GeekyBeach Metal Detecting

GeekyBeach Metal Detecting

Metal Detecting & Lost Item Recovery

Category: Learn

Is Metal Detecting Really All That Difficult? Can I find something I lost on my own?

First, I’ll start by saying something important: if you want to become a metal detectorist or even just try it out…you should! Don’t let any fears about difficulty keep you…

First, I’ll start by saying something important: if you want to become a metal detectorist or even just try it out…you should! Don’t let any fears about difficulty keep you from trying. Just like any other interest, you should assess the risks and understand some basics so you are prepared and compliant with any potential laws or rules, and ethics. The purpose of this article is to share some thoughts about how to get started with a metal detector, the difficulty levels, and getting beyond the stereotypes.

Getting Started

One of the most common questions I hear and read from people who are interested in metal detecting but haven’t started yet is: “what kind of metal detector should I buy?” Before you make the leap into a particular detector, here are some things to try first.

  1. 1. Find a Local Shop – There are many different options out there, but my first recommendation is to search your local area for a metal detecting store. If there is a store near you, that is going to be the best way to get great advice and even hold a detector in the store to try it out. Ask all the questions you have and they will help you get started.
  2. Find a Local Club – If you don’t have a shop near you, the next step is to search for a metal detecting club nearby! You might be surprised to find that there is a club near you and typically you can find their website or Facebook page to interact with members. Tell them you are interested and would like to give it a try. You may find that they hold local regular meetings where you could ask questions.
  3. Check out the Library – If you don’t have a shop or club near you (or if you are a bit shy), you might check your local library to see if they have a “library of things” and check to see if they have a metal detector. If they don’t, it might inspire them to think about adding one!
  4. Spend Some Time on YouTube – If you can’t find someone in the hobby to chat with locally and aren’t ready to make a decision on purchasing a metal detector, spend some time watching YouTube channels about metal detecting! I know many new detectorists who started this way and learned a lot from others.


Metal detecting can range in difficulty depending on your physical abilities, your patience, and your equipment. The basic physical requirements for detecting can suit almost anyone. It’s easier if you have good walking ability, balance, and have the stamina for the arm motion required. It also involves some digging and the difficulty there depends on two things: where you search, and the tools you use.

Where you search

Your environment will play a big role as well. Many new detectorists are surprised to find that there are many rules regarding metal detecting and it’s not always clear where you are welcome to search. It will take some patient research to determine where you can detect.

If you live near beaches and parks, you’ll want to know what department is responsible for that beach. For example, national parks (beaches and park grounds) are off limits to detecting and can lead to some uncomfortable encounters with law enforcement and even hefty fines. It’s also important to abide by a common set of metal detecting ethics at all times.

This is a list of common ethics that metal detectorists follow:

  • Do not trespass; always respect private property and do no metal detecting without the owner’s permission.
  • It is advisable to get permission in writing, and to get agreement in writing first to avoid disputes regarding the ownership of any subsequent finds.
  • Never do anything that might contaminate wells, creeks or other water supplies.
  • Respect the country code, leave gates as they are found, do not damage crops, never deliberately disturb wild or domestic animals.
  • Never litter, always gather or collect any trash or debris you create or find.
  • Leave as little sign of your passing as possible.
  • Always use the correct digging or probing equipment to make the least intrusion or marks.
  • Always fill in your holes, including ploughed fields and beaches.
  • Never throw trash finds back in the hole.
  • Report the discovery of any items of possible significant historical value to a local historian or museum in accordance with the latest legislation of your area.
  • Never go metal detecting around archaeological monuments.
  • Report any live ammunition or other potentially lethal or toxic objects you may find to authorities after carefully noting or marking the location. Do not attempt to move or interfere with any such devices.
  • Report all finds to the landowner/occupier.
  • Protect the metal detecting hobby by being a good will ambassador at all times.

The list above is from

Avoid purchasing detectors from unknown/untrusted brands.

Quality of your tools

The quality of your detector will also contribute to how easy or difficult it is to find objects. Inexpensive detectors tend to be “detect it all” style – that means they will respond to all metal in the same way when you pass over them. This can make it more difficult since you won’t have an idea of what you’re digging until you find it. As detectors become more expensive, they tend to have greater and greater ability to provide more feedback about what you might be passing over. This allows for making a decision: “to dig or not to dig?”

