Detecting New Jersey Beaches
By: John A. Punola
Photos By: Nancy Punola
Recently one of my friends remarked that I was the luckiest detectorist he had ever known. I replied that my success is not attributable to luck. Detecting is similar to going fishing: to catch fish, you have to go where the fish will be found. The same holds true when you head out to do some detecting: you have to detect where your best chances of success lie, and for me that's the New Jersey beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.
Detecting the New Jersey beaches is not a secret. Since the first metal detectors came on the market, treasure hunters have flocked to the beautiful New Jersey coastline, a stretch of endless sand from Cape May to Atlantic Highlands. There are a variety of finds that await your metal detector, from a gold ring to an encrusted Spanish silver coin, or even a handful of long-lost silver coins and a lot of jewelry.
Each week, beginning in May, tens of thousands of tourists from many local distant points descend upon the New Jersey shore to enjoy the waves, sands, and summer sun. This guarantees a continued replenishment of valuables, keeping the sands well stocked with treasures awaiting the swing of your detector.
These many miles of well-kept beaches have provided countless memories for hundreds of years, yet it's still possible to make an occasional find of old silver coins, jewelry, and various artifacts. The relentless tides that rise and fall along the coastline constantly sweep treasures lost at sea back to the beaches. On one occasion several years ago, I scooped up a dog tag from World War II that belonged to a sailor from Ohio. I was able to return it to his widow, who was grateful to have it back in her possession.
The best places to hunt are the towns along the coast that draw the greatest numbers of tourists, such as Atlantic City, Cape May, Seaside Heights, Belmar, Asbury Park, Wildwood, and Manasquan, just to mention a few. Contact the tourist bureaus of these towns and you can secure a wealth of information that will help make your detecting trip a pleasant and rewarding adventure, adding a lot of new items to your collection.
New Jersey is blessed with a good highway system that makes it easy to travel to the shore. The Garden State Parkway parallels the coastline from Raritan Bay all the way to Cape May, opening up opportunities to detect many excellent beaches. Take your pick... with more than 100 miles to explore, detecting places are almost unlimited everywhere along the shoreline.
If you like to search for old valuables, the best time is September, which is hurricane and storm season on the East Coast. Hurricanes that form in Florida will follow the coastline right along the New Jersey coast, and as high seas and winds pound the shore line, redistributing the sand, countless coins, jewelry, and other items will be washed ashore. When storm warnings are posted, detectorists in New Jersey and the surrounding areas get ready to work the beaches' miles of loose sand piles. It is truly a great opportunity for finding a lot of valuables. Follow closely the news and progress of any storm, because heavy flooding often occurs, and beach areas may be closed by local authorities, although usually only for a few days.
Now, with hordes of people filling the beaches with umbrellas, blankets, etc., there's a risk of friction between detectorist and sunbathing visitors. To avoid this, I have found the best detecting times to be from early morning to about 8:30 a.m., by which my arm is tired from swinging the detector, and food&drink enters my mind. At these hours the beaches will be relatively free of people. I then take a long break and resume detecting after 6:00 p.m., when people are departing— and leaving behind good items for me to find!
During the day in the warmer part of summer, the beaches will be tightly packed with people getting a suntan and going in and out of the water. I have seen beach hunters attempt to weave themselves through these throngs, and I have seen some unpleasant encounters, too, as sunbathers called the police to take TH'ers away. Please use common sense and search only when the beach areas have been cleared of most of the people.
Enter the beach area when the crowds are leaving and you will be surprised at how many people will come up to you and ask you to find something they have lost in the sand. It has happened to me on many occasions. A lady once gave me a $50 bill because I had found her mother's necklace. On the other hand, I had an irate man threaten to turn his dog loose on me if I did not get away from his family. For the most part people are friendly, occasionally there may be one or two who are not.
By the way, when you come to detect the New Jersey beaches, be sure to wear a comfortable pair of sneakers. This is for your personal safety. With the large number of people on the beaches day after day, it only stands to reason that there will be some who leave dangerous litter in the sand that can cause you pain or injury. Besides, I have always found the sands lovely to look at but far too hot for bare feet.
Chances are that you will meet a lot of other detectorists who will end up being new friends. Remember to respect others and always be a good sportsman. Also, when you're at the shore take time not only to detect but to enjoy all the other things the communities have to offer. You will find mile after mile of good boardwalks offering direct access to the sandy beaches. Along those same boardwalks you'll find restaurants and many other attractions that you're sure to enjoy. Always bring along your lady, and both of you will enjoy the day. Don't forget your camera, suntan lotion, and sun glasses.
Make the most of the season. The end of September does not mean the end of detecting the New Jersey beaches. Don't put your detector away just yet. Beach hunting is still a good bet during October and November, so keep right on detecting. I have even made trips to Atlantic City and Asbury, New Jersey during January and February and found some nice items. I have never been shut out. Winters along the New Jersey shore are normally mild, and people still visit the beaches. Best of all, you'll likely have far less competition hunting the sands.
Make it a point to buy a good road map of New Jersey and mark the locations of towns along the water. Pay particular attention to the New Jersey Garden State Parkway, which has numerous exits to get you to your chosen destination. From Pennsylvania, take the Atlantic City Expressway. From Delaware to Cape May, you can arrive via auto/ferry from Lewes, Delaware, then connect with the Garden State Parkway to proceed farther up the coast. Always drive safely and observe the traffic laws. I want you to arrive without incident so that you are fresh and safe, and ready to do some detecting!