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

Hand Panning for Gold

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.

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

If you want to pan outside these hand panning reserves, you pretty much have to use the government's Mineral Titles Online (MTO) system to make maps that show you where there are claims, parks, private property, etc.

You must work under the rules for hand panning if...

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

Mining with a Gold Pan

Hand panning can be an effective way of mining placer gold. You don't have to be on a claim or in a placer area to pan for gold. The equipment costs very little, and it weighs very little, meaning you can use it in places you wouldn't drag a pump and highbanker.

It is also worth noting that most of the rules on this page do not apply to work done under the rules for hand panning, as long as what you are doing is not so aggressive that it can be called making Changes In and About a Stream.

For Placer Claim Owners

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

Hand-Mining Rules - Information Update No. 38

On December 3, 2019, the government released a new version of...

Information Update No. 38 -
Permissible Activities without a Mines Act Permit
(Interim Guidance)

It has some new rules and restrictions. It is "Interim Guidance", so some of it may change. They are still really down on sniping. We will see.

The basic idea is that the government has provided a set of rules for working without a permit. If you want to work outside these rules, you should contact the Regional Mining Office, and see what they say.

In general, to work without a permit, your equipment must not contain "moving parts driven by mechanical means", other than a small, portable water pump.

If you ask a Mining Office whether certain work is allowed, or allowed without a permit, they may say that the way to ask is to do a NOW - Notice Of Work - which is how you apply for a permit. If the work is approved, you will (eventually) receive either a "Mines Act Permit" (aka "Reclamation Permit") or an Exemption that says you do not need a permit. It is the same process as applying to do machine digging or what they call "mechanized mining".

Working Near Water - The Riparian Setback

The province wants to protect land next to water. One aspect is that plants can help prevent erosion that hurts fish. So, we have rules about not disturbing vegetated parts of bars and other protected areas near water called the Riparian Setback...

No vegetated part of a gravel bar may be disturbed.

Outside the high-water lines, you are not allowed to work, store fuel or disturb anything within ten metres of the high-water line on each side of the creek - other than...

On bars and banks inside the high-water lines, you can use a sluicebox/highbanker, but you must not work closer than three metres from the water's edge.

On the Fraser River, you cannot work closer than ten metres from the water's edge, and you must be working at least one meter above the water. The Fraser River is the only river/stream in which machine digging can be done on gravel bars.

Digging by Hand without a Permit

There are rules from Information Update No. 38 about pits and trenches dug by hand when you are working without a permit... If you want to work outside these limits, you should contact a Regional Mining Office and possibly apply for a permit - do a NOW - Notice Of Work.

Note that any construction that is part of an excavation, such as a retaining wall, must be approved by a Professional Engineer, and would require doing a NOW.

Sniping Bedrock

Sniping is using small tools - picks, hooks, screwdrivers, knives, etc. - to recover gold from cracks and other tight places where gold can get caught in rock. Metal Detectors - aka Gold Detectors - can be very useful for sniping.

It is illegal to disturb any vegetated area on bars or banks.

Legally, sniping has aspects...

If you stay within the rules for hand panning - using only a hand-shovel and gold pan - you are legally safe.

Information Update 38 says using hand sniping tools in a watercourse (ie. between the high-water marks on both sides) is not allowed

However, further down it suggests that anyone that wants to use hand-sniping tools in a watercourse should contact the appropriate Regional Mining Office. Presumably you have to convince them you will leave the vegetated parts of bars alone.

Sluice Boxes and Highbankers

Sluice boxes and highbankers can only be used on a placer claim, and they must be movable by hand, and must not include any moving parts "driven by mechanical means" (not counting the water pump).

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.

Water from a sluice box or highbanker 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.

Using a Pump

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 it might be acceptable to use a a 2 inch pump with a 1.5 inch restriction in the suction intake of the pump (not the end of the suction hose). If this matters to you, you should check with the appropriate Regional Office.

Free Miner Certificate and BCeID

A person or corporation must have a Free Miner Certificate (FMC) and a BCeID to own a claim, which is required to use a sluice box, get permits, etc.

It can be worth getting a FMC even if you intend to work within the rules for Hand Panning. A FMC sort of establishes that you are a miner, not a tourist. For individuals, a FMC costs $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, which is "doing business" with the government).

Mineral Titles Online (MTO)

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

If you are going to be hand panning or doing any other kinds of placer mining, you need to use the MTO system. it isn't a rule - it's just the way it is - you can see where there are parks, wildlife reserves, First Nations land, private property, etc.

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

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

Claims, Leases and Placer Areas

A Placer Claim or Placer Lease gives you the exclusive right to explore for and mine the placer minerals in the area of the claim.

Most placer mining equipment can only be used on a claim or lease, including...

A claim/lease is not required for work under the rules for Hand Panning.

A Placer Lease is for fairly serious operations. It is like a placer claim, but it gives you a more secure form of title and some surface rights (although not ownership of the land). There are steps to convert a claim into a lease.

A Placer Area is a part of the province in which you can get a placer claim.


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 already disturbed when you got or bought your claim.

No Cabins

Do Not build a cabin or use an existing cabin on your claim. If you do, sooner or later an Inspector will give you an order to remove it, at your cost, or lose the claim.

Surface Use of Placer Claims

A placer claims gives you the right to search for and mine the placer minerals on the claim. 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. Mineral Titles and, if necessary, the Surface Rights Board will help you reach an agreement.

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) or to go beyond the hand-mining rules in Information Update No. 38, you need a Mines Act Permit, also known as a Reclamation Permit. This includes using a suction dredge even if it is more than 10 metres from a creek. (Using a suction dredge in a creek is generally against the law). See Suction Dredges for more information.

To get a Mines Act 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 Mines Act Permit to apply for 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 Mines Act 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 Mines Act Permit as a justification).


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