Avoid purchasing detectors from unknown/untrusted brands unless you’re comfortable with the low price and low expectation of quality. The most common trusted metal detector brands are:

    • Garrett
    • Minelab
    • Bounty Hunter
    • Teknetics
    • Nokta
    • Fisher
    • XP Metal Detectors

I recommend you do some reading and research about the brand and model of detector you’re thinking about. And visit a local shop if you can! (Fellow detectorists, if you believe there is a brand that should be on the list above, please contact me and submit your suggestion!)


The quality of your shovels and/or sand scoops will make a difference too. A cheap sand scoop may break under the weight of heavy wet sand. The number of items you carry can make it more difficult to search if you don’t have a way to carry them! A waist-buckled bag can do the trick.

A man reaching into beach sand to retrieve a coin found with a metal detector.Can I find my lost item myself?

Of course you can! I would never discourage anyone from giving it a try if they would like to find their own lost ring or other item. But I would say it’s important to understand the conditions that will make it easier to attempt on your own. I will often get calls from people who lost something and bought a detector themselves but were unable to find it. So why weren’t they successful?

One thing that’s easy to forget when you’ve lost something important, is that there is often a bunch of other things buried in the same area as your lost item. If you lost it on a beach, it’s even more likely that your item is surrounded by buried bottle caps, soda pop tabs, and other foil trash from visitors. All these objects contribute to a search taking longer because a metal detector can’t tell you with 100% confidence the type of object below you!

The other difficult thing can be the size of the search area. If you aren’t sure of where the item was lost, it can mean searching a very large space. Each of these difficulties are things that metal detectorists learn how to manage over time.

So how do metal detectorists narrow it down?

This comes back to the equipment. As someone who does this work often, I have invested in a high-quality metal detector that has more powerful features than detectors commonly found for sale at low prices. No metal detector (yet) can provide 100% confidence, but I can narrow it down and not waste time digging up rusty nails. You will see me dig up pop tabs when looking for gold rings though! (If you’re curious to know why this is, you could do some more research on conductivity of metals!)

If you lost your item in a fairly clean area where it wouldn’t be too deep in soil or sand, and you feel confident that it’s in that area…you may be able to find it yourself with a simple metal detector and some patience!


When I share that I am a metal detectorist with new people, I get a range of reactions. Some people immediately smile and say, “I’ve always been curious about that! What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?!” Others give me a blank stare and might pretend they’re interested by asking if I ever find anything valuable.

Just like any other interest, metal detecting has some stereotypes associated with it and it’s hard to know how someone will react. Each culture has its own perceptions too. In the United States, some see it as a “hobby for old men.” Some people even laugh when they see someone metal detecting and assume we’re just looking to strike it rich or struggling to find enough to pay off the price of the detector!

One time, a person walking by on the beach made eye contact with me and then threw out a quarter just ahead of where I was searching because they “felt sorry for me.”

It’s not all negative though. Many others stop to ask questions and smile as they talk about how fun they think it looks. And of course there are others who’ve witnessed first hand how metal detecting can lead to recovering a lost item like wedding rings and more.


Metal detecting is a wonderful hobby that is suitable for many personalities. Just like other hobbies, it can be more complex than it looks to bystanders, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try!


P.S. If you want to help support me in my metal detecting efforts, please visit my “Support” page!

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What does conductivity have to do with metal detecting?

As you start or progress in the hobby of metal detecting, you’ll come across many terms and among them, conductivity. Conductivity is a physical property of materials that describes their…

As you start or progress in the hobby of metal detecting, you’ll come across many terms and among them, conductivity.

Conductivity is a physical property of materials that describes their ability to conduct electrical current. It is a measure of how easily electric charges, typically electrons, can flow through a substance. Materials with high conductivity allow electric charges to move easily, while those with low conductivity impede the flow of electric charges.

Here is a list of common metals in order from high to low electrical conductivity:

Brass (a copper-zinc alloy)
Bronze (a copper-tin alloy)

This is a general ranking, and the electrical conductivity of materials can vary slightly depending on factors like purity and temperature. However, this order represents the typical trend in electrical conductivity for these metals.

