Tips for Metal Detecting in the Surf

Tips for Metal Detecting the Surf

It takes practice to get used to metal detecting in the surf and retrieving targets. One must learn how to work with the waves, shoddy visibility, and sometimes moving targets.

Personally, because of the risks, I tend to detect the surf when it is safer to do so, small none fears waves if recreationally detecting. However, when doing ring recoveries, especially time-sensitive ones, I have had to detect in rough surf and sometimes in the super rough surf, where rocks as big as tennis balls are getting hurdled at my ankles. These recoveries are generally wedding bands, diamond rings, and gold necklaces lost while body surfing, boogie boarding, or playing in the rough surf, and then a wave barrel rolls the person.

Metal Detecting in the Surf Safely.

Metal detectorists have drowned and lost metal detecting equipment venturing too far out and having aggressive waves hit them. The first rule is to be safe. Bring a buddy if you can, and if you can’t, don’t push your limit. Don’t go too far out. If you are alone, instead of going too far out, come back when there is a good negative tide, and you can get out further with smaller, safer waves.

To be safe, don’t turn your back on waves. I made this mistake when I was newer to detecting rough surf. One bad wave hitting your scoop into your legs can cause a nice cut or gash, which happened to me. Getting salt water in a deep fresh-cut wound isn’t pleasant, and the drive home as it stings is equally not pleasant.

Don’t Lose Your Target in the Surf

When you pinpoint the target with your metal detector as waves are coming back and forth, use your coil to mark where it is by placing the coil and holding it down where the target is. Then place your foot behind the coil. Your foot/toes should be pointed towards the coil center. Pointing directly to where the target would be. Then move the coil away and place your scoop just before your foot to get the target, with the edge of the scoop on the sand right in front of your toes at about a 45-degree angle. When the waves are right, take your scoop and let the surf pull the sand away. It is critical you do not move your foot to keep the place of where the target is. 

If you didn’t get the target, try a couple more scoops. If still no luck, start working around the hole in a circle, widening and deepening your hole until you get the target or are ready to give up.

If the Rough Surf Is Too Much to Detect

As hard waves come in, turn sideways to make your body as narrow as can be so the wave does not catch you and throw you back. Another suggestion if you are fighting the rough surf, is to detect backward away from the surf and not into it.

Right Sand Scoop for Surf Metal Detecting

For metal detecting in the surf, you want to have a large sand scoop with a full-size handle and large holes. This is because you need to spend as little time retrieving your target in between waves. It truly is a race with time before the next wave comes in. 

Some detectorists like to use more of a heavier scoop for rough surf detecting because they can use it as a brace. I use the 48″ Underwater Beach Sand Scoop from Royal Manufacturing, which I call my heavy tank. It is probably the heaviest scoop on the market, purposely made heavy to help brace you in waves as they hit. I also use my Motley Digging Tools Beach Scoop, Hex10 CKG Scoop, and Nokta Premium Sand Scoop 3-in-1

Avoid Losing Your Metal Detector or Sand Scoop in the Surf

Using harnesses, straps, pool noodles, or rope to keep your sand scoop or metal detector from slipping away is smart. There are some commercially available or you can DIY it.

Metal Detectorist Rick Hunter states, “My personal preference is that my detector is on a breakaway harness, but if my scoop gets taken, I let go and retrieve it between the next waves. Once I had my scoop on a thickish strap band and a huge wave tumbled me, wrapping me in the strap with the weight of the scoop tensioning with the strap around my neck. Thankfully, I calmed myself down and sat flat under the water, and slowly was able to get the strap loose. However, it was bloody close to being a really dangerous situation. I now just keep a section of pool noodle on the handle, so when in the water, the scoop tries to naturally stand upright. Also, if I had used a thinner Paracord type rope, it would have cut right into me, which was why, for safety, I opted to use and suggest others use something more similar to webbing.”

See example below of Rick Hunter’s first and second generation scoop.
Notice where he has the pool noodle. Fedup with wood handles snapping he opted for a carbon fiber handle.

Using a Pinpointer

Pinpointer Lanyard

Regarding pinpointers, not all of them are waterproof and ideal for metal detecting in the surf. I use a Nokta Pulse Dive Pinpointer. It is waterproof, and I have had it for over four years and enjoy using it over the other pinpointers that I own. I always have my pinpointer on a coil lanyard to make sure I don’t lose it, regarding if I am detecting in the surf, water, or dry land. Personally, I like a long coil lanyard, longer than the ones that come standard with pinpointers. I also like them to have two carabiners on each side. There is a good one that I purchased from Amazon. It comes in a package of two. The lanyard has a length of 28.5 inches and will stretch out to almost 120 inches. Sometimes I attach two together to make even a longer lanyard. If you are going to take your pinpointer into the surf detecting, I recommend it be attached with some sort of lanyard. It is an easy item for a rogue wave to misplace.

Remember Your Electronic Car Keys and Cell Phone are Not Waterproof

Remember, before you venture into the water, secure all electronics in waterproof bags. Even if you think you will only detect in the shallow surf. From nowhere, a large rogue wave can come and hit much higher than you’re expecting and ruin your electronics for good. Or simply, the mist from the waves can damage them. Ideally, don’t take them with you if you are surf metal detecting. However, sometimes you have no choice if you are metal detecting alone and no one is on shore to watch your items.


If you want to start metal detecting in the surf, it is all about safety. Be smart about it and learn how to get a target quickly versus chasing and losing it. 

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