Metal Detecting At The Coast or Inland – Do you have an emergency plan should things go wrong if you are operating close to open water?

Metal detecting has been around for many years and is increasing in popularity.  Whether you have a passion for history or treasure hunting it is a great way to keep fit, improve your wellbeing by being outside in the fresh air, discover history and meet new friends.

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Metal Detecting Clubs & Kit

There are a whole host of metal detecting clubs up and down the country that you can join which will enable you to swop tips on the best kit to buy, discuss historical finds, attend rallies and events; and discover favoured locations to detect. To get you started as a metal detectorist you will need a minimum amount of kit namely a metal detector (waterproof or underwater version if you are planning on using it on wet sand or near water), bag for carrying your kit, headphones, stout footwear and a digging implement.

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What about Insurance?

Once you have built up some experience and knowledge then you may wish to extend your metal detecting kit, but this is down to personal preference.  Insurance is also recommended, although not mandatory and maybe required for participation at rallies and events. Some clubs membership fees includes public liability insurance.

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Do I need a license to metal detect?

You don’t need a license to use a metal detector in the UK, but there are laws about their use. People using a metal detector on private land without permission is illegal without first gaining approval from the owner. ‘Nighthawking’ is a term used to describe illegal metal detecting on farmland, archaeological sites and other areas of archaeological interest, often to steal coins and other artefacts for their historical and financial value.  The National Council for Metal Detecting has published an agreed Code of Conduct for all metal detectorists which will help you get the most out of this fascinating hobby, but also stay the right side of the law.

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What is Operation Chronos?

It is also illegal to undertake metal detecting on a scheduled ancient monument, area of archaelogical importance or Ministry of Defence property.  If you are in any doubt always speak with the landowner or the appropriate authority first. The issue of ‘night hawking’ (which can also be committed during the day time) resulted in the setting up of a national policing operation called ‘Operation Chronos’ which focuses on identifying the criminal minority who are intent on stealing cultural heritage.

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Metal detecting on the beach and the Crown Estate

The beach can be a great place to carry out your hobby of metal detecting.  Planning your visit during the Summer months either early in the morning or later on in the day will help avoid the crowds.  Anyone wishing to carry out metal detecting on the beach often referred to as the Crown Estate foreshore (defined as the land between mean high water and mean low water) may do so without a formal consent from The Crown Estate.

This permission applies to Crown Estate foreshore only and not to the seabed, river beds, or any other Crown Estate land. Find out more about the areas owned by the Crown Estate 

Some beaches acround the coast maybe privately owned.  It is worth checking locally whether this is the case.

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Metal detecting on the River Thames

Metal detecting on the River Thames foreshore requires a separate permit from the Port of London Authority. For more information e-mail or telephone 01474-562-332

What is the procedure if I find treasure?

If you are lucky enough to make a find on the beach then will need to check that whether it counts as treasure or wreck material.  Find out more about the summary definition of what constitutes treasure and how to report it to the Finds Officer 

If you make an unusual find on any other land you must inform the owner and consult the Voluntary Reporting of Portable Antiquities in England and Wales and the mandatory reporting requirements in Scotland.

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Who should I inform if I find wreck material?

If you recover any wreck material you will need to report it to the HM Coastguard who acts as the Receiver of Wreck within 28 days otherwise you could be fined £2,500 Find out more about what constitutes wreck material and how to report it

Contact details for the Receiver of the Wreck : 020 3817 2575

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Have you thought about your emergency plan or drill?

As well as getting the most out of your hobby it is vital to have an emergency plan or drill should things go wrong when you are out and about. This is particularly important as some of the time you maybe operating alone or in a very isolated location close to open water.

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We’ve put together this advice guide to help you stay safe:

1.  Always check the tides and weather before you venture out. There are plenty of free smart device app’s that can be downloaded to aid you.  Countryside organisations and water companies all publish information which is useful to find out about open water and it’s inherent risks.  Half of the people that drown each year never intended on entering the water in the first place eg people who have slipped or tripped and got into difficulty.

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2.  Wear the right clothing for the time of year and be prepared for inclimate weather.  If you are operating close to open water it is recommended to wear a correctly fitted lifejacket or personal floatation device.

3.  Tell someone where you are going and what will be the latest time you will return.  The what3words app is useful to give a precise location of where you will be operating.  On smart phones the compass app will display the longitude and latitude or alternatively try the OS locate app.

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4.  Carry a ‘calling for help’ device such as a fully charged mobile phone so that you can summon the Coastguard (if at the coast for a coastal emergency or on the River Thames) and the Fire and Rescue Service for other inland water emergencies

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5.  Be aware of your surroundings when metal detecting on the beach or close to open water such as rivers, lakes, reservoirs or quarries.  Tides change very quickly and so do weather conditions. What appears to be a benign stretch of water in the Summer can be totally different out of season or in adverse weather

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6.  Take heed of local warning signs

7.  Stay clear of cliff edges and rocks can be slippery

8.  Don’t enter the water if you get cut-off by the tide call out for help. If you can, ring ‘999’ ask for the Coastguard giving an accurate as possible location using any landmarks or points of reference

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9.  If you see someone in the water don’t enter and attempt a rescue. Call for help via ‘999’ and throw them either a throwline bag or lifebouy which are located along some coastlines, river banks or other areas of open water. If you can’t find one of these throw them something which floats and they can hang onto until professional help arrives.

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10.  From time-to-time legacy military ordnance and pyrotechnic’s get found on the shore. Always dial ‘999’ and ask for the Coastguard who will attend the scene to establish a safe cordon, risk assess the item and call for assistance from the Army or Royal Navy Explosive Ordnance Team if appropriate

We hope you have a great time enjoying your metal detecting and we wish you well on your hunt for treasure!

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Other useful links

Portable Antiquities Scheme

Saxon Shore Metal Detecting Club help lifeguards clear Margate beach

How to check the tide times

Know how to float to live – follow Evan’s story

Know who to call if you spot washed up military ordnance or discarded pyrotechnic’s

The Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH)

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National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD)

HM Coastguard

British Museum


Andy Mills

Thanet RNLI Community Safety Officer Striving to reduce accidental drownings by 50% by 2024 by spreading key safety messages to Thanet communities and its visitors.