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A Guide to Metal-Detecting in Florida: The Thrill of the Hunt

By Lauren Tjaden

Metal detecting in Florida isn’t all about unearthing gold rings encrusted with diamonds – though that’s an exciting possibility. Instead, it’s about the thrill of the hunt, wondering what’s buried under the sand, whether it’s a button, a buckle, or a coin.

It’s about strolling along a stretch of beach, swinging your detector, listening for a beep or click while you enjoy the day. It’s about connecting with the past on a personal level.

Florida offers metal-detecting adventures in all corners of the state. Here’s your guide for places to hunt for treasure, connecting with metal-detecting clubs, adhering to the code of ethics, and more.
 

GEARING UP

If you’re buying a metal detector, you’ve got a lot of options. Simple metal detectors cost as little as $100; super-sensitive models exceed a whopping $1,000. One of the more popular types for a saltwater environment involves pulse induction detectors, like the Garrett Infinium. A set of headphones helps block out extraneous noise so you can quickly detect the increased sound level when the detector head sweeps over something metallic. If you don’t know what you want, or what you need, check with the locals at one of the Florida clubs; they’re sure to have an abundance of advice.

If you want to rent a metal detector, you can find them in most areas with a simple Google search.
 

GETTING THE GOODS

Once you're equipped, here are some hints for successful searching...

On the grid

Many treasure hunters find the most success by being methodical. You can mentally grid an area and work it slowly, taking one step per sweep of the metal detector in front of you as you hold it just above the sand. Depending on the quality of the detector and the buried metal object, you can find things as small as a dime 12 inches below the surface. Larger objects or those buried a long time that emanate a metallic “halo” effect can be dug up several feet down.

High tide

Another tip is to look for the high-tide line where the sand is softest and walk along it, as that’s frequently productive. Sort through the debris and inspect anything unusual. A screened device at the end of a handle can reduce a lot of stooping, but simple garden tools, such as a hand scoop or pail, will suffice.

Stormy weather

When it’s safe to do so, hit the beach soon after a storm’s come through off the ocean. The heavy wave action stirs up the sediment and at times picks up objects, like coins, and tumbles them right onto the beaches.

Shell’s bells

Look for areas with more shell deposits than others, as this might indicate where strong currents are sweeping across the bottom and depositing loose objects onto the beach sand.

The early bird gets the ring

In popular metal-detecting areas, other enthusiasts will be out at daybreak, so make sure you’re among the initial searchers.

sunset over the waves at Boca Grande

Florida State Parks are glorious, encompassing vast beaches, forests and natural areas -- and using metal detectors in them is allowed, at least in certain designated areas.

- Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

WHERE TO GO, WHERE NOT TO GO

Knowing where you’re allowed to hunt -- or not -- is at least as important as knowing how to do it. Nobody wants to get a ticket, or worse, have their equipment confiscated.

Rules and regulations are complicated, and vary from location to location. Read on to discover where metal-detecting is allowed and prohibited.

Overall, remember that objects more than 50 years old are state property and are illegal to retrieve by private operators. Forget the waters adjacent to national parks; they’re off limits, period.
 

Take a stroll in the park

Florida State Parks are glorious, encompassing vast beaches, forests and natural areas -- and using metal detectors in them is allowed, at least in certain designated areas.  At coastal parks, you can hunt between the waterline and toe of the dune, as determined by park managers. The exception is at archaeological sites.

Metal detectors may also be used during authorized archaeological research projects, and to recover lost personal items, with supervision of a park staff member.  

But always check with the park of your choice for details. Rules can change and are different at different parks.

For example, Little Talbot Island State Park, located in northeast Florida, allows metal-detecting currently but they used to allow it only in a restricted area. You don’t even need a permit; they just ask you stay off the dunes.

Here’s where you can find parks and contact information.
 

But not these parks

National Parks, Monuments, Seashores and lands in Florida don’t allow metal detecting. In fact, per the Code of Federal Regulations, "Possessing or using a mineral or metal detector, magnetometer, side scan sonar, other metal detecting device, or subbottom profiler" is prohibited in all national parks.”

This means you can’t even bring a metal detector into a National Park, much less use it.
 

Where metal-detecting is allowed, by area

The following list (which is not comprehensive) helps to target where metal-detecting is allowed – and prohibited – all over Florida. Remember to check before you go to make sure rules and regulations haven’t changed, and be careful not to stray onto private property, military areas or National Parks.

If you don’t find the area in which you’re interested on the list, a county’s division of parks and recreation is usually the best source to find out the rules.
 