So what does that have to do with metal detecting?
When you’re researching a metal detector, you’ll often see the frequencies listed like 1.5 kHz – 100 kHz. A higher frequency is ideal for detecting low-conductivity and small metals, while a lower frequency is effective for high-conductivity metals like silver.

Some metal detectors are equipped with discrimination features that can help distinguish between different types of metals based on their conductivity. This allows you to have some idea of what type of metal might be buried below based on the signal that returns!

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What can you learn from a metal detecting lesson?

Metal detecting is such a fun activity, so I am always happy to hear from people who are interested in taking a lesson with me on the beach. But what…

Metal detecting is such a fun activity, so I am always happy to hear from people who are interested in taking a lesson with me on the beach. But what can you learn from a metal detecting lesson that you can’t get from YouTube?

This past Groundhog Day, I had the great joy of sharing my metal detecting tips and tricks with a new student on a California State Beach. One of the services I provide through GeekyBeach Metal Detecting are metal detecting lessons in the San Francisco Bay Area. Anyone – even if you don’t own a metal detector – can take a one-on-one lesson with me and see what it’s really like to comb the beach!

Every lesson is different – I customize the experience based on your interests. One thing you can’t get from watching videos is the physical feeling of being out with your detector, learning what it should feel like and how to wrangle your equipment. Especially if you have purchased a new detector, it helps to know the best way to set it up and the quirks it might have.

Metal detecting lesson student stands on a San Francisco Bay Area beach

New detectorist D.H. did a great job learning to use his new detector on a windy winter beach!


A review:

“I couldn’t have chosen a better instructor to start out my adventure as a detectorist at a beach. Laura brought a depth of knowledge with regard to knowing where to pick good potential grounds to search and also showing me the best approach to fine tuning my recently acquired Teknetics T2 SE. Laura is an excellent instructor for beginners like myself. If you are starting out, it’s well worth your time to have her show you the ropes as metal detectors are getting more complicated and better nowadays.”

– D.H., San Francisco Bay Area

You can learn a lot by watching videos online, but getting out and learning in person is hard to beat. I was really impressed with D.H.’s great questions and willingness to try different approaches – I can’t wait to hear about his future finds! 

Metal detecting is about more than finding treasures. In addition to being mindful about trash we find, we also clean up hazards that are just below the surface. There are often rusty and sharp objects, batteries, and lead. I’m so glad he found a small pair of scissors that would really hurt if someone found them with their foot!

Metal detecting lesson student holds up items found while searching the beach

D.H. holds up some of his finds – he definitely saved someone from those scissors!


So what can you learn from a metal detecting lesson? How to have more fun at the beach! If you’re looking for a unique adventure in the Bay Area for yourself or your family, consider a metal detecting lesson!

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What is Metal Detecting?

I hear a lot of questions from interested passersby when I’m out detecting. But some of the questions I see come from Google searches on the subject of metal detecting….

I hear a lot of questions from interested passersby when I’m out detecting. But some of the questions I see come from Google searches on the subject of metal detecting. Things like:
What is the point of metal detecting?
Is metal detecting a good hobby?
Is metal detecting legal in the US?
Can metal detecting make you money?

I’m happy to answer each of these questions and more! But let’s start with a little lesson about how metal detectors work and the first question: What is (the point of) metal detecting?

What is the point of Metal Detecting?

This is a rather blunt way of phrasing the question, but believe it or not it’s a commonly searched phrase on Google. Using a phrase like “what is the point” makes it sound like people don’t understand the hobby. And you know what…maybe they don’t! It might seem obvious to those of us who are already in the hobby, but others might feel that it looks boring.

The “point” of metal detecting varies. For some of us, it’s just about getting outside and feeling the excitement of finding something. There’s a special thrill of locating a target and discovering what it is. It’s hard to explain to someone else how exciting it is. Maybe they need to just try it – (take a lesson with me!)

For others, the purpose can be recovering lost items, assisting police departments with recovery of bullet casings and weapons, and less common but still relevant: locating property or utility lines with specialized equipment.

A man reaching into beach sand to retrieve a coin found with a metal detector.

