One of the things I like about metal detecting is the equipment. The beach is a specialized environment and selecting the right equipment can make a big difference concerning finds and comfort. Beach equipment can be categorized into apparel, headphones, probes, digging tools and metal detectors. There are also miscellaneous accessories that can make your trek along the beach more enjoyable.
The clothing you wear while detecting on the beach depends on the type of hunting you do and the weather. For dry and wet sand hunting you can just dress for the weather conditions. For shallow and deep water hunting you can wear anything from a bathing suit to hip-waders to a full wet-suit. You choice will depend on the weather, surf conditions and water temperature. The shoes you wear should provide comfort, but also some protection. You will be pushing on your digging tool with your foot and will be covering areas that may contain sharp metal or glass. I have found that I sometimes hit my foot accidentally with my digging tool and am thankful that I had some type of shoes on. Gloves can offer some protection when retrieving targets that may be sharp. Cutting the tip off one or more of the fingers allows you to manipulate the detector controls more easily. You may consider using kneepads. Some people use both kneepads, others use only one on the knee they kneel on when digging. Make sure that your finds pouch is large enough to hold the trash items you find, or attach a second pouch or plastic bag to your belt for trash.
The beach can be noisy. The crashing surf, the wind and the crowds can make it difficult to hear the tones generated by your detector. I prefer headphones that have full ear cups to reduce the ambient sound. When using these types of headphones you cannot hear what is going on around you and it is a wise precaution to look around often. There are some beaches and times of day where safety and caution are advisable. If you are deep water hunting you must have submersible headphones. These headphones are usually supplied with your submersible detector.
A probe can save time when you have a hard-to-find target. Some targets are very small and, when covered with sand, can be almost impossible to isolate without a probe. Probes can be used in the dry sand, wet sand and shallow water. Use a waterproof probe if you think it is going to get wet. Probes cannot be used in the deep water, unless you plan on diving down to the bottom to get up-close and personal with your target.
Your choice of digging tool for the beach is crucial. If you are digging in the dry or wet sand then a trowel, shovel or sand scoop can do the job. Once you get into the water, however, a good sand scoop is a necessity. Sand scoops come in a variety of sizes, configurations and weight. Some are made with wooden or galvanized pipe handles and some are made completely of aircraft aluminum or stainless steel. If you are not hunting deep water the lightweight models will do just fine. Most deep water veterans prefer the heavy rugged models. The added weight helps punch down into the sand when retrieving a target. Everyone seems to have a scoop configuration of choice – there are people who make custom scoops with lengths and handles configured specifically for the way you hunt. Having a large scoop capacity (usually referred to by the diameter of the scoop opening) can make successful target retrieval more likely. With a small scoop it can take many attempts to retrieve a target. Some people attach large magnets inside the scoop to catch any troublesome iron targets. When you can’t see the sea floor and the water is moving around you it can be difficult to zero in on your target. One method is to pinpoint the target, place your foot at the back of the coil, remove the coil, place your scoop in front of your foot, push the scoop into the sand and retrieve your target.
There are a multitude of detector types on the market that can be used on the beach. The different types present a confusing array of choices for someone unfamiliar with the technology and associated jargon. They can be loosely divided into two basic groups: PI (pulse-induction) and VLF (very low frequency, sometimes called induction-balance) machines. VLF machines can use one or more frequencies. There are also VLF hybrids such as BBS (broad band spectrum) and FBS (full band spectrum) which use multiple frequencies, some of which are lower and higher than those typically associated with VLF machines. Detector technology has come along way and it is still evolving.
The beach, in contrast to most inland sites, presents two conditions that can adversely affect your detector, namely salt and black sand (mineralization). When choosing a detector for the beach it is advisable to choose one that addresses these conditions specifically. PI and multi-frequency VLF machines are generally well suited for the beach. There are single frequency machines that do well too. It is important to remember that a detector’s capabilities are not simply a function of type and frequencies. The manner in which the signals are processed by the circuitry and software vary between manufacturers and some do this better than others. The best advice is to read as much as possible about the various detector models and take them for a test drive, if possible, before making a purchase. You would, of course, want to choose a machine that has a submersible coil or is fully submersible, unless you plan on only hunting the dry sand.
A PI machine is the deepest seeking type of detector made. It is immune from the effects of salt water and mineralization. The one drawback PI machines have is that they have no discrimination. All metals will generate a signal. Experienced PI users can sometimes determine whether a target is iron by listening for the unique tonal signature of iron, for instance, a double beep. If you use a PI machine you will not miss many targets, but you will dig a lot of trash.
VLF machines have discrimination and, depending on the model, decent depth. Discrimination gives you the ability to reject iron and other undesirable targets. Be careful that you do not use too much discrimination. Gold rings show up in the pull-tab range and if you discriminate pull-tabs you will find few gold rings. Discriminate only iron at first and adjust your discrimination settings as you become more familiar with the beach and its associated trash items. Some VLF machines have a salt mode toggle allowing them to be used on dry land and at the beach.
The shoreline can be a long way from your car on some beaches. A backpack, bucket or even a wagon can be used to carry some extras that make detecting the beach more enjoyable. Bring drinks and some food. You may want to bring a towel. Bug spray can be a life-saver during certain times of the year. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat can protect you from the elements. Bring your cell phone. You can always turn it off if you do not want to be disturbed, but it will be there if you need it. A waterproof container is great for keeping your wallet, keys and cell phone dry when venturing into the water. They can be found at most SCUBA stores. A camera is an excellent item to bring along to capture the scenery, your finds or your detecting buddies. Do not forget batteries for your detector, and bring some extras. There is nothing worse than getting to a hunting spot and realizing that you have forgotten something (like batteries) or that your machine is broken. Bringing along some backup equipment is always a good idea if you have it.
Any hunt can be ruined by bad weather. Check the forecasts a few days before you go and keep checking it until you leave. Have a backup plan if the weather intervenes. You may also want to check the tides and try to time your hunt for low-tide. That will give you a bit more wet sand to hunt and increase your chances.
Do not forget to dispose of all the trash you find, fill all your holes and, most importantly, have fun.
Chris Burroughs (TBGO)
Author: Chris Burroughs (TBGO)
My name is Chris, although I go by The Beep Goes On (TBGO) when posting on the various metal detecting forums. I started detecting in 2002, mainly in Galveston. Life got a little hectic and I stopped detecting at the end of 2004. I took a couple of years off. I got a new DFX and started up again in February 2006. I decided to concentrate on local parks and, surprisingly, my finds increased dramatically. I do not think anyone had hunted the grass parks and sports fields in my area. Since then I have become a fairly avid detectorist and have really enjoyed getting out and hunting. I also enjoy participating in the growing online detecting community.