Exploring the Depths: An Interview with Lost Item Recovery Diving Specialist Jeff Morgan on Finding Rings in Zero Visibility

Underwater Metal Detecting Rings

When a valuable item like a ring, phone, watch, wallet, boat propeller or any other item of value takes an unexpected plunge into the waters in the Great Pacific North West Region, Jeff Morgan, the Seattle Ring Hunter is the first person many turn to. With a quick call, he gears up, grabs his metal detector, and heads out to recover these lost treasures. It’s not uncommon for Jeff to be called in after recreational divers attempt to locate the items but quickly realize that lost item dive recovery is an entirely different, and often challenging, endeavor.

Having successfully completed over 200 recoveries, Jeff has earned the reputation as a lost item recovery specialist with an underwater metal detecting speciality, even in the most extreme conditions. In the following sections, Jeff will regale us with stories of his remarkable recoveries and provide valuable tips for those seeking to enhance their underwater recovery skills.

Below, you will find a series of questions I posed to Jeff, along with his informative responses.

Metal Detecting and Diving Background.

How long have you been diving and metal detecting? Did one come before the other?

I have been metal detecting for over ten years. As many, in the beginning years I was focused on land, sand and parks. Soon after finding my passion for the hunt I joined The Ring Finders listing service as a lost item recovery specialist. This is when things really changed for me as a detectorist. I was now finding myself serving heart broken individuals, many of whom had just lost their most precious sentimental items and keepsakes. This is where the passion for the hunt developed into a lifelong mission to assist individuals for lost item recovery. In 2017 with my adventurous nature SCUBA diving caught my attention when I signed up for my first open water training courses. Ironically I had not started SCUBA training for lost item water recovery and little did I know how this new chapter in life would grow into such a focal point aiding me with such a specialized ability to bless so many people in such a profound way.

How deep can you dive, detect and recover?

As a recreational Master SCUBA Diver with a deep dive training certification I am able to dive down to a maximum operating depth of 130 feet deep. With that being stated the majority of my small item water recoveries are much less than 80 feet deep. However additional dive training is currently being planned to allow for more capabilities around 100 to 130 feet depths.

Rings Underwater Metal Detecting

Could you describe a scenario where you were called in to find an item after recreational divers tried but couldn’t find it and why you felt they didn’t find it and why you did?

There have been several occasions I have had this exact situation. A lot of times when individuals lose a wedding ring or cell phone they wind up looking for a SCUBA diver. They land on the social media SCUBA groups and find a diver happy to oblige in offering a hand of assistance for the challenge. Many times these divers have an illusion that they will simply splash and take a look around visually and see if they get “lucky”. Sometimes they even bring along, honestly, very cheap metal detection equipment, likely having little to no long term experience with the technology on land let alone under water and proceed to poking around the area of interest with a less than a precision plan of search. Don’t get me wrong in these statements they are amazing energetic divers with a heart of gold to offer assistance however the plain and simple fact is the same as it was for me when I first got started diving for lost items under water and that is they simply have a lack of experience and have not developed the speciality skills required to be successful. However I was fortunate in the fact that I first cut my teeth on lost item recovery on land prior to offering underwater recovery services. I often tell people seeking my services after spending forty minutes to an hour in our initial conversation that this is one of the most important parts of the process. The investigative approach I take has proven to be one of the most critical and key factors in my successful recoveries. Back to the point of “experience” it has taken years of practice in developing a focused skill set for lost item recovery. Investigating how the items were lost and gathering all the available bits of information and striving to think outside of the box gathering all possible clues has allowed me to perform some very exciting recoveries. Make no mistake, my successful recoveries are not by “luck”. There is a lot of truth in this often quoted statement.

“When preparation and opportunity meet, great success can be realized.”

What are some of the more cooler things you have been called out to recover?

I have a real passion for recovering cherished jewelry items for people. To hear their stories and what these items mean to them having had their gold diamond wedding rings for only a few hours to many years as it has become a part of an individual’s life. It is always a very gratifying opportunity to reunite people with these items. I will say though one of my recent dive recoveries was assisting our local Coast Guards in recovering a dropped boat hatch in the marina. Getting called out to assist the USCG was a really exciting mission. I would be a miss not to include several of the buried gold and silver hoard searches I have been called to. Let’s face it who doesn’t get excited over a stash full of gold and silver. Helping a boater recover a lost outboard boat engine out of the lake was a fun and adventurous mission. I also had a few exciting recoveries for hearing aids and cochlear implant hearing aids. To see the smiles on their faces when these items are returned and knowing their quality of life has been restored for them makes me very proud of the services I offer and knowing there is a real value in the work that I perform.

Underwater Metal Detecting Recovery Equipment

What are your preferred metal detectors for underwater recoveries?