How Metal Detectors Work

A metal detector has three main components: a search coil, a shaft and grip, and a display. A metal detector transmits an electromagnetic field into the ground below you from the search coil at the end of the shaft. There are different shapes of the coil, but it’s generally round or oblong in shape. When the field from your coil passes over a metal object below, the object becomes energized and emits a signal of its own. A metal detector is designed to “detect” that retransmitted signal and alert you on a display.

If you want a longer lesson on metal detecting, have a look at Minelab’s article about metal detectors.

Is Metal Detecting a Good Hobby?

This is very subjective, but I would say…yes! First, you need to know thyself. If you are not interested in the time required, cleaning up after yourself, and working hard before finding something interesting…it may not be for you. Many people enter the hobby because they want to find gold rings on the beach. But many more say that they are just curious! That curiosity is the best indicator that it might be a great hobby for you.

It might take you 300 targets before you find anything you find interesting, or you could find something neat right away! Also, if you just like the idea of cleaning up buried objects, that’s a great attitude to have. Ideally, we are all contributing to cleaner public spaces.

Is Metal Detecting Legal in the US?

Yes and no! It depends where you want to use a detector. National Parks…nope! Always be sure to check before you detect. Even local or state parks can have rules, permitting processes, or special restrictions. You want to be aware of those and any other hazards before you detect.

You should even be careful before digging in your yard! If you aren’t familiar with the location of utility lines, you could be in for a shock. There’s a reason utility companies have “CALL BEFORE YOU DIG!” stickers all over their vehicles. It’s worth being careful.

Can Metal Detecting Make You Money?

Possible, but not likely. Again this really depends on what you’re hoping to do with the interest. There are definitely careers in metal detecting where you might focus on locating objects for police departments. But if your idea is to find enough gold to pay yourself a hefty salary, that is very unlikely. Many detectorists do cash in the coins they find during the year and that can get into the hundreds of dollars on average. If you live in a tourist area and know the swimming spots (and want to dive in the water), you can find bigger items.

Items of large value should be reported to the local police. Many detectorists do everything they can to locate the owner of a valuable or sentimental item like rings and phones. Check out all the cool YouTube videos available on ring and phone finding!

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What metal detector is used on oak island?

The History channel’s popular show The Curse of Oak Island has brought a lot of attention and interest to the hobby of metal detecting. In particular, we all love watching…

The History channel’s popular show The Curse of Oak Island has brought a lot of attention and interest to the hobby of metal detecting. In particular, we all love watching Gary Drayton use his metal detector on Oak Island to find interesting objects over several television seasons!

Satellite map view of Oak Island Nova Scotia

What metal detector is Gary Drayton using on Oak Island?

Most of the time, Gary is shown using a Minelab CTX-3030. There are a variety of coils available for the CTX-3030 though it comes equipped with an 11-inch coil. You can also get a 6-inch small coil, and a 17-inch coil which is larger and has an oval shape. You often see Gary using this size on the show. Be sure to visit Gary Drayton’s website to support his shop and learn how to detect!

It happens to be the same metal detector I use most of the time! (I wish I had access to Oak Island!) Pictured below along with my beach scoop, it’s helped me find hundreds of recoveries for others and keep the beaches clean. You can even order Gary Drayton’s book about using the CTX-3030, but the must-have book for any new owner is the Minelab CTX 3030 Handbook by Andy Sabisch.

I highly recommend grabbing both books for your collection if you are curious about metal detecting and using the CTX-3030. Please contact me if you would like help deciding which detector to purchase!


Minelab CTX-3030 on a beach with scoop for metal detecting

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Uncovering History at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary

Just north of San Francisco, the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary overlooks 900 acres of open water that is closed from October 1 to March 31 each year to…

Lyford House

A Winchester bullet shell found on the beach property near the Lyford House.

Just north of San Francisco, the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary overlooks 900 acres of open water that is closed from October 1 to March 31 each year to serve as a sanctuary for migrating waterbirds. This beautiful property is maintained by the Center with trails and gardens that are open year round, summer camps, a youth conservation leadership program, and numerous volunteer opportunities.

As a metal detectorist, I’m interested in the history of the property which includes the Lyford House – a home originally located at Strawberry Point, moved by barge in December 1957 when threatened with demolition. Once owned by Benjamin Lyford (1841-1906) and Hilarita née Reed (1839-1908), it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After speaking with the Center Director and obtaining permission to metal detect on Lani’s Beach lining the property, I am now cataloging my finds and learning more about the history of the property and its owners.

