An individual is allowed to use a metal detector on private property with the permission of the owner, in counties and cities in Florida according to their regulations, and in state parks as determined by the park manager. They are not allowed to engage in lost treasure hunting on federal property, on public lands in violation of local laws or on private property without permission of the owner. There is no finders-keepers rule that allows an individual to retain metal artifacts uncovered in violation of applicable laws.
Metal Detection Prohibited on Federal Property
Metal detecting is prohibited on federal lands, including on those Florida beaches that are defined as national parks, monuments and seashores. The Code of Federal Regulations does not allow possession of a metal detector or metal detecting device in national parks. It also does not allow use of such a device for possessing, removing, digging or disturbing cultural or archaeological resources.
Metal Detecting in Florida State Parks
An individual is allowed to use a metal detector in certain designated areas of Florida State Parks. State laws allow the use of metal detectors at coastal parks between the water line and the toe of the dune, as determined by the park manager. Metal detecting is not allowed at archaeological sites within this zone.
An individual may use a metal detector to assist with an authorized archaeological research project. This effort may not be used to recover objects for one’s personal gain, but for the completion of the project. An individual may be allowed to use a metal detector to recover a lost personal item with the supervision of a park staff member.
Metal Detection in Counties
Counties, like Orange County, issue permits for metal detection. Treasure hunters may be granted a lifetime permit for metal detecting at eligible sites within the county. A parent or guardian is responsible for signing an application for their minor children.
Metal detecting should not contribute to trailblazing, or the creation of a new trail. A treasure hunter also should not conduct metal detecting in a prohibited area or an area where activity is discouraged, such as a wetlands, an environmentally sensitive area, an archaeological site, an area of historical significance or within any facility or structure. An individual who is metal detecting should not disturb the surrounding environment.
Guidelines for Metal Detecting
A person using a metal detector is not permitted to cut vegetation. They can use a hand tool for digging purposes, but a hole should not be more than 6 inches in depth. An individual must refill a hole immediately after they create it. If they fail to comply with this condition, the county will revoke their permit.
An individual must conduct metal detecting in patron-use areas only, so not in areas of a park or on county property that are closed to the public. An individual is not allowed to harass, endanger or kill any wildlife while metal detecting. Metal detecting must take place within known park boundaries; it cannot be conducted within 1,000 feet of neighboring houses or commercial industries. An individual must engage in metal detecting during established park operating hours and while abiding by local regulations and ordinances, including park rules.
An individual may not engage in metal detecting in a construction area or lands not owned by the county. A person found in violation of any condition may be restricted from metal detecting for up to one year in a county park or recreation site. The county is not liable for damage to personal metal detectors incurred by weather, vandalism, natural disaster or management activities conducted by the county and its contractors.
Metal Detector Use Application in the State of Florida
A person who uses a metal detector on city or county property may be required to complete an application for a permit. The application requires them to identify themselves and provide personal information, including name, address, phone number and email address. The applicant must check all boxes that form part of the agreement, including provisions that require that all items found with a metal detector be reported to park staff.
Park staff may confiscate any item discovered if the item was reported as lost or stolen or is a historical artifact. The agreement may also contain provisions that the user will indemnify and hold the city or county harmless against claims and losses resulting from the person’s use of the park.
Cities and Metal Detection
Florida cities, such as the City of Ocala, may also institute their own rules regarding metal detecting activities. They may include a prohibition from conducting metal detection in manicured lawns or sports turf, golf courses, on or within 10 feet of either side of a walking trail and in landscape beds or areas. A city may prohibit metal detecting in a permitted special event zone unless it is authorized by an event coordinator. A city may discourage metal detecting in large groups.
A government entity may charge a fee for a metal detecting application. In addition, a person engaged in metal detecting and excavation may be required to have the permit with them or in their vehicle. Their actions must show that they understand the permit guidelines.
Digging May Be an Offense
It is illegal to dig for artifacts without the permission of the landowner. Florida Statutes Chapter 810 provides trespass on private property other than a structure is a first-degree misdemeanor. On state-owned and controlled lands, the Florida Division of Historical Resources, Bureau of Archaeological Research grants permission to conduct archaeological investigations. It is a third-degree felony to dig for artifacts on state lands without a permit from the Division.
Using a Metal Detector Underwater Off the Coast of Florida
Divers are encouraged to visit underwater sites, including shipwrecks. A shipwreck under state jurisdiction is not off-limits to divers. Underwater sites are protected by laws that prohibit the disturbance or removal of objects from archaeological or historical sites, such as 18th century Spanish ships, on state-owned lands. Divers may not remove objects from submerged bottomlands without written authorization from the Florida Division of Historical Resources. An individual is prohibited from disturbing or harming protected flora and fauna like live coral and manatees when metal detecting and excavating.
Permission to Conduct Excavations
The Florida Division of Historical Resources may grant an archaeological research permit to a scientific or educational institution such as a museum, university or college. An individual may be allowed to volunteer with the project and use their metal detector to help the excavation. They must follow the rules of the institution, the project and the state on reporting and conserving artifacts recovered during metal detection. All materials collected under a research permit are public property.
The Florida Division of Historical Resources may also grant an exploration and recovery permit to an individual or company to survey and recover submerged cultural resources offshore in state water. These are permits to perform certain activities under the supervision of the state. The person performing the work must record and conserve all artifacts.
At the conclusion of analysis and conservation, the state may choose to award a portion of the materials to the permittee. The state keeps the remainder of the recovered materials for research collections and public display.
An individual can donate an artifact recovered with a metal detector to a museum. The museum will determine whether the artifact is useful for exhibition or study. Typically, the donor must provide the artifact free and clear of restrictions. If the museum accepts an object into its permanent collection, it will ask the donor to sign a formal deed of gift.
- Florida State Parks: Can I Use My Metal Detector in Florida State Parks?
- Code of Federal Regulations: 36 CFR Section 2.1, Preservation of Natural, Cultural and Archeological Resources
- 2020 Florida Statutes: Chapter 810 Burglary and Trespass
- Orange County, Florida: Orange County Parks and Recreation, Metal Detector Use Guidelines
- Museum of Florida History: Donate an Artifact
- Florida Division of Historical Resources: Archaeology
- Florida Division of Historical Resources: Laws
- City of Ocala: Metal Detecting Excavation Permit
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.