detector is similar to what you do on dry land. All you have to worry about is keeping the electronics dry, and recovering targets underwater. Fresh water swimming holes are great for jewelry detecting, and there are many fresh water stream and river opportunities for gold prospectors. Any good gold prospecting detector also works well for freshwater beach hunting. The Garrett AT Gold has an obvious edge for being waterproof. The Tesoro Lobo gets special mention for being convertible to hip or chest mount.

In fresh water VLF detectors usually have an edge due to large amounts of trash often being present but PI detectors do have their place in fresh water detecting. The only way to know is to just give it a go and see how much trash there is. The nice thing about beaches though is the digging is easy compared to what nugget hunters often face.

Salt water adds a whole new dimension. Salt water is conductive, and therefore a hot metal detector can actually get a signal from salt water or wet salt sand. Many prospectors already know the issues surrounding salt and alkali flats. Detectors that are used in salt water need some way to tune out the salt signal. The problem is even worse on beaches that have mineral content, classic black sand beaches. A white beach composed of broken down coral and shells is no problem at all, but add volcanic material and the issues compound. Most prospectors would not be surprised to hear that pulse induction (PI) detectors have an edge in dealing with salt water scenarios.

There is an unsolvable conundrum however. The signal for salt water and small gold items, like post earrings or thin gold chains, actually overlaps. When you tune out the salt water, you tune out these items also. There is no solution to this problem with existing metal detectors because of the way they work. It is possible to find these items at the beach using a hot detector, like a White’s Goldmaster or Fisher Gold Bug 2, but you must be on bone dry sand. Any attempt to get near wet salt sand with these units will result in the sand acting like one giant target.

Most mid-frequency gold machines handle salt water beaches to varying degrees. They will generally have no problem until you get on sand currently seeing wave action or actually in the water. The higher the frequency, the less able to handle wet salt sand. The Fisher Gold Bug Pro at 19 kHz and Garrett AT Gold at 18 kHz are not happy on wet salt sand. They can be made to function but only by losing a lot of depth. The Tesoro Lobo has an alkali setting and White’s MX Sport a salt setting specifically designed to handle wet salt sand. In general though these detectors will all work better higher on the beach and have an edge on small rings, earrings, and chains that other beach hunting machines tend to miss.

The Minelab Eureka Gold and X-Terra 705 have low frequency options that make them well suited for beach hunting. The Eureka can be hip or chest mounted, but be aware the stock coil is another that Minelab does not warranty as waterproof.

The PI detectors fare better, the Garrett Infinium and new ATX having an edge again for being waterproof designs. The White’s TDI and Minelab series do well but must be kept dry. The TDI models except the TDI SL have an advantage in being convertible to hip or chest mount. Be aware that turning off or not using a ground balance system can often add extra depth with a PI on white sand beaches. The TDI and GPX 5000 can turn off the ground balance setting, and the factory default on the ATX before ground balancing offer possibilities on low mineral beaches. For 2019 see the new White's TDI BeachHunter.

For serious salt water beach detecting hunters turn to detectors not normally used for prospecting. Ironically, this is because the general lack of sensitivity that makes prospectors eschew these models makes them ideal for salt water. Multi-frequency VLF detectors are not very good prospecting machines but they excel in salt water. Two detectors that vie neck and neck in the salt water VLF market are the Fisher CZ-21 and Minelab Excalibur. On the PI side the Garrett Sea Hunter, Tesoro Sand Shark and White’s Surf PI are the three popular models.

Minelab Excalibur II waterproof metal detector

There are lots of options but if you ever want a specialized waterproof detector for both fresh and salt water and want to make a safe choice, get a Minelab Excalibur. It is probably the most popular water detector made and for good reason. It gets the job done with minimum fuss and will work well anywhere.

I am a PI guy myself however. I have used the Garrett Infinium extensively trying to deal with salt water and volcanic sand and hot rock conditions in Hawaii. I have had success with the model but it is difficult to deal with, suffering from an inability to ground balance into the salt range and susceptibility to EMI interference. Huge numbers of posts exist on how to try and get an Infinium to behave in salt water. The new ATX has taken steps to address these issues but the jury is out there yet. I will be giving the ATX a good go in Hawaii soon. My latest water detector is a White's Surf PI Dual Field to back up the ATX. I have had good luck in the past with the White's Surf PI models and recommend them for people interested in a waterproof beach PI. Again, a simple unit that gets the job done, and at a bargain price.

Where to hunt can fill a book, but really boils down to two things. The first is that the best finds will be made where people who wear quality jewelry congregate and engage in some kind of physical activity. On fresh water beaches where items get dropped is generally where they stay. The second item comes into play more often on salt water beaches. The waves and seasons concentrate items on layers, much like placer deposits. They sometimes bury the items too deep to find, and at other times expose them for easy recovery.

Beach watching can teach you a lot. There is the towel line, where people set up shop for the day. Lots of items get lost here. Then there are the places where people tend to play beach sports, like Frisbee or volleyball. Best of all, are areas in the water where people congregate, with areas where people can actually stand on the bottom being best.

Items dropped in sand obviously sink over time, but hard sand will resist this longest and keep the targets close to the surface longer. Extremely soft sand swallows items quickly and is not a good place to hunt. Areas where the sand tapers into a hard rock or coral bottom can be very good when the overlying sand is shallow enough to reach that hard layer with a detector.