Ones that work for the task at hand. Having a selection of gear can greatly increase one success. As a gear junkie an assortment of metal detecting gear is in my fleet. As with most things, understanding the type of search and bottom conditions often dictates the gear I take on a dive recovery. As far as metal detectors I predominantly use the Minelab Excalibur II, Deus II, Xpointer Pro pinpointer and carry an 8 inch Nokta Pulse Dive as a redundant backup.

Could you share your recommendations regarding brands for SCUBA gear, wetsuits, dry suits, gloves and booties for diving?

We have a saying in diving regarding gear and that is “What works for you!” It’s a bit of a complex, individualized equation that new divers will workout with their dive instructors. I would highly recommend if you intend to do dive recovery that you get proper SCUBA certification first and foremost. I would also caution hookah divers to take some basic SCUBA training as well to realize the potential risk you are taking while using a hookah system. It’s a safety of life point that needs to be emphasized. Also be financially prepared for the expensive endeavor of SCUBA diving as it’s not a cheap endeavor and one should never cut corners on proper dive gear. The conditions and locations you intend to dive will dictate what type of specific gear that will be required for safe dive operations. For example a warm water Hawaii diver will gear up differently than a Pacific Northwest cold water diver.  I will say what I absolutely don’t recommend is for anyone desperately trying to find a lost item in the water. It is to never borrow a friend’s dive gear for a quick swim without having the proper SCUBA certifications and experience prior to making any dives. My style of diving in the PNW is that of a cold water drysuit diver. I am currently rocking a Santi Enduro drysuit with dry gloves and rock boots with a thick neoprene hood. Even diving the bottom of lakes in our summer months can expose me to some cold waters. Top of the line cold water certified dive regulators are also a requirement for my style of diving. All very expensive high end gear is absolutely essential and again it’s to be realized as life support equipment. You would not jump out of an airplane without the best parachuting gear available so why dive into an inhospitable underwater environment without the best dive gear. Please quickly come to this realization and if you choose to do dive recovery take the necessary time to get professional dive training certification as your first priority!

Best Gear for Underwater Metal Detecting

What kinds of cords, or other systems do you use to secure your equipment to not lose it in ruff waters?

The great thing about dive recovery for lost items of value is that I don’t allow anyone to dictate a sense of urgency so I have defined limits and generally avoid diving in rough waters. However that being said I have developed some unique systems for securing my kayak or dive float and dive flag while underway with a dive. A few years back I found the Sand Shark personal watercraft anchor system to be of a benefit to my process. The Sand Shark is a telescoping shaft with a helical screw tip. It gets screwed into the marine or lake floor and oftentimes used as a pivot point for my expanding circle search method.

How have you modified equipment to help you do recoveries better?

I have modified several metal detectors. Having been an electronic repair technician since a child I have the technical capabilities to modify gear. One example was implementing an underwater piezo button power switch to my Excalibur II detector to make for faster power cycling of the detector when using a pinpointer. I also installed a larger 14.5 inch NEL Thunder coil to my Excalibur II maintaining the waterproof integrity of the unit at depth.

What is the best way to protect the seals of your underwater metal detecting equipment? Do you use Silicone Grease or something else and where are the best places to buy it and what brand?

For SCUBA diving gear it is common practice to use a thin layer of silicon grease on o-ring seals. Most underwater metal detectors that have removal caps or battery covers will generally come with some silicon grease. Another often overlooked maintenance tip is to put a dab of dielectric grease on the pin contact of any coil or underwater headphone cable connectors. This will protect the pins from getting corroded and has been a long term practice for automotive electrical connections.

Any tips for using the XP Deus II for underwater detecting?

Be very cautious with the remote on the Deus shaft and use the provided string lanyard. It’s a known issue that the factory supplied clip system between the control pod and shaft does not lock in place and can get knocked off the shaft from time to time. It’s an absolutely amazing detector but one should take care to secure the remote pod via the tether string so as not to lose this expensive component in the bottom of the lake. Also get a pair of Tony Eisenhower underwater headphones you will be very happy with the performance. Don’t waste too much time with the XP bone phone headphones. I would be a miss not to remind you to install the red pressure plug before diving with the XP Deus II.

Any tips for using the Minelab Excalibur for underwater detecting?

Understand the Excalibur II capabilities and don’t take it out on a search for thin gold necklace chains, you may be sadly disappointed. However if looking for lost electronics and cell phones underwater the Excalibur is my favorite choice.

Underwater Metal Detecting Tips

How do you handle finding items in zero visibility waters?

