Burial at Sea

Burial at sea is a more unconventional approach to funeral rites. Because scattering ashes at sea is essentially disposing of human remains directly into the environment, there are legal considerations which much be adhered to.

These legal aspects are enforced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There is a host of things you may and may not do when conducting an ocean burial, so it is best to check not only with the EPA, but with your state and local governments to ensure that you are in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations.

In addition to its novelty, a funeral at sea carries with it other advantages as well. For one thing, the burial at sea cost may be significantly lower than that of a traditional funeral rite in that there is no cemetery plot required, no headstone needed, and no ongoing monthly maintenance that may be associated with traditional cemetery burials.

What are the rules for burial at sea?

When it comes to scattering ashes at sea as a chosen method of funeral rites for loved ones, there are some important legal considerations to examine to make sure that you are not breaking any federal environmental laws. These laws typically cover what can be disposed of in the ocean and where scattering ashes at sea ceremony may legally take place.

  • Where the remains can be placed – Human remains are permitted to be disposed of at sea in either cremated or non-cremated states. However, there are some guidelines as to how this may be done. Cremated remains may be disposed of in ocean waters of any depth provided that the funeral at sea takes place more than three nautical miles from the nearest shoreline.
  • What may not be buried at sea – Any remains that are not human, such as the remains of a pet, whether or not they are cremated, may not be scattered at sea. This includes combining the ashes of a pet or other non-human remains with that of human remains for the purposes of a funeral.
  • Other materials – Anything that is not easily and quickly biodegradable is not permitted to be disposed of at sea. This may include things such as artificial flowers or wreaths, headstones or grave markers, monuments, urns, or any other material that may not break down in a timely manner.

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Burying Cremated Remains vs. Non-Cremated Remains

Scattering ashes at sea is a fairly straightforward procedure and requires little on the part of those conducting the funeral. Cremated human remains can be buried in ocean waters of any depth so long as the burial takes place at least three nautical miles from a shoreline or ordinary low-water mark such as a bay, inlet or the opening of a river. Having an ocean burial where non-cremated human remains are laid to rest requires more adherence to specific guidelines. There are two types of burials at sea for non-cremated remains:

  • Non-cremated, non-casketed remains
  • Non-cremated casketed remains

If the sea funeral does not include the use of a casket, then the EPA recommends that those conducting the ceremony employ the use of a natural fiber with which to shroud the remains of the decedent. Sail cloth is also acceptable for this purpose. Furthermore, it is advisable that the body have weights added to it such as being wrapped with steel chains to help the body of the deceased sink more quickly.

Ocean Burials With a Casket

For an ocean burial utilizing a casket, any plastic materials that may be part of or inside the casket must be removed as they are not biodegradable and can contribute unwanted debris into the marine environment. The EPA recommends that prior to burial at sea you drill a minimum of 20 holes that are two inches (five cm) in diameter so that air may vent quickly out of the casket to aid in sinking. The holes need to be even spaced (eight each on the top and bottom with two holes on each end).

You can cover the holes with some porous material such as natural cloth so that the body may remain unseen yet not interfere with the ability of the casket to sink. For this purpose, nothing such as plastic or adhesive tape may be used for this purpose. For a burial at sea with a casket, the EPA recommends adding weight to the inside of the casket to aid in sinking. This can be either sand or concrete, but not lead. The recommendation is for at least 300 pounds to offset the buoyancy of both the body and the casket.

Furthermore, the EPA recommends the weight be placed at the foot-end of the casket so that it may sink feet first. Lastly, when conducting a burial at sea with a casket, the casket should have six stainless steel bands, chains, or some other natural type of rope to maintain closure and aid in rapid sinking. One band should run along the length of the casket while the remaining bands be evenly spaced across the narrow axis of the casket making sure that caskets with two separate caps for the head and the foot are secured properly.

Burial at Sea Cost

The cost for a burial at sea may vary depending on what services you wish to purchase. If you do not have access to a boat, you may have to charter a service for this purpose. The type of funeral, whether scattering ashes at sea or the burial of a non-cremated body in a casket, can affect the size of the vessel and the length of the voyage involved as well. The number of people who are going to make the voyage for the funeral rites may also affect the size of the ship and the price of the services. There are professional services dedicated to these types of burials with locations throughout states with shorelines on the ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

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