The centuries-old skill of gold panning is being revived in countries worldwide as a sport in which the whole family can compete.

Like the gold prospectors of old, participants in a gold panning competition have to swirl sand and gravel out of the gold panning pan, leaving a trail of the heavier gold. The difference is that ion is done in a race against competition time. The sport aims to find, in the best time, all the gold flakes seeded into a bucket of gravel and sand. Time penalties are added for lost fragments.

Gold Panning Competition

Competitors collect a bucket of 15 – 20 kilograms of sand and gravel, which the chief judge has seeded with anything between 5 – 12 tiny gold flakes. Everyone has the same number of gold flakes in a single event, but they don’t know how many. Every participant also gets a clear glass tube sealed with a cap and partly filled with clear water to place the gold flakes they find.

With buckets and tubes and their pans, competitors move to the panning pools filled with 20 – 30cm of water. These pools are artificial and not in natural rivers or lakes to not pollute the environment. The pan, bucket, and glass tube are placed on the side of the pool while the participant waits for the starting signal.

The Gold Rush

When the signal goes off, some of the bucket’s content is poured into the pan, and water is scooped up from the panning pool. Skill comes to play in the way the mixture is swirled to wash out the sand and gravel and (hopefully) leave the heavier gold flakes behind. This process is repeated until all the original sand and gravel in the bucket is washed away, while all the time is looking out for and collecting the flakes of gold.

When finished, the competitor raises their hand for the timekeeper. Then, the tube with gold flakes is placed inside the pan, and the participant moves to the judges to count the gold flakes.

Speed is essential. At Poland’s 2019 International Gold Panning Championships, the category winner for proficient men, Keranen Veikko of Finland, found his seven gold flakes in 1 minute and 14 seconds.

Gold Panning as a Family Sport

Gold panning competitions have events for beginners, proficient men and women, veterans, juniors, and children. That is, everyone in the family may participate. There are also 2-man, 3-man, and five-person team contests so that family members can compete together as a team.

For information on where and how to participate in gold panning, visit The World Gold Panning Association site, which links the 21 affiliated associations in countries worldwide.

Gold Panning Championships

The World Gold Panning Championships in 2019 will be held in Pilgrims Rest, South Africa, and in 2020 in Biella, Italy. June 2019 sees the Scottish and British Gold Panning Championships in Scotland and the European Championships in Finland.