Sluice Box Laws for California


Mining for gold didn't go out of style with the Gold Rush. In fact, it is still happening across the country, especially in California. Casual and professional miners use a variety of tools to mine for gold, and sluice boxes are one such tool. Due to environmental concerns, California banned the use of certain mining equipment. However, the ban doesn't extend to sluice boxes unless they are motorized or prohibited by a particular location.

What It Is

  • A sluice box is a gold mining tool, open on both sides with evenly spaced riffles along the length of the box. These riffles slightly impede the flow of water, causing heavier objects such as gold to become trapped and slip to the bottom of the box. A sluice box may be placed in a river or creek, or held in place by large rocks.

Prohibition on Dredging

  • California prohibits the use of vacuums and other suction dredging equipment in any state rivers, lakes or streams. This equipment is used for suction dredge mining, the process of sucking gravel and sand from the bottom of a river with a large hose and then running that material through a sluice box to trap any gold that may be present. Afterward, unwanted material is returned to the river. Dredge mining has resulted in the loss of fish species and reintroduced mercury from past mining operations into the food chain of communities downstream. This had a negative impact on both the environment as well as Native populations in the area that relied on fish for sustenance and cultural practices.

Impact on Sluice Box Use

  • California's ban on suction dredge mining does not apply to recreational or casual mining, such as panning for gold, using non-motorized tools. This means non-motorized sluice boxes are permissible during a location's dredging season, along with metal detectors and hand tools. However, different locations may ban certain tools. For instance, digging with shovels and hand tools is not permitted in the South Yuba River, but hands and pans are allowed. Additionally, persons seeking to participate in gold mining using sluice boxes or other tools may be required to obtain a permit from the California Department of Fish and Game for their chosen mining area.


  • Violating California's ban on dredge mining by using a motorized sluice box or other prohibited equipment is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and six months in jail.


  • Photo Credit ChrisEllis85/iStock/Getty Images
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