Beach detecting is very popular, but beach hunters have on tremendous advantage over prospectors. The finds are being constantly replenished. There is no beach, no matter how heavily hunted, that does not have the potential for finds. The more activity there is the more items are lost in a given period of time. The finds made by beach hunters can rival the best made by prospectors, as not many gold nuggets come with diamonds attached.

I know for many prospectors it is about getting out into the middle of nowhere and away from the crowds. Beach hunting is not for everyone. But you can hunt early in the morning or even on rainy days, when people are few and far between. As more and more areas accessible to prospectors get hunted out, it is possible other places are near to you where gold may be easier to find. If you have a detector already you certainly have nothing to lose by giving it a go. Hopefully this post has at least made you consider the possibility. As always, volumes more information can be found just by Googling “beach detecting forum”.

Here is an example of a hunt at White's Surf PI Pro and Platinum Rings in Hawaii I got four platinum and three gold rings over a couple week period. One of the gold rings is white gold so it looks like only two gold. All fairly plain men's bands reflecting the rough surf area I was hunting. There is a picture of everything I dug at the link including the junk. All the platinum I have ever found was rings, and when platinum peaked at over $2000 an ounce I cashed in over two ounces of platinum.

Another very successful hunt was Detecting Gold in Hawaii with the Garrett Infinium Please note that unlike my prospecting outings I do not spend every hour of every day in Hawaii detecting. These finds are being made hunting on an average of two or three hours a day. I am not one to just sit around so detecting keeps me busy. And a good vacation can be paid for in finds or at least subsidized with some hard work and a little bit of luck.

Waterproof VLF Detector Comparison Guide

Some gold and platinum finds made by Steve in Hawaii


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Excellent article , your rhetoric is tops !

I thought I knew but now I do   :)


Very well done

Jack .

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Nice job, Steve...you are certainly investing time and energy in this forum.

The beaches here in San Diego are full of black sand...

I have found gold chain fragments on wet salt beaches with the Xterra-70 and the prospecting dd coil...the stock coil did not seem to deal with the black sand and wet salt water as well.

I have been to the bay a couple of times with my ctx3030; it worked ok but I don't have enough time in the salt to really have a firm opinion. I do know several beach hunters that haave switched to the 3030 and the big coil for their beach-ing...and love the results.

I know this will sound odd but I feel bad about finding lost rings, etc...but, there is rarely any way to find the foolish losers of said objects...

so, I won't throw them back!


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Some rings can be returned - did you read my note at the end of the Garrett in Hawaii article referenced above? Pretty cool when it can be done and it can't happen if you do not find the ring first. Also http://www.detectorprospector.com/forum/topic/54-lost-ring-returns-to-alaska/

The CTX 3030 is a great beach hunting detector. I am a little less confident in it as a true in the surf type detector. I was planning on taking the Garrett ATX to Hawaii with me and the Minelab CTX 3030 as backup. The plan was use the ATX most of the time, and possibly use CTX on the beach or wading but keep it out of heavy surf. Frankly, the machine is just a little too nice for the real rough and tumble treatment.

The ATX and CTX are both warranted waterproof to ten feet. Most real surf detectors are 100 feet or more. I have had two underwater detectors leak on me before, both brand new out of the box. The old White's Surf PI, two models back, prior to Surf PI Pro and newest Surf DF. My first water hunt to Hawaii died on arrival when that detector leaked. The box design was redesigned later and I have had several Surfs subsequently with no issues. The other was the old Tesoro Stingray II, model prior to current Tiger Shark. Both were replaced by their respective manufacturers.

After that first failure in Hawaii I have never gone with less than two waterproof detectors on an important trip. It has also made me cautious about waterproof detectors in general.

The CTX has had issues with the battery seal and to a lesser extent the USB port seal. Mine has been in the water a couple times with no problem but I still was not wanting to put it to the ultimate test in rough surf. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was also placing a pretty big bet on the ATX, a detector so new it has no track record. I always wanted a new Surf PI Dual Field and so when by chance an opportunity arose to get one I jumped on it. I believe in serendipity and so decided at last second to take the Surf to Hawaii in place of the CTX. It seemed like better insurance as it is one of the waterproof to 100 feet models and I have done well with prior Surf models in Hawaii.

Not to belittle the CTX however. Mine will still get plenty of beach use in the future. The first time in the water it scored me a nice gold ring, and on second outing also. One of the more successful beach hunters, Gary Drayton, has used the CTX extensively and has even written a book about using it available here. I have it and his book on reading the beach and hardcore beach hunting, all very good books. I would recommend any of his books based on what I have read so far.

He also has a great blog at http://hardcoretreasurehunting.blogspot.com with tons of great tips and excellent photos of eye-popping finds. If it can't inspire somebody nothing can!

The attached photo shows my finds from my first few outings with the CTX 3030. I took an immediate liking to it for obvious reasons.


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that gold nugget specimen ring is beautiful ! what a nice find. 😊

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Thanks, I was pleased with that one, combining both jewelry detecting and gold nugget detecting into one find!

The article is an older one, so I added lots of links and a couple notes to freshen it up. I particular I had a couple great outings with the Garrett ATX after the article was written....

Garrett ATX Review - Beach Detecting In Hawaii

Garrett ATX Return To Hawaii

Steve scores with Garrett ATX in Hawaii

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Man, I really like that specimen ring.   I like finding the gold but the unusual gold is the best gold.

Good article!


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