Beach metal detecting finds including a spoon, shoe buckle, and metal scraps

A group of finds from Lani’s Beach on the Audubon Center Property

Because this is not a tourist beach in the traditional sense, the items found on this property are more likely to be relics of another time or items washed up from Richardson Bay. Some items discovered so far include Winchester bullet shells dating from 1901-1920, what appears to be a shoe buckle, mystery pieces of metal, vintage lead fishing weights, pieces of a small statue, and more. I’m excited to see what turns up after I spend more time on the beach.

Close up view of a Winchester brand

Close up view of a Winchester brand “Repeater 1901” No. 12 shotshell headstamp. Manufactured between 1901 and 1920.

It would be no surprise that in the early 1900s this would be a good spot for hunting. So far I’ve found four of these shells on one small area of the beach along with some other smaller caliber shells as well.

Detail view of what may be a metal shoe buckle

Detail view of what may be a metal shoe buckle

Small bronze loop

Photo after finding a small bronze loop.

I encourage locals to volunteer at the Richardson Bay location, or plan a visit! Let them know that GeekyBeach sent you.

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Metal Detecting Show & Tell – Replay: June 18, 2020

I was very fortunate to have two special guests on my first Show & Tell episode last week! Phil Massie and John Wooten joined me for a live discussion about…

I was very fortunate to have two special guests on my first Show & Tell episode last week! Phil Massie and John Wooten joined me for a live discussion about metal detecting and we took some audience questions.

Watch the replay below where I highlight the best stories and answers from our live webinar. And don’t miss the next time we go live! Stay tuned to GeekyBeach on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter so you can join future episodes.

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The Excitement of Show & Tell

Between March 19 through June 10, 2020 I didn’t do any detecting! Late into the COVID-19 shutdowns, various beaches began opening throughout the state of Florida, but traveling to them…

Between March 19 through June 10, 2020 I didn’t do any detecting! Late into the COVID-19 shutdowns, various beaches began opening throughout the state of Florida, but traveling to them didn’t feel like a wise move. Many of the locations saw too many visitors and decided to shut down again.

This past Wednesday, June 10, Miami-Dade County beaches reopened successfully. It was odd to be back on the beach with my detector early that morning – I felt a strange sense of unease. I went back out in the evening just to see if it would change my feeling. Fortunately, I saw people keeping their distance and staying in their family bubbles.

Even though I had an uneasy feeling, it was fun to once again share photos and videos of my finds on Instagram. During the shutdown, I did a few livestream sessions with my digital microscope to share some interesting finds with others. The virtual events and videos don’t fully replace the excitement of sharing finds with people in person, but it was a nice substitute.

What I realized is that the “show and tell” piece of detecting really brings us together and gets us excited, but a lot of times we don’t interact with each other in “real life.” That inspired me to reach out to some great accounts on Instagram to see who might want to participate in a show and tell session!

I’m happy to say many fellow detectorists are interested and we have the first one planned for Thursday, June 18th at 8 pm Eastern time. I can’t wait! If nothing else, having a discussion with another detectorist will help me feel connected even in this socially distanced time.

My first guest on June 18th will be Phil Massie – his finds in the PacNorWest compared with my Miami beach should be really entertaining! He has a great YouTube channel as well.

Sign up to attend so you can ask questions!


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Working from home isn’t always like this!

After many years working in small and large offices, I am at a place now in my career where I can work remote…and I prefer it! My natural working habits…

After many years working in small and large offices, I am at a place now in my career where I can work remote…and I prefer it! My natural working habits include a lot of time alone without the distraction of coworkers stopping by with questions or small talk that can derail my train of thought.

It’s a little bit like being out with a metal detector hunting before the sun sets and having a stranger stop to ask a bunch of questions about what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s okay, but when time is short or you’re in a groove…it really stinks to stop and try to be friendly.

I am more productive, more balanced in my life needs, and overall more creative when I work from home.

But now we’re in strange times – COVID-19 has many people transitioned to working from home for the first time. Obviously many careers aren’t possible to take remote. We need to thank everyone in healthcare, food, transportation and delivery, first responders, utility company technicians…and so many others who are working and taking more risk right now to help us. Not just thank them…we need to fight to make sure those careers are paid well and supported!

