Are you a beach detectorist? Swim Beaches and Swimming Holes can be rewarding yet challenging for treasure hunters and lost-and-found specialists alike.
What is the anatomy of a swim beach? What are the principal areas on which to focus? Do they each have special properties? Are there strategies for metal detecting each one? Let us examine their various features and talk about what helps maximize our time and efforts there.
A Place to Lose Things
The universal feature that makes swim holes and beaches attractive to treasure hunters is higher-than-normal numbers of misplaced and lost items. The reasons the public go there contribute to their property being misplaced – namely, water’s cooling effect on skin. This, added to water’s power to hide and move even heavy items make recovering a dropped item at the beach especially difficult. Many beach patrons will give up a search or a lost ring, necklace, phone, or earring, quickly after realizing they’re ill equipped for the task.
Get In the Zone
Metal Detecting at the Beach has at least four different modes: dry sand detecting, wet sand detecting, in-water detecting, and under-water detecting.
Depending on which mode you choose, a litany of different detector models make effective work of each. Yet these different modes only exist because of the patrons and swimmers who frequent them, and what their habits are.
Everyone chooses their own place to enjoy the beach. A little observation of beach-goers will identify different ‘habitations’ and understanding them will unlock successes for the detectorist:
The dry sand  is the lead-up, and is usually the most populous of the beach zones. This is where families set up their umbrellas, chairs, and all their belongings for a day swimming. Farthest from the water is where items may be lost in transit from the water to the parking lot. More items are lost in this zone when people are leaving than when they are arriving.
The wet sand area  is at the water’s edge can be especially rewarding because the shallowness of the water appeals to families with small children. This is where cooling-off begins. The most erosive action of waves happens here, and different tide-lines may be discerned here.
This is where the greatest accumulation of small litter will occur. Plastic items which get tossed by the water, will get trapped here due to the stickiness of the sand/water barrier. Furthermore this is where the most bottle caps, and pull-tabs may be found.
I name the zone between the tide line and knee deep water, the ‘Mom Zone’ [2m] because frequently, mothers with small children will sit here to more closely supervise their little ones. Sitting in the water, mom and dad’s hands, toes, ankles, and pockets are constantly exposed to the water.
Just beyond,  where the water deepens, ranging from knee-deep to chest-deep, is the principal populated zone of the in-water zone. Most beach-goers make this zone their play area.
Adventure-Boy Zone [3a] is the depth at which teens and young adults will be especially active. This is where they do hand-stands, ‘chicken fight’ on each other’s shoulders, and congregate. Flailing arms and heads here contribute to much personal jewelry loss. Due to the depth of the water, an item dropped here is frequently left for good, unless the water is so clear that it may be seen from above.
This is where the ropes are. Floating lines and buoys are magnets for young swimmers. I have found the greatest accumulations of dropped jewelry directly beneath buoys and exclusion zone ropes.
Also, this in particular is where, in my experience, the greatest congregation of large litter settles.This may be due to the rolling wave action on the sand surface.
As the water depth increases, only the bravest or best experienced water-goers will venture beyond where they may stand safely . It is because swimming now becomes the means of motor activity here that many items will be lost seemingly forever, as hands and arms become more motivated, and gravity seems no longer to help hold the world upright. The most intense wave actions occur here.
Tips for Zones 1 and 2
If you have a metal detector which is not fully waterproof, you may be restricted to Zones 1 and 2. Your style may be similar to other land hunts where gridding-off an area is most beneficial.
Don’t be hasty to discount the possibility of an amazing find here. On the dry sand is where mom will accidentally overturn her purse. Loose sand is difficult to walk on, and clogs up the wheels of beach wagons. On the way back to the car, families may be in a hurry, and many items can be misplaced quickly.
If you’re a dry-sand hunter primarily, you may benefit from metal detecting Zone 1 after a heavy rain. When the sand settles due to a rain, much that was hidden just under the surface may wash into clean view.
Solitude is your friend. Detect these areas when the beach is completely unpopulated; i.e., first hour after opening, or, at night if possible.
While We’re Here: Get a Handle on It
If you have a waterproof metal detector, you’ve likely paired it with a sand scoop, for detecting the surf, or the Mom Zone. Equipping your scoop, especially one of metal construction, with a long handle will make the difference between a day spent walking or a day spent continually bending over.
Consider an aluminum or carbon-fiber handle for your sand scoop. Wood handles will absorb water and fail. Aluminum is lightweight enough to be beneficial, and a carbon-fiber tube will be the strongest. My carbon-fiber scoop handle has never failed to pry up even the thickest mud bottom scoop filled with shells and rocks, yet my original wood one splintered after its second outing.
Tips for Zones 3 and 4
A day spent in chest-deep water is a day hunting nearly blind. You’ve got a fully waterproof metal detector, likely also waterproof headphones, and a sand scoop allowing you to retrieve targets on the bed below. Locating and pinpointing a target may be entirely based on sound, since your detector’s display might be hidden completely from view.
Variable tone options can be your friend here. Without numbers to view, you may benefit from listening to tone variations to give you nearly the same information that differing degrees of numbers can. If your detector has variable tone volume for depth differences, so much the better for you.
Locating a potential target with your coil, and swapping to your scoop, without seeing that exact spot at your feet, becomes a difficult feat of footwork. You’ll need to find a method to mark your pinpointed spot using your feet so as to retrieve the target with the scoop. Only practice can hone this skill.
A floating basket helps immensely when paired with a handheld pinpointer. You can dump a scoop and locate your target with fewer motions than the up-and-down tedium of continual scooping can give. Be sure that your basket is of nonmetallic construction. There are many helpful videos online on how to construct one. A set of concerns you’ll need to have are: not letting the basket float away, and not getting tangled up in too long of an attaching line. The line you use to tie the basket off to your gear should be able to float – polypropylene line, or paracord will be handy. Nylon or natural fiber is not good for this application.
If your beach is a tidally active ocean beach, Zone 3 can be especially difficult in certain seasons, if not impossible. You’ll need to square up your stance against the onslaught of waves, and the deeper your venture, the more likely of getting your head wet. Consider studying the tide tables for your location, published by the relevant oceanographic agencies.
Inshore, lake beaches will not have such tidal action, but wakes from even faraway passing boats can kick up wave heights.
If you’re a SCUBA hunter, there is a whole world of hazards and tips which should comprise a separate article altogether here. Yet, you know that Zone 4 can yield exclusive finds for you and your method, since the fewest number of detectorists venture here.
If you hunt a lake beach, the authorities from time to time may conduct controlled drainage to battle aquatic plant propagation. These are usually performed in winter months. Detect the beaches during these times, since there are no swimmers, and if you’ve done diligence communicating well with the powers-that-be, you may gain exclusive permission here.
Pick up Trash. I cannot stress this enough. Bring a large trash bag with you on every hunt. Gather as much refuse as you can for disposal or recycling. While your finds may bolster your pockets, your stewardship in cleaning public areas will only boost your credibility and reputation, and show our hobby in a pleasing light to those who have granted you permission.