Very slow and methodically. Oftentimes it is also cold and I have to remind myself to stay true to my process and not give up on the search. If I trust my gear and stay on task eventually I will get over the top of my target. Quite a few times it has required multiple return visits to the dive site when the drop zone is not well defined or witnessed. To overcome the challenges of zero visibility I have developed procedures incorporating the use of GPS technology to mark my search areas and have a few physical aids I use on the marine or lake floor such as my PVC grid system or an expanding circle search system. Having physical aids in the water are essential when working in zero visibility. Remember searching for a lost wedding ring the size of a dime is a challenge on land let alone on the bottom of a lake in zero visibility cold silty conditions. It’s been said a thousand times, metal detecting for small lost items is a game of inches, if you miss it by an inch you have missed it by a mile.

Water Metal Detecting Find Rings

How do you move, and make sure you don’t make the water zero visibility by stirring up the sediment when going close to where the object is, swinging the detector and or trying to retrieve the find?

Depending on the type of drop for example when searching for larger items experienced buoyancy control is required as all SCUBA divers strive to perfect. By staying a few feet above the bottom I can visually search an area for phones, keys and wallet size items but this also has a lot to do with the bottom topography and composition. Diving in rivers is quite different from reservoir lakes with a bit of flow. Old mill ponds with no flow can be some of the worst for high silty conditions. If I am searching for a lost wedding ring or gold chain there is no way around it but to become a bottom feeder swinging the detector over the silt or sand layer quickly silting out the search zone. However as of recently I have found the Subnado dive scooter a small and low power thruster to be a handy tool as a blower. It will jet water into a target area to blow out silty sandy target holes to make for faster target acquisition rather than fanning one’s hand wasting a lot of energy.

How much does a metal object on an ocean floor move with currents? For example, if someone gives you coordinates of a location where a ring fell off a boat straight down the water, how much could the current have moved it?

There are different answers to this common question depending on the region and type of waters the items are lost in. My experience has led me to believe that in the Pacific North West in the Puget Sound rings will generally fall fairly straight down more or less as they have very little surface area and sink in the water column like a small pebble. Once they hit the marine sand they typically get anchored in for the most part. Oftentimes these items have been located within ten feet of a good GPS PIN. There is more concern over longer periods of time, a season or more, of how much sand is moved in over the top of the ring burying it somewhat deeper but we have still had some amazing recoveries years later. This being said, more dramatic changes are experienced in coastal beaches with a surf breaker zone where most of the jewelry is lost as people bob around in the surf and crashing waves. Rings still hang out in the same general area but the sands can pile on top of them at different rates making some recoveries quite challenging. That being said even years later as sands are moved out by beach cuts rings have been found in the same general locations. With all this being said there are no hard fast rules or guarantees as this is all a very dynamic environment but rather an encouragement not to give up hope because we do find many of the items most thought to be impossible to recover.

Scuba Metal Detecting Gold Rings

What other underwater metal detecting tips can you share with our readers?

A very common area for lost item recovery is in and around marinas and docks. However these active waters can pose many dangers seen and unseen. Do not venture out and dive in active marinas without proper training and foresight with proper safety mitigations in place. We learned from an old marina diver a few years back to never dive or swim around a dock without having first tested the waters for stray electrical current. Marinas often have shore power services with energized electrical lines to connect to vessels. On occasion energized power lines get dropped into the open water creating an electrical shock hazard to anyone entering the water. It has become a part of my standard operating procedure to test the waters from the dock by dragging an inductive electrical tester. The ShockAlarm is an electric shock drowning safety protection test device for pools and docks. It is highly advisable that you understand the risk and proper personal protective equipment and gear required for safe underwater dive detecting adventures.

Is there one priority tip you would like to leave with our readers, what would that be?

I would like to remind everyone if you drop an item of value, drop an exact GPS PIN on your phone or fish finder and call a professional finder as soon as possible as your number one priority! This can’t be stressed enough for open water drops to get that precise GPS PIN over the drop zone. Even when losing a dainty studded diamond earring over a grassy park field or sandy beach do not move. Get your phone, or have anyone close by to come over the top of the drop zone to capture that exact GPS PIN. In this way you can call an experienced lost item recovery specialist with the highest level of confidence that the search efforts will not be wasted maximizing your opportunity of a recovery. Even if you don’t get a GPS waypoint do not be discouraged and call a lost item recovery specialist anyway as we are recovering lost valuables on a daily basis and enjoy serving those in need of a lost item recovery search.

I extend my gratitude to Jeff Morgan for sharing his insights. For those interested in connecting with him, you can reach him through The Ring Finders or visit his personal website at www.SeattleRingHunter.com

Seattle Ring Hunter Land and Scuba Metal Detecting Service

Many of Jeff’s adventures and recoveries are showcased on his YouTube channel @SeattleRingHunter

If you are located in the Great Pacific North West Region, Seattle Washington and have an item that needs to be found on land, in the grass, in sand, in the home, in the car, in the snow, or in the water, anything metal from a buried treasure cache, jewelry, hearing aids, phones, keys etc. call
Jeff Morgan of Seattle Ring Hunter Metal Detecting Service206-618-8194

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