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Wondering.......... Metal Detecting On Public Lands  

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Valued Member
United States
111 Posts
 Posted 01/30/2007  9:37 pm Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add SteveG to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
I've been reading some of the posts in this area. There is an old detector out in the garage that I'm thinking about dusting off and seeing if it works. It's not mine, I'm storing it for someone (in case you're wondering)

Anyway, I remember when I was younger, I always saw folks combing the beach for "stuff." I don't see that anymore. I'm wondering if some towns don't allow you to keep stuff you find on public land? How can you find out?

I live in Florida, near areas where Conquistadors and other invaders ram rampant hundreds of years ago. But I can't help but wonder if all the good artifacts have been dug out for years now because of having been swept (I assume) over and over for years now.

Guess I'm just thinking out loud here. But where do you ask to find out if you can keep an artifact you find on public land?


I've amended the topic title to better reflect the subject. - Moderator Fred
Valued Member
United States
135 Posts
 Posted 02/01/2007  7:08 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add BenVA to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Steve you would need to gain permission for public areas such as parks. Most can be detected. There are a few that no longer allow detecting due to people not retrieving finds properly. If you take a look at some of the major detector makers webpages such as White's, and Garrett they should have some info to show you how to properly dig. I see your from Florida, so if your close to the beach that is usually good also. I would suggest if you try the beach that you stay in the dry sand with an older detector. Salt water can give false signals on many detectors. Some beaches only allow detecting in certian parts of the beach due to protecting sand dunes, and some people have salvage rights near shipwrecks so you have to stay away from the water at some beaches in Florida. Some old Spanish coins have been found along the beaches of Florida, but they are usually found after bad storms and hurricanes. Most finds in parks and beaches now are newer clad coins and sometimes jewelry, and alot of trash. I am not saying this to discourage you but some of the adds for metal detectors now make people think they will go right out and find good stuff. There are a few good magazines out there to read, and there are also many websites and forums that can give you some help. Good luck, BenVA
Pillar of the Community
United States
7123 Posts
 Posted 03/06/2007  2:39 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Metalman to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Hi SteveG

In most cases public areas are just that public areas and there are no restrictions on metal Detecting,, it is however a good Idea to check on state parks and Federal reservations for policy and permission if required.

Historical sites are taboo,,

Let us know what type of machine that your thinking of using some of the older models are kinda different to use based on the disc.modes and ground balancing that is required to get them to work properly.

and check out the TQ link in my sigline ,, it is a link to a dedicated MDing forum with lots of helpful members and info !!

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United States
2684 Posts
 Posted 03/06/2007  10:35 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Morgan Fred to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
As a former US National Park Service biologist with law enforcement authority and plenty of experiences with persons attempting to use metal detectors, I can assure everyone that possession and use of metal detectors in National Park units is specifically prohibited by 36CFR2.1(7).

That said, there MAY be some exceptions in certain National Seashores and National Recreation Areas. Before taking a metal detector out of a vehicle's trunk, check with the nearest Ranger station or park Headquarters. Merely carrying a metal detector in a National Park is grounds for a citation. Last I knew, fines were starting at $250.

Again, speaking from experience, just because a sign prohibiting a particular activity isn't posted in a specific location does not mean that an activity is legal nor is it grounds to dispute a citation. It is the individual's responsibility to ensure his/her activity is legal before commencing such activity be it pothunting, rock collection, plant excavation, hunting, drinking, building a fire, target shooting, camping, or metal detecting.

As a further note, many/most states have adopted the general provisions of the Antiquities Act of 1906 (as amended since then) and added provisions of their own applicable to natural and cultural resources within their states. Before you start metal detecting on public land, you better do your homework to determine who administers that land and if it's legal to use a metal detector. A little background information will save a lot of time and money in court.

Pillar of the Community
United States
1827 Posts
 Posted 03/07/2007  4:45 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add snowman to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Here's a piece copied from National Geographic about one of the local shipwrecks, The Whydah, here is Massachusetts:

From the start Clifford's claim to the Whydah has rankled preservationists, who argue that historic resources on public land should remain in public hands. Much to their dismay, Massachusetts' highest state court ruled in 1988 that under the federal "law of finds"—neatly summed up by the expression "finders keepers"—the pirate ship was Clifford's to do with as he saw fit.

While the finding is local, the law is Federal and I would assume that case law has been established.

As far as the beaches having been already picked over; as a recreational fisherman I've heard rumors that items still wash up on the beaches of outer Cape Cod after big storms or hurricanes. In fact, the depth of the beach near my family's summer home can vary by as much as a foot from year to year. If all that sand can be moved, I don't see why something buried in it wouldn't go along for the ride.
Edited by snowman
03/07/2007 4:46 pm
Valued Member
United States
256 Posts
 Posted 03/07/2007  5:13 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SE to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I checked with several state parks and state recreation areas here in Indiana and they require you to obtain a permit to use your detector on these lands. Last I checked the permit was free and was available at the park offices.
Valued Member
United States
256 Posts
 Posted 03/07/2007  5:17 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SE to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I should add that the use of detectors is allowed on city and state owned beaches on Lake Michigan. At least in Indiana. Michigan must also allow it because I have seen many people using them on public beaches especially in the sring after ice-out and after storms.
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United States
2684 Posts
 Posted 03/07/2007  8:07 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Morgan Fred to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Michigan must also allow it because I have seen many people using them on public beaches especially in the sring after ice-out and after storms.

Be careful making this presumption. It's sorta like the long line of cars pulled over on the shoulder, each waiting for the traffic cop to work his way down the line writing speeding tickets. They all saw the others speeding, so they figured it was OK. I used to write multiple citations (mostly for illegal hunting and off-road vehicles in a Natl Park) at one time. Most violators in such situations stated, "I saw the others doing it, so figured it was OK". I disabused them of this notion.

Snowman: beaches, back shores, shorelines, "navigable waters", riparian systems, intertidal zones, and offshore resources (to name just a few subsets) have gotta be the most complex, misunderstood, and misinterpreted sets of regulations ever written or not written. That's why I heavily qualified National Seashores (and any other Natl Park unit bordering on water): even the Federal government contradicts itself along with conflicting State and local jurisdictions. I have only surficial experience with such regulations, would prefer not to get into a long discussion since there's categorical exceptions, exemptions, and legal precedents which are diametrically opposed to each other.

I also failed to mention the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 which many/most/all states have also adopted and adapted for their jurisdictions. After I left the National Park Service and went into private land use and environmental consulting, the very first thing I did when I undertook a new project was to obtain a map of known archeological and historic sites along shorelines (or uplands for that matter). These sites were inviolate and there was no way I would or could recommend to any land user anything except strict preservation of such a site. I kept a professional archeologist on retainer to look over a proposal's site for potential unmapped or unknown cultural resources just to avoid any conflicts and to assess the qualities of such known resources. Then, once the sites were identified, worked with the developer and state office of archeology/historic preservation (or whatever) to preserve such sites.

The rule was: When in doubt, don't.
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