Placer Mining in BC

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Some Basic Rules

I am not an expert on mining law - I am just trying to help. Use the information in this website at your own risk. See the Notice at the bottom of this page.

Table of Contents

Recreational Hand Panning

Anyone may pan for gold, using only a hand shovel and a gold pan, in any watercourse in BC except in or on a... ...without permission.

You can use the government's Mineral Titles Online (MTO) system to make maps that show you where there are claims, private property, parks and First Nations Land.

The government has established a number of Recreational Panning Reserves for hand panning. Using metal detectors and camping in these reserves is not allowed.

A shovel and gold pan are the only tools allowed if...

All legal prospecting or placer mining that is not on a claim is done under the rules for Recreational Hand Panning.

Most of the hand panning rules are from Information Update No. 2 - Recreational Handpanning for Placer Minerals.

For Placer Claim Owners

Work done under the rules for Recreational Hand Panning can be counted as work to renew your claim - to push out the Good-To Date.

Sluice Boxes and Highbankers

No Water Into a Watercourse

The most important rule is that no water from placer mining (other than hand panning) may flow or visibly seep into a watercourse. This includes any natural stream, pond, lake or wetlands.

If you use a pump with a sluice box or highbanker, what comes out of the sluice box must flow into a settling pond (or a tank/tub). Water in a pond can soak into the ground or be reused or both.

It is not legal to use a sluice box in a stream.

Working Near Water and Wetlands - the Riparian Offset

When using a sluice box or highbanker, all placer mining activities, with two exceptions, must be done on gravel bars or more than 10 horizontal metres outside the high-water line of any creek, river, lake or wetlands.

The exceptions are...

  1. a narrow foot path to reach the watercourse
  2. operating a water pump
The watercourse is the area between the high water lines on opposite sides of the water.

Working on Gravel bars

No vegetated part of a gravel bar may be disturbed.

Other than the Fraser River, all mining activities on gravel bars (with the two exceptions) must be done more than 3 metres from the waters edge.

On the Fraser River, it is "more than 10 metres from the water's edge" and one metre above the water.

The Fraser River is the only river/stream in which machine digging can be done on gravel bars.

Using a Pump and a Settling Pond

See Pumping Water.

You can use a water pump without a licence for hand mining if the suction intake is no larger than 1.5 inches. The intake must be properly screened - no openings larger than 2.5 mm and enough area that the water flow doesn't trap tiny fish.

It seems that Mineral Titles Branch may not approve of using a 2 inch pump with a 1.5 inch restriction in the end of the suction hose. If this matters to you, you should check with the appropriate Regional Office.

Water from a sluice box must flow into a settling pond, or into a tank/tub for reuse. Water in a pond can seep into the ground or you can reuse the water or a combination of the two. Generally, a fairly long narrow pond is best - dump into one end and pump out of the other.

Free Miner Certificate and BCeID

A person or corporation needs a Free Miner Certificate (FMC) and BCeID to engage in any placer mining activity other than "Recreational Hand Panning". A FMC is required to own claims, use a sluice box, get permits, etc. If you are at all serious, get an FMC. It costs individuals $25 per year.

A BCeID is general purpose ID and password for dealing with the BC government. You need a Business BCeID to get a FMC (not an Individual BCeID - you can use it to get a new claim for about $100 - this would be doing business with the government).

Mineral Titles Online (MTO)

Mineral Titles Online (MTO) is the Ministry's online mapping and administration (getting stuff done) system.

This isn't really a rule - it's just the way it is...

If you need a Free Miner Certificate, then you need to use the MTO system.

You need to be able to make maps that show where there are claims, parks, private property and First Nations land - to plan what you are going to do.

You can also use MTO to look up the owners of claims, or Logon to renew your Free Miner Certificate, get new placer claims, register work or pay cash to renew a claim, and other tasks.

Placer Areas, Claims and Leases

Any placer mining activity in BC other than Recreational Hand Panning must be done on a placer claim or lease. A significant part of the province is designated as Placer Areas where new placer claims may be acquired.

For serious placer mines, a miner may follow a set of steps to convert a placer claim into a placer lease, getting more secure title plus some surface rights (although not ownership of the land).

Claims and Equipment

Use of any equipment, other than a hand shovel and a gold pan, must be on a claim.

Equipment that can only be used on a claim includes:

"Sniping" is using small picks, hooks, screwdrivers, knives, etc. to recover gold from cracks and other tight places where gold can get caught in rock.


If your mining activities disturb the ground, you are responsible for
Reclamation - putting the disturbed areas back into a good approximation of their original state or a reasonable looking state compared to the surrounding area.

You are not responsible for ground that was disturbed when you got or bought your claim.

Surface Use of Placer Claims

A placer claims gives you the exclusive right to search for and mine the placer minerals on the claim - find, get and keep the gold. A claim gives you no rights to the surface other than what is required by these mining activities.

To see how the government looks at it, Section 60(2) of the Mineral Tenure Act says that if a person advertises a claim for sale, the ad must include:

Warning - This property is offered for mining purposes only and ownership of the title to it does not include ownership of the surface rights or the right to use the surface for residential or recreational purposes.

See Information Update No. 4 - Surface Use by Recorded Holders of Mineral Titles

Private Property

You can get a claim on private land. With some exceptions, you can enter private land to:

The exceptions - land that you do not have the right to enter, includes:

It is a big subject, with many rules. You have to give notice to the owner 8 days before you enter private land.

A simple approach is to stay off of private land. This is more practical in some areas than others.

It seems that you don't need the consent of the landowner, but if he or she objects, you can't enter the private land until you have an agreement.

If you can't reach an agreement, either you or the owner can ask Mineral Titles for help. If this doesn't work, either of you can apply to the Surface Rights Board. They will also try to help you reach an agreement, but if necessary, they will make an agreement that both you and the landowner must follow.

First Nations Land

First Nations land is pale green in the MTO System, so it looks like Parks. Usually, you have no right to gold in these areas unless an agreement is made with the band. See: Proponent Engagement with First Nations for more information about how the government deals with this issue.


To use
mechanized equipment, (also known as machine digging) you need a Reclamation Permit.

This includes using a suction dredge more than 10 metres from a creek. (Using a suction dredge in a creek is against the law). See Suction Dredges for more information.

You may also need the permit to snipe in the water course unless it can be done under the rules of Recreational Hand Panning - using just a shovel and gold pan.

To get a Reclamation Permit, you file a Notice of Work (NOW), and probably post a reclamation bond (thousands of dollars, but you get it back if you do proper reclamation).

The NOW should be filed at least two months before you require the permit. If there is a problem, you want time to provide additional information. You may need a Reclamation Permit to apply for a other permits.

If you intend to use a water pump with an intake larger than 1.5 inches (38 mm), you may have to apply for a Water Licence (probably after you have a Reclamation Permit as a justification).

If you intend to cut down any trees, for access to your claim/lease or to prepare a site, you will have to apply for a licence or permit (probably after you have a Reclamation Permit as a justification).


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