But for those of you who are faced with working from home for the first time…it’s not usually like this. At least part of the stress you feel right now is shared – we’re all facing the uncertainty of this particular virus situation. Then there are other stressors caused by our unique environments.

I’m working from home alone, so I don’t have to fight for quiet space when I’m on a conference call. I just have to mute when my cat meows in the background. I also don’t have kids to monitor or a dog to walk. But being alone also means I need more interaction time in my off hours with friends and family via phone, text, etc.

So your set of challenges may be different and may be causing an additional layer of stress. That’s still not typical for remote working. Generally when it’s a choice you’ve made, you would have had a chance to set up a home office with all the equipment necessary to be productive. And your kids would still usually be off to school or daycare…aaaaand you wouldn’t be worried about a global pandemic.

So cut yourself some slack right now if you’re a parent. Your colleagues are probably enjoying your kids and pets interrupting during Zoom calls. Allow yourself the space to be human and remember it doesn’t have to be perfect. What you likely need the most help with is communication, environment, focus, and discipline.


There are some unique challenges depending on your work. Maybe your internet connection isn’t as fast at home as it was at the office. Certain things are probably taking longer than usual – let your managers and supervisors know! It’s important right now that we all embrace communication and transparency about our struggles.

We also have to work harder right now to prioritize and stay connected. If you don’t have a team chat room, it might be time to start one. There are free services out there like Discord that you could use to create chat spaces for your teams. Or if you aren’t using a project management software yet, it might be time to start. Check out services like Asana.


A home office is different than your desk in a traditional office space. Take some time soon to set up your space or reconfigure it to suit your daily tasks. Take advantage of whatever view or spot in the sun you can find and make sure you are comfortable, aren’t slouching to see your computer screen, and have access to most of what you usually have on your desk. Don’t choose a spot that you have to clean up or put away each day unless you have no other option. Let this become your spot.

You also have more options when stepping away for a break. Once you figure out how to manage it, it’s a blessing. But right now you may find it overwhelming and distracting.


dart boardThis is going to be important during this experience because we’re all still trying to get work done. Yes, deadlines might be a little tricky, but as a remote worker it’s important to find times when you can focus and get through your tasks.

When you get up for a drink or to take a mental break, have a plan for what you’re going to do and for how long. Sure…take that time to throw in a load of laundry, wash a dish or two, or walk the dog. But then keep it to just that activity during your work hours. Some find it very hard to resist tackling additional chores and then before you know it, you’re away from the work mindset for an hour or more. If you find that certain break activities are pulling you away too easily, save those for after hours.


You’ve likely heard this advice everywhere already. Keep up with good healthy habits and establish some new ones specific to this odd quarantine time. But discipline isn’t just for your work, it’s for your personal life and health too! Keep track of how much time you’re spending in focus mode and don’t let it eat too much into your time with family, pets, and yourself.

Just like with caretakers, you are more helpful to others if you’re taking care of yourself. Find time for stress-relief and aerobic activity. Maybe your normal habits are still something you can do, but if you can’t (like metal detecting for me), then you might need to find an alternate for the spring months. Make a list of activities that you’d like to do and reference it when you’re feeling stressed or bored.

Bizarre Tip: Try wearing house shoes. If you can dedicate a clean pair of comfortable athletic shoes to wearing in the house, you might find that it helps you feel more productive or capable. Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!

Good luck to all of you. Say thank you to people in your life who are in healthcare or healthcare-related fields. Make sure you reach out to your family members. Even the people in your life you think always “have it together” might need a phone call. They may be silently in need of some communication time too.

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Understanding Longshore Drift and Metal Detecting

I spent some time in my local metal detecting shop recently and had the opportunity to listen as a customer purchased a brand new Minelab Equinox 600. He was so…

I spent some time in my local metal detecting shop recently and had the opportunity to listen as a customer purchased a brand new Minelab Equinox 600. He was so excited! It was just the three of us in the shop, so it was a friendly discussion of experience.

He asked questions about beach hunting like, “Do I need a pinpointer?” “What kind of scoop should I buy?” “Is low tide the best time to search?” Everyone has a different answer for those questions, and my advice is always that experience is going to be the best guide!

