The Wading Game
By: James & Jeannette Monaco
The other day I got a call from a complete stranger. My wife answered the phone and told me that someone had read one of our articles in W&ET and had some questions. I ended up talking to this guy for over an hour. When I finally hung up, my wife suggested that I write an article about water detecting that would help other folks get started.
I usually detect in waist-to chest-deep water, but have been known to stand on my tiptoes in a rising tide to get a target. I have also detected using scuba gear, but if you are looking for treasure, you really don't need to go too far from shore.
Beach detecting is rewarding. However, if you want something more than a pocketful of change, a few Matchbox cars and a sizzling sunburn, you might consider moving into the water.
Lots of people like to bob in lakes and oceans. They all go about the same distance from shore, and some of them wear very nice jewelry that doesn't quite fit or has a damaged clasp. Frolicking in the surf, slathered in suntan lotion, does have its risks; and if you've never lost a ring or necklace that way, you probably know someone who has.
Most detectorists stay on land, but the gold is in the water. Besides, it's cooler there, and if you're in chest-deep water, chances are that you'll have fewer distractions than on the shore. Enough said.
Never tried it, and not sure how to begin? Well, let's start with equipment. If you do not have a waterproof metal detector, you can't detect in lakes and oceans. I use a Minelab Excalibur. The broadband system is unaffected my mineralization in the saltwater, so I can travel from water to sand without my machine going haywire. With some other units, if you so much as touch your searchcoil to the ocean water, the detector will howl like a banshee! Also, an underwater detector has a weighted coil with no air inside, so it sinks. That means you won't have to press the detector to the ocean floor. It also means you need to hold onto it.
When I go out searching, I'm dressed a little oddly. For one thing, I wear scuba booties. They are ideal for several reasons. They are comfortable for walking on sand or in water, the rubber sole is useful for pressing my scoop into the sand, and on the rare occasion when I step on a shell or stingray, it's nice to be wearing thick neoprene boots rather than thin beach shoes.
My outfit also includes swim trunks and a T-shirt. Don't make the mistake of trying to tan while you scan. I don't care what kind of sunscreen you use, waterproof or not, it will not last four hours in the surf. To protect my neck, I wear a bandana that covers my head and has a neck flap. This is sometimes called a "doo-rag." On top of that I wear a hat and sunglasses. Finally, around my waist I wear a nylon belt carrying a canvas pouch that seals shut with Velcro. I put my treasure and trash in there. The Velcro keeps anything from slipping out as I move and dig. That's the outfit.
Add to my attire, my metal detector and scoop. Now, the scoop is very important. I first bought a galvanized steel scoop. I rinsed it after every use, but the salt water still rusted it out in just two months. So, I bought a stainless steel scoop and had it reinforced to my specifications. The maker added a broom handle inside the hollow handle of the scoop and soldered an extra piece of steel across the back of the basket- the place where I step on the scoop to drive it into the sand. I bent the first handle and basket the first week I owned it, digging in very fine sand. The ocean water and sand combined to make a mixture similar to concrete. The guy who makes the scoops accused me of trying to jack up a car with it, when I sent it back.
This scoop is heavy. You will definitely get an arm workout. Nevertheless, I like it like that, and its uses are more varied than I ever imagined.
Recently, I was in chest-deep water, scanning the ocean as I always do while I search. The water was murky from a tropical depression (Barry) and had passed through, so visibility wasn't great. I saw turbulence headed for me. The water would rise in a strange 2' wave, then be still. This wave came closer. Suddenly, only 4' before me a manatee breached and blew loudly through his flap-like nostrils. I stared at him, and he squinted his beady eyes at me and ducked below the surface. I watched the wake move away. Now, I know that they are majestic animals, but up close they look like a gigantic gray tick with whiskers!
Yes, I've seen many strange things out in the water... but this article is supposed to be about equipment and technique, so let's move on to the latter. On many occasions I have searched an area already recently covered by another person. It surprises me how much has been missed. How does this happen?