North Florida

  • Emerald Coast CVB, Inc./Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council | 850-651-7131
    Metal-detecting is permitted on the beaches, and no permit is required. As always, stay off of the dunes and follow the code of ethics.
  • Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. | 850-233-5070
    Metal-detecting is permitted on the beaches, and no permit is required. However, no metal shovels are allowed, and no holes bigger than two feet.
  • Visit Pensacola | 850-434-1234
    Metal-detecting is permitted on the beaches. However, be aware of crossing into National Parks, where metal detecting is prohibited, and also military installations, which will have their own regulations.
  • Visit South Walton | 850-267-1216
    Metal-detecting is permitted on public beaches.
  • Visit Gainesville | 352-374-5260, 352 264 6868
    For all intents and purposes, you can’t metal-detect in this area’s county parks. While metal-detecting is technically permitted, you can’t remove an item or disturb the ground, which means you can’t do anything except determine that something might be in the ground.
  • Visit Tallahassee | 850-606-2305
    For all intents and purposes, you can’t metal-detect in this area’s county parks. While metal-detecting is technically permitted, you can’t disturb the ground, which means you can’t dig.
  • Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau | 904-277-4369
    Metal-detecting is permitted on public beaches.
  • Visit Jacksonville | 904-798-9111
    Metal-detecting is permitted on public beaches.
  • St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau | 904-829-1711
    Metal-detecting is permitted on all St. Johns County Beaches, but the areas’ visitors services reminds folks it’s not allowed in Anastasia State Park, Fort Matanzas National Park, or the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.
  • Flagler County Tourism Development Council | 386-437-0106
    There are no restrictions for using a metal detector on the beaches. However, particularly during turtle nesting season, remember to fill in any holes you make.

Central Florida

  • Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater | 727-464-7200
    In Pinellas County Parks the use of metal detectors is prohibited, except on the beach.
    Metal detectors are permitted on Clearwater Beach’s public beaches.
  • Citrus County Visitors and Convention Bureau | 352-628-9305
    Metal-detecting is permitted, and no permit is required. Please don’t leave holes.
  • Ocala/Marion County Visitors & Convention Bureau | 352-291-9169
    Metal-detecting is allowed, but a permit is required. Here’s where you can apply for the permit as well as rules and regulations: www.marioncountyfl.org/home/showdocument?id=11808
  • Visit Orlando | 407-363-5800
    In Orange County, where Orlando is located, metal-detecting is allowed with a permit, but anything you find must be reported to park staff. If whatever you’ve found is a historical artifact, lost or stolen, the staff will confiscate it. Here’s where you can apply for a permit in Orange County.
  • Florida's Space Coast Office of Tourism | 321-637-5483
    Metal-detecting is permitted in Brevard County Parks, but not in or near playgrounds or athletic fields, or on endangered lands. Here is a list of parks: www.brevardfl.gov/ParksRecreation
  • Daytona Beach Area CVB | 386-255-0415
    Metal-detecting is permitted on the beaches but not inland in any Volusia County park, which includes Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, and West Volusia.
  • New Smyrna Beach Visitor Bureau | 386-428-1600
    Metal-detecting is permitted on the beaches but not inland in any Volusia County park, which includes Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, and West Volusia.
  • Martin County Convention & Visitors Bureau |772-288-5434
    Metal-detecting is permitted; however, removing natural elements from parks and beaches is prohibited. As always, fill in any holes you create.
  • Indian River County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Division | 770-567-3491
    Metal-detecting is permitted; however, removing natural elements from parks and beaches along with excavations is prohibited. Digging in the sand with anything larger than a small scoop or hand trowel isn’t allowed, and of course, fill in your holes. Visitor are reminded to stay off of the dunes and to never to disturb turtle nests.

South Florida

  • Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau | 941-729-9177
    In Manatee County, which includes Anna Maria Island, metal-detecting is not permitted at preserves and parks. On the beaches, ordinances prohibit digging and removal of objects, which rules out metal-detecting. However, Parks and Recreation say they generally overlook metal-detecting on the beach as long as the operator is practicing good etiquette.
  • Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel | 239-338-3500
    Metal-detecting is permitted on Lee County beaches.
  • Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB | 239-252-2384
    In Collier County, metal-detecting is allowed at beach parks, but not inland parks. Here’s a list of their parks: www.colliercountyfl.gov/your-government/divisions-f-r/parks-and-recreation/beaches-and-boats .  Parks and Recreation asks that you follow good metal-detecting etiquette.
    In Everglades National Park, metal detecting or even the possession of a metal detector isn’t permitted.
  • Charlotte Harbor & The Gulf Islands Visitor's Bureau | 941-743-1900
    Metal-detecting is allowed at Englewood and the area’s public beaches.
  • Visit Sarasota County | 941-955-0991
    Metal-detecting is permitted on Sarasota County beaches, but they note you may not ‘Harmfully disturb or remove from any area, or the waters thereof, any buildings, structures, facilities, cultural resources, including historic and prehistoric, equipment, park property, soil, natural water bottom formation, sand, gravel, rocks, stones, fossils, minerals, plants (including terrestrial, aquatic, marine, or epiphytic plants) or animals, artifacts, or other materials.’
  • Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau | 954-767-2466
    In Broward County parks, digging holes is prohibited, so metal-detecting is by default not permitted.
  • Monroe County Tourist Development Council | 1-800-FLA-KEYS
    Metal-detecting is permitted.
  • Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau | 305-539-3040
    Metal-detecting is not permitted.
  • Discover the Palm Beaches | 800-554-7256
    Metal-detecting is permitted in Palm Beach County. The division of parks stresses that you must leave areas in the same condition that you found them, without holes or disturbance.
     
