Are you a certified scuba diver? If so, you have an advantage over most other people in the quest for treasure. You have the experience necessary for underwater treasure hunting with a metal detector. This involves diving in scuba gear with a metal detector in search of lost or sunken objects. A popular hobby among sports divers is shipwreck diving. Divers with metal detectors frequently find valuable artifacts, coins and precious metals which were part of a lost ship's cargo. Shipwreck diving can be done either in shallow water or in deep water down to 200 feet; divers typically hunt inside sunken ships and around the area of known shipwrecks.
Where can you search for shipwreck treasure?
Legendary shipwrecks can be found throughout the world: Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Bermuda, Indonesia and Australia are known for their diving spots. In North America, Florida is the place to travel for shipwreck diving. Florida is considered the "dive capital of the world" by many sports divers and underwater detectorists. That's because they are finding more pieces of Spanish treasure along Florida's coastline than ever before. Today's technology has cultivated advanced circuitry in the design of underwater metal detectors. Modern underwater detectors operate more efficiently in saltwater, are much deeper seeking and more adept at pinpointing metal targets. Treasures once overlooked can now be located by a sports diver with a metal detector.
There are several high-return hot spots in Florida for shipwreck treasure. Among them are the shoreline beaches along Fort Pierce, Cape Canaveral, Pensacola, Palm Beach and most notably-- the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys are a chain of islands that lie along the Florida Straits and are part of the Florida Reef. This is the third largest reef system in the world-- a site where many ships ran aground or capsized in storms. You can dive treasure galleon wrecks in this area for coins and artifacts.
Step 1: Decide Where You Want to Dive
Research is the key here. You don't want to be searching for a needle in a haystack. Since there are so many resources available with the coordinates of shipwrecks (or where treasure may have washed ashore), it's important to determine exactly where you want to dive first. If you are diving the Florida coastline, decide which shipwreck zone to hunt. Utilize modern shipwreck charts, the Florida State computerized list of shipwreck finds, treasure hunting books and/or go out on charters with dive boats. Many popular shipwreck dive charters leave from Marathon, Florida in the Middle Keys. The next thing to keep in mind is that certain areas are protected by maritime preservation and recovery laws.
Step 2: Learn “shipwreck Laws” Where You Will Dive
Big question: can you keep what you find?? There are shipwreck laws in the U.S. and abroad that are designed to (1) preserve historical artifacts and (2) protect rightful cargo owners of sunken treasure ships. Unfortunately, these laws are not uniform; therefore, you will need to know if you can keep your treasure. The state of Florida has its own maritime protection laws. Usually anything found along the shore is legally “finders keepers.” As long as your find is not on state or federal property, it is considered treasure trove, or “finders keepers.” However, anything found from the high tide mark to international waters (3-miles in the Atlantic; about 10-miles in the Gulf of Mexico) is off limits to hobbyists without the proper permit. There are select wrecks outside of the three-mile-limit that are finders keepers. It's important to learn these restrictions before you dive for shipwreck treasure.
Step 3: Get an Underwater Metal Detector
Treasure divers heavily rely on their equipment— scuba gear and a deep-seeking underwater metal detector. Pulse induction (PI) detectors are often the choice for shipwreck divers because they are the deepest seeking underwater units. They generally perform better in saltwater than any other underwater detector and they are also designed to ignore salt (which is key when you are hunting the ocean.) A VLF (Very Low Frequency) underwater detector can also be used for shipwreck diving. VLF metal detectors are good at discriminating out junk, while reliably targeting coins, relics and jewelry. Most underwater detectors operate at depths of up to 200 feet. Search and compare prices and models of Underwater Metal Detectors if you are in the market to buy one. Headphones are usually worn for underwater detecting because the beeps will alert you to the spots where treasure is buried. You will need to listen for deep, faint signals. Valuable artifacts can be buried up to two feet below the sea bed. Just remember to take the headphones off during your descent or ascent because of ear pressure and equalization.
Step 4: Make Your Descent to the Dive Spot
We'll use the example of searching for treasure from a Spanish galleon. One well-known shipwreck involved an entire Spanish fleet along the Florida coast in 1733. The ships capsized during a hurricane and the remnants scattered along the Florida Keys. Treasure from this wreck is sprawled from close to shore all the way out to 4.5 nautical miles. So, you can either wade from shore out to your dive spot or use a dive boat or kayak to get further out. Scuba air tanks should provide a couple of hours of of bottom time hunting. If diving from a boat, it's helpful to run a dive reel line out once you're on the bottom. Then, just detect within visibility of the line so it's easy to navigate back to the boat.
Step 5: Scan the Shipwreck Area and Dig
Once you have reached your target area, mount a dive light to your head. This way, you can see clearly while keeping both hands free for scanning your detector and digging. The underwater weightless environment can be tricky for digging, but it gets easier with practice. Move your metal detector slowly from left to right sweeping the ocean floor (or shipwreck debris) in front of you. If your detector signals, face into the current before looking for your object. Fan the sand away while digging a small hole and check to see if your target has moved. A hand-held rake comes in handy if the seabed is silt or packed clay. You're trying to move the target into a pile of sand or clay next to your hole. Then you can break small pieces up and check each one with your metal detector until you've isolated the target. You may not know exactly what you've found until further inspection on the surface, but place all found items into a catch bag attached to your harness. Shipwreck treasures can be valuable, so you may want to get them appraised by a local purveyor. Because of their historical value and intrigue, many divers end up keeping and displaying their finds.
To learn more about shipwreck diving and related equipment, read: