Placer Mining in BC

Information and Resources

Tip Jar

Home » Placer Mining in BC » Basic Rules

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-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.

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".

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.

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 have to 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.

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.

Sniping Bedrock

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.

It is illegal to snipe in the water of a creek (or any natural water) - any work in a creek must follow the rules of hand panning - the only equipment that is allowed is a hand shovel and a gold pan. Using a small scoop - calling it a "hand shovel" - is probably okay.

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

Information Update 38 says using hand sniping tools in the watercourse (ie. between the high-water marks on both sides) is not allowed, but further down suggests that anyone that wants to use hand-sniping tools in a watercourse should contact the appropriate Regional Mining Office.

It seems that sniping the bedrock beside the creek may be permissible if you can convince the Mining Office that you will leave the creek and the plants alone.

Sluice Boxes and Highbankers

Sluice boxes and highbankers must be movable by hand, and must not include any moving parts driven by mechanical means, other than a small portable 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.

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.

Using a Pump and a Settling Pond

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:


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.

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 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) 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 against the law). See Suction Dredges for more information.

You may also need the permit to snipe in the water course, if it can be done legally at all.

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 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 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).


Copyright 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 by Brian Marshall

All images on this website are copyrighted by their owners and they may not be downloaded for other than personal use - republication, retransmission, reproduction or other use is prohibited.


  Contact Advertise Privacy Policy Site Map