I shared some stories of beachgoers asking me if I could find their lost item. I will absolutely help someone find their item if they can describe it very well, but there are a lot of factors to consider when you set out to find something specific.

That’s when we started talking about how things move in the sand – including the longshore drift. Though we didn’t refer to it as “longshore drift” while talking in the store, that’s the name of the process we were referring to when discussing how lost items move along the coast over time. For this topic I consulted my smart sister Kim – she’s a geologist who helped me understand this process on a deeper level!

What is longshore drift?

The basic definition of longshore (littoral) drift is the movement of sand and sediment along a shoreline over time, with the longshore current. The longshore current refers to the movement of water along a shoreline which is caused by the energy generated by breaking waves.

Let’s start by watching this short video:

The longshore drift is determined by the prevailing wind – that is the direction the wind generally comes from in that area. Most of the time, waves approach coastlines at an angle and push sand and sediment along the beach at that angle. The backwash pulls the sand straight back, where it becomes subject to the waves again.

Because of this, the sand will travel along the coast in the direction of the longshore current. That’s longshore drift in a nutshell!

How do longshore drift and longshore current relate to metal detecting?

The white arrows show the general drift south along these shorelines in Florida. (Not to be confused with the Gulf Stream!

Understanding longshore drift and current will help you learn how a beach changes over time, inform your choice of areas to hunt, and may help when you are searching for a lost item.

Put it to practice: Detect Smarter

Understanding how a beach and its sand and sediment change and move over time can help you find hot spots – areas where you notice patterns for the types of objects you find.

Related to the longshore drift, you can detect smarter by paying attention to where beachgoers spend their time on the beach and in the water, and remembering that over time, the things they lost may end up farther along the coast.

Put it to practice: Find a Lost Object

I’ll start by saying that this is as much art as science, and it’s a lot of science. It’s understanding basic geology and physics, then combining that with practical knowledge of human behavior! In addition to knowing how the weight, size, and shape of an object combined with the coarseness of the sand will impact how deep an object can go, the longshore drift can determine the position along the coastline.

1) Know your beach. You can use data from agencies like NOAA (see this handy PDF) to determine the prevailing wind direction for your area. Personal experience and observation if done in a methodical way can help too.

2) Understand your target. The basic questions you should know the answer to include: Where was the item lost initially? How long ago was it lost? What are the weight, shape, and metal type of the object? What weather or other factors have occurred in this location during the time since it was lost?

3) Remember you’re dealing with humans! People have inaccurate memories when it comes to their position in the water or on the beach. They may give you a spot on a building they remember seeing, or a general area between two lifeguard towers.

They also may not know their lost object as well as they think. When someone says “gold ring” or “silver bracelet,” they may be incorrect. Is the object simply silver in color? Is it actually stainless steel, pewter, silver plated?


If someone lost a lightweight silver ring with a stone setting in the water at the shoreline two months ago, where should you begin your search for it?

Most people use a grid method to methodically search an area – that’s great once you know where the likely area should be! First, you need to know in what direction the item may have moved over time. Did any strong storms impact the area in the time between losing the item and now? What has been the prevailing wind direction in the past two months?

The better you know the area, the easier it will be for you to know the factors impacting that beach. In this example, you might start by creating a grid in the general area where the person said they lost the ring, and track first in the direction of the longshore current that has been in place for the time since the item was lost.

The prevailing wind direction can vary by season, or by the environment you’re in. Using Miami as an example, the prevailing wind direction in the summer months is from the East/Southeast. However, the longshore drift is generally south over a long period of time!

So most Florida detectorists might say, “lost items on Florida beaches move south.” That can be generally true, given enough time for the object to become subject to longshore drift, but for objects lost more recently, the direction may be north!

I hope this has helped you to understand longshore drift and current. Does your local beach have a clear direction? Many beaches have problems with erosion for this reason and go through renourishment projects.

What is your beach like? Leave me a comment below!


Learn more about Waves, Beaches, and Coastal Erosion reprinted from “Natural Hazards and Disasters” by Donald Hyndman and David Hyndman.

A great tool for wind data and forecasts from Windfinder.

Renourishment Projects
As an example, read Miami-Dade County’s Beach Erosion Control Master Plan

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