Out of the water…

In general, stay out 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.

Remember that objects more than 50 years old are state property and are illegal to retrieve by private operators. Forget the waters adjacent to national parks; they’re off limits, period.
 

Privately speaking

If you can get permission to enter private property to metal-detect, it’s an excellent choice. Permission can be either verbal or in a written. One caveat: if the property encompasses a known or registered archaeology, historical or Native American burial site, they will be off-limits to metal detecting.

a sand sifter resting on the beach, used in metal detecting

A sand sifter will make digging much easier.

- Doug Kelly for VISIT FLORIDA

FINDERS KEEPERS -- SOMETIMES

You can keep it!

If you find a bracelet or watch buried in the sand, you can probably keep it. The exceptions are parks that stipulate you have to report anything you find (like Orange County’s, where Orlando is located). At those parks, if someone has lost what you’ve found, you may have to return it.

Leave it be and report it

Older, historically important items are a different story – and anything 50 years or older is considered archaeological. If you find items that might fit that description on state property, they are owned by the state of Florida, and you need to leave them in place and report them.

To report a find, contact the Division of Historical Resources (DHR) or the Bureau of Archaeological Research (BAR) at 850-245-6444. You can also contact one of the archaeologists at the Florida Department of State by email, listed here dos.myflorida.com/historical/about/staff-people-programs/.

The same is true on city and county properties; archaeological finds should be left in place and reported.
You can report a find at DHR, BAR, or the city/county historic preservation office.

Even on non-state lands, most cities and counties have provisions in their charters that protect and preserve archaeological sites, so if whatever you find is 50 years or older, follow the same simple rule: leave it be and report it.

 If you find human remains on any property, anywhere in Florida, you have to report them immediately to law enforcement, the district medical examiner, and/or the state archaeologist. Any objects associated with remains should be left undisturbed and in place too, as stipulated by Florida law.

TEAM UP

Florida metal detecting clubs offer a wealth of knowledge, including laws and regulations, as well as fellowship with other treasure-hunting enthusiasts.

·         Suncoast Research & Recovery Club, St. Petersburg - www.srarc.com/index.php

·         Central Florida Metal Detecting Club, Sanford (central Florida) - www.thecfmdc.com/

·         Gold Coast Treasure Club, West Palm Beach (southeast Florida) – www.apex-ephemera.com/gctc/

·         Treasure Coast Archeological Society Inc., Sebastian (central east Florida) - www.tcas.us/

·         Dig & Find Coinshooters & Historical Club, Daytona Beach (central east Florida) - www.digandfind.com/index.html

·         South Florida Treasure Hunters Club, Hollywood (southeast Florida)- soflatreasurehunters.tripod.com/

ETHICS

Metal detecting has a Code of Ethics.  Here’s how you can be a positive ambassador of the hobby, protecting it for the future.

·         I will respect private property and will not metal-detect without the property owner’s permission.

·         I will not destroy property, buildings or what is left of ghost towns and deserted structures.  I will not tamper with equipment or posted signs.

·         I will not litter, I will always pack out what I take in and remove all trash found.  I will only build fires in designated or safe areas.

·         I will leave all gates and other accesses to land as I found them.

·         I will not damage natural resources, wildlife habitats, or any private property.

·         I will use thoughtfulness, consideration and courtesy at all times.

·         I will abide by all laws, ordinances or regulations that may govern my search, or the area I will be in.

·         I will fill all holes, regardless how remote the location, and never dig in a way that will damage, be damaging to, or kill any vegetation.

·         I will report the discovery of items of significant historical value to a local historian or museum in
accordance with the latest legislation.  I will report to the proper authorities any individuals who remove artifacts from federal parks or state preserves.

·         I will be an ambassador for the metal detecting hobby.


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