Florida may be the ideal state for fun with a metal detector. However, nothing will ruin your relaxing day combing the beach for treasure like an unpleasant run-in with a park ranger or even a cop. So maybe you’ve already been enjoying your metal detector in Florida (maybe you’re doing it right now), but you may want to pause and make sure that you aren’t breaking any rules.
If you forgot to get a license, went metal detecting in the waters bordering national parks, accidentally wandered into private property, left holes or a mess behind, uncovered any hidden trash or junk and left it, or defaced any kind of archaeological material – you could be subject to fines, confiscation of equipment, and even imprisonment.
In this article, we will cover the treasure hunting laws in Florida – and what you need to know to stay compliant.
Licenses and Permits: Where Do You Need Them?
With plenty of sunshine, long, scenic coastlines, and dozens of beautiful state parks, you are going to want to get out there and start enjoying a good treasure hunt. On most public beaches in Florida, you are free to use your metal detector as much as you want, but you need to check first.
Many beaches and parks require permits which can be applied for on the park’s websites. If you are having trouble figuring out where to apply for such a permit, just look them up online, call, and ask.
Don’t wait until you are at the beach, metal detector in hand, and breathing in that sweet ocean breeze. It can take up to 14 days for your license to be approved. If you have applied for the license and have not yet been approved, it is just the same as going without any license at all (because you don’t actually have one yet!), so make sure you plan ahead and check with the local authorities before you have your perfect day spoiled by a disgruntled park ranger.
County Lines: Same State, Same Rules, Right?
Say you got your license in Ocala, Florida, and enjoyed a full weekend using your metal detector. You hear there’s another awesome park 50 miles away, and you want to go check it out. Will your license in Marion County have you covered?
You may not even realize you are heading into a new county, but sadly, a license or permission to use a metal detector in one park or county does not necessarily mean you are covered in other parks or counties, though some permits do cover you in multiple parks. You will need to check with each individual destination you want to visit ahead of time to make sure that you are not breaking any rules.
Ignorance is Bliss: What If I Just “Accidentally” Drop the Ball?
It’s tempting to just play dumb and take the “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” mindset. However, there are real risks at play here.
Any person caught using a metal detector without a license or expressed permission is subject to fines, imprisonment, and confiscation of your expensive equipment. That’s right, they might even slap a fine on you and take your stuff, which seems pretty harsh, but it is within their legal rights.
Though the odds of this happening may not be high, you would certainly be kicking yourself if ever did. Might as well just give a call to the authorities ahead of time just to make sure you are good to go. Numbers to call are easy to find just be visiting parks and county parks and recreation office websites.
General Rules You May Have Broken (But You Certainly Don’t Want To!)
Being a license or permit holder does not make you the king of the beach, unfortunately. There are still general guidelines listed for where you are allowed to use your metal detector. Here is a list of rules that are true in most, if not all parks and counties in Florida:
- The waters adjacent to national parks are ALWAYS off limits.
- Holes should be no deeper than six inches and you must fill them immediately.
- Metal detecting must take place within park property, but you must not use your equipment within 1,000 feet of any homes or businesses that neighbor the park, even if you are still within the park’s boundaries.
- You just found something that you suspect may be of historical significance! Don’t just stick it in your bag and take it home. It may be required that you report your findings to the local police or Parks and Recreation department.
All of this information will be listed for you when you receive your license or permit. Treasure hunting laws in Florida can be tricky to navigate, but the info that comes with your permit is easy to read and understand.
In some places, there is no need for permission at all! You can just show up and start searching. Examples of this include Miami-Dade County and Fort Pierce.
However, this does not mean that just anything goes. In Fort Pierce, even though you don’t have a license, you are still bound to some regulations.
- If you want to remove or alter an artifact, fossil, or shell mound you found, you will need to have permission from the city manager.
- You will also need permission to “disturb the natural surface of the ground in any manner unless authorized in writing by the city manager…”, so just because Fort Pierce does not require you to get a license before you come, it doesn’t mean they don’t take things seriously.
- Across the whole state of Florida, special permission is required to use your metal detector on state land.
Public Beaches: There’s No Permit Required, So I Can Go Anywhere I Want!
Well, not exactly. Though lots of public beaches welcome you to use your metal detector without a permit, you are still expected to limit yourself to the area “between the high tide line and the toe of the dune (http://www.fmdac.org/florida-state-regulations.html).”
If instead of treasure, you uncover trash, you are expected to properly dispose of it (and no, chucking it disappointedly into the water or back onto the beach is not what we’re talking about here).
What’s the Damage? Counting the Rules We’ve Broken….
We’ve covered quite a bit of ground so far. How many rules have your broken using your metal detector in Florida?
The rules and regulations for safe and legal use of metal detectors are not hard to find. A quick phone call or web search for the many parks and counties could save you a lot of hassle. Remember, we’re not just talking about a stern look from a disappointed ranger, but:
- Confiscated equipment.