A Gold Panning Competition Explained

Explaining competitive gold panning

Participants in a gold panning competition use the same skills that were used by the gold prospectors of old – swirling sand and gravel out of the pan, leaving behind a tail of the heavier gold.

The difference is that the sand is in a bucket and seeded with an specific number of gold pieces to make competition possible. The aim of the sport is to find, in the fastest time, the undisclosed number of gold pieces in your bucket of gravel and sand. Time penalties are added for lost pieces.

As in any organised sport, a gold panning competition is run according to set rules which are summarised briefly in this article.

The Flow of a Gold Panning Competition

Getting Ready

Competitors collect their numbers and a bucket of 15-20 Kg of sand and gravel, or 10-12.5 Kg for juniors and veterans. Between 5–12 tiny gold pieces are seeded into the bucket. In a single event everyone has the same number of gold pieces but competitors don’t know how many.

Every participant also gets a clear glass tube filled partly with water and sealed with a push-in cap, into which they will collect their gold pieces. Competitors also need their pan, which must meet specific requirements.

Size of gold pieces in tube
Size of the Seeded Gold Pieces

The Gold Rush

Participants then move to the panning pool, which corresponds to their number, with their pans, buckets and tubes. They place their pan, bucket and glass tube on the side of the pool and may not touch this equipment again until the the official start.

The gold panning competition starts when the starting signal is sounded! You pour some of the content of the bucket into your pan. Then you move the pan over the panning pool and, being careful not to spill, scoop up some water.

Now skill comes into play as you swirl the mixture just below the surface of the water to wash out the sand and gravel and, hopefully, leave all the heavier gold pieces behind. It seems like magic the first time you see this!

Chile panning in gold panning competition
Swirling out the Sand and Gravel to Leave the Gold Pieces Behind

The process is repeated until all the original sand and gravel in the bucket is washed away. Towards the end one starts looking out for the gold pieces and transferring them to the tube. Even this is quite a skill, especially if you are rushing against time!

Counting the Gold

Once done, you need to cap the tube before pressing the electronic timer button and raise your hand. You must place the sealed tube with gold pieces inside your pan and then fall in line with the other competitors – too bad if you spot any gold pieces left behind in your pan! Your gold pieces are counted by an official “nugget” counter and both of you have to agree on the total number of gold pieces you found.

counting gold pieces found during during a competition
Counting Gold Pieces at the Counting Station

The results are announced once all the competitors’ gold has been counted. The winner is the one who found all their gold pieces in the fastest time. For every gold piece lost a 3-minute time penalty is added.

You can find the complete official rules for gold panning competitions, as determined by the World Gold Panning Association, on their website.

Gold Panning Competition Categories

The official categories at national and international events, on which champions are decided are:

  • Proficient Men
  • Proficient Women
  • Juniors – under 16, both genders
  • Veterans – 60 and older, both genders
  • Children – under 12, both genders
  • Classic pan – Estwing 14″ or Batea, as opposed to the modern speed pans
  • 5-person provincial/national teams

Gold panning with a classic batea pan
Gold Panning Event with Classic Batea Pan

The South African National Gold Panning Championships usually also has the following unofficial categories:

  • Beginner Men
  • Beginner Ladies
  • Master’s, over 70
  • Two persons’ team
  • Three persons’ team
  • Five persons’ team
  • Children
  • Pikkies (under 5’s)
  • Couples’ panning – a fun event where each half of the couple hold one side of the pan
  • Joker – a fast and furious, winner takes all, event

Child panning for gold in gold panning competition
Child Gold Panning With Help From Their Parent

Gold Panning – A Fun Sport for Everyone

As you can see, competitive gold panning is a fun sport for the whole family – from toddler to Grandpa. Many enthusiasts return year after year to join in the fun at the SA National Gold Panning Championships – whether they reach the podium or not.

Contact SAGPA for more information or to apply for membership. You can also keep up to date and learn about upcoming events by following the South African Gold Panning Association Facebook Page.

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