Well, one reason is that my machine penetrates deeper than some others on the market do. Another reason is that treasure hunters get tired of digging up trash, so they discriminate it out. You are welcome to do that. In fact, if you search in Florida, I hope you do. Why? Because what you also discriminate out is gold. Pulltabs and gold send the same soft signal. If you lose one, you lose the other... just one of nature's little tricks! Since you know that now and will be digging up tabs, too, be sure to put them in your pouch and dispose of them properly.
Another reason searchers miss signals is that they go too fast. It's a big ocean, and while rushing will enable you to cover more area, it will also cause you to miss more targets. So, slow down- you can't check it all! I walk extremely slow and keep the searchcoil parallel to the sand. This sloth-like pace has rewarded me on many occasions, allowing me to hear the faint signals that the fast movers miss. Only move forward as far as your searchcoil can cover on each sweep.
I keep the volume turned up to the highest setting so I can hear the faint signals, and sensitivity on the highest setting as well, or on the auto-preset. The threshold is set to give me a constant slight hum. That way I'm less likely to miss targets that eluded other TH'ers.
The final reason I find what others leave behind is that they don't follow a pattern or grid when searching. I'm not suggesting that you set up a grid as you do on the beach. First of all, you have no footprints to follow. Also it is not too rewarding. In water hunting, you have to watch the swimmers, both at high and low tide. See where they stop and bob up and down. There is a pattern to it. The place I search is between these two spots of high and low swimmers. The jewelry and change often lie in vertical lines parallel to the beach.
I walk parallel to the beach, using landmarks on shore to mark my progress. When I reach the end of my search area, I turn around and head back, stepping only as far away from my path as my searchcoil sweep allows. If it's early morning, I start in shallow water and work my way out. This helps me avoid bathers. In the evening I do the opposite, working from deep to shallow as the swimmers head in for dinner. I always shuffle my feet as I move along, and if you've ever been hit by a stingray, you know why. The best way to avoid this is by letting them know you're coming and giving them time to get out of your way. I do not search after sunset, as this is when sharks come in to eat the stingrays. Bon appetit!
Occasionally, I will find a beach that is suffering from erosion. What makes condominium owners shudder makes me smile. The loss of sand makes my job easier. The searchcoil's field will only reach down about 15". On an eroded beach, decades of loot can lie in that small bit of sand.
On one memorable summer hunt I found coins from the 1940s. I pulled up jewelry from the 1930s resting beside cartridges from WWII, and found metal compacts and lipstick cases like nothing made today. It was quite a dig!
On the other hand, beach renourishment is bad for me. New sand dumped over the old means I will find only what has been recently lost. Sometimes, though, that's more than enough.
When I find a target and the water is clear, I mark it by eye. If the ocean is murky, I use my foot as a marker. I take a scoop of material, move it to the side, and then recheck the hole without ever lifting the scoop from the bottom. This saves on lifting and shaking the heavy scoop unnecessarily. If I receive another signal, I dump the scoop of material to the side without checking it. Keep the material in one place. Just because you still have a signal in the hole, that does not mean you have not removed a target. Often a bather will lose many coins at one time while performing a handstand underwater.
Once the hole is without a signal, I lift and shake the basket. I never reach into the basket until I see the target. There could be fishhooks or jagged shells in there. Once I find the target and pocket it, I run the coil over the pile to be sure there is not more than one target. If you don't check your discarded material, you will certainly forfeit finds. After I am satisfied, I move on. There's no need to fill the hole, if it's shallow and well away from shore. The ocean will do it for you at no charge.
Some targets are small and fall through the holes in the scoop. If this happens, I just relocate the target and retrieve the scoop of sand. Then I lean my detector against my body and cup one hand beneath the scoop. I shake the sand through the scoop, and the target will generally land in my palm. Unfortunately, it is often a split shot (fishing weight), but occasionally it's a gold earring.
At most of the areas where I search, the surf is minimal. However, I have a special beach detector for days when the water is rough. You guessed it; it's a Minelab, too.
Now, let me tell you some of the best places in my area to search...
What, do you think I'm crazy? Go find your own spot!
Oh, one last tip. While preparing this article, I was demonstrating my superior technique to my wife and got sand from my scoop and searchcoil all over her kitchen floor. So, take it from me, do your practicing and demonstrating outside!