Burial at Sea

What is a Burial at Sea?

A burial at sea is where a person’s body or cremated remains are laid to rest in the ocean.

Choosing a sea burial can be a meaningful way to honour your loved one’s special relationship with the ocean. It allows their ashes or body to return to nature in a serene and beautiful setting.

Who Can Have a Sea Burial?

Whilst traditionally a burial at sea is reserved for members of the Royal Navy, or for people with a close association to the ocean, this choice is available to everyone.

There are several key considerations when arranging this type of farewell, from understanding the legal requirements to selecting an appropriate location.

Understanding the Basics of UK Sea Burials

UK Marine Burial Regulations

There are specific regulations in place in the UK for marine burials. A marine licence is required from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for a burial at sea.

To apply for a marine licence from the MMO for a Sea Burial, you will need the following:

  • Death certificate
  • Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection – available from the deceased person’s GP or hospital doctor.
  • Notice to a Coroner of Intention to Remove a Body out of England – available from the coroner in exchange for a Certificate of Disposal provided by the registrar.
  • Signed DNA sample consent form – required for The Needles site only.

UK Marine Burial Locations

In English waters or Northern Irish offshore waters there are three designated burial at sea locations, which are:

  • Off The Needles, Isle of Wight.
  • Between Hastings and Newhaven.
  • Off Tynemouth, North Tyneside.

In Scottish waters there are two designated burial locations. These are:

  • Off John O’Groats
  • Off Oban West Coast

UK Coastline Restrictions

When applying for a licence, you can suggest a different site for the burial but will have to provide evidence that it is a suitable location. It will need to be away from areas with strong currents, and not be near any commercial fishing areas.

For information on burials at sea elsewhere in the UK, families can contact:

Before planning a burial at sea in the UK, you should research your chosen location thoroughly. You need to identify whether there are any access restrictions or licence requirements in place. It’s essential to reach out to relevant authorities early on in your planning process so that you can obtain all necessary permissions and ensure compliance with local regulations.

Preparing for a Burial at Sea: Coffins and Body Preparation

When preparing a body for burial at sea, there are a number of requirements that must be followed. The person who has died must not be embalmed and must be wearing fully biodegradable clothing. They must also have an identity tag.

Specialised Coffins

When preparing for a burial at sea, it’s crucial to use specialised coffins. The MMO has set out clear standards and guidelines for the types of materials used and method of construction.

The coffin must be made of solid softwood, and must not contain any plastic, lead, copper or zinc. It will also need to have a set number of holes, be weighted and secured with steel bands to ensure it sinks quickly and remains intact when it lands on the seabed. The coffin and any inner box or liner must be made from natural, non-toxic and biodegradable materials.

The full statutory requirements for a specialised coffin for a sea burial can be found here on the Government website:

Burial at Sea: Coffin Requirements

Environmental Impact of a Sea Burial

When planning a sea burial, it’s essential to consider the potential environmental impact of your decisions. By choosing biodegradable materials for both the coffin or urn and any items accompanying it, such as flowers or wreaths, you can help protect marine life from harm caused by non decomposable substances. Furthermore, opting for environmentally conscious practices ensures that future generations can continue to appreciate and benefit from our oceans’ beauty.

Arranging a Sea Burial: Steps and Documentation

Obtaining Licences

When arranging a burial at sea, you need to obtain the necessary licences and documentation from the relevant authorities. These licences typically include permission from the Environmental Protection Agency or other environmental agencies.

A specialist sea burial company will be able to help and advise you. These companies have experience in handling all aspects of a sea burial, including acquiring required permissions and ensuring compliance with regulations. They can guide you through the paperwork and legalities involved, making sure that everything is conducted according to legal requirements.

They will also be able to work alongside your funeral director, if you have one, to ensure all aspects of the ceremony run smoothly.

Clear Communication and Adherence to Procedures

Clear communication with all parties involved is vital, including family members, funeral directors, and any other professionals involve with the ceremony. Closely following procedures outlined by regulatory bodies ensures that everything is carried out legally and respectfully.

Scattering Ashes at Sea: Process and Legalities

Legal Requirements

Unlike sea burial, when scattering ashes at sea you do not need permission from a landowner or to obtain a licence. Even though a licence is not required you should follow the Environment Agency’s advice:

  • Anything else you scatter at the same time must be biodegradable.
  • Stay at least one kilometre upstream of any water collection points.
  • Stay far away from buildings, marinas, and any places where people swim or bathe.
  • Choose a calm day to scatter the ashes and hold the urn close to the water when you empty it.

Biodegradable Urns and Scattering Tubes

To disperse ashes at sea, you commonly use biodegradable urns or scattering tubes. These eco friendly options are designed to gradually release the cremated remains into the water.

Biodegradable urns are made of natural materials such as recycled paper or Himalayan rock salt, which dissolve over time when submerged in water.

Scattering tubes provide a convenient way to scatter ashes without causing harm to marine life or polluting the environment. They often come with features like easy-open lids for effortless dispersal and can be used for aerial scatterings as well.

Understanding these legal requirements and choosing appropriate vessels for ash scattering ensures compliance with regulations while honouring your loved one’s final wishes.

Costs and Services Offered by Sea Burial Companies

Varied Costs

Sea burial costs can differ significantly based on several factors, such as the type of MMO licence required, additional services, and specific arrangements. For instance, the cost of a sea burial in one location may not be the same as another due to differences in local regulations and demand for such services. If you opt for additional features like a memorial service or unique transportation requirements, these will also impact the overall cost.

Sea burial companies usually offer packages that include different services at varying price points. These might range from basic options with minimal assistance to comprehensive packages that
encompass transportation, coordination of ceremonies or memorials onboard vessels, and help with necessary documentation.

Researching Options for a Burial at Sea

It is important to researching different sea burial companies when considering this option. By doing so, you can make informed decisions based on your individual preferences and budget constraints. When comparing costs and services, consider factors such as customer reviews or testimonials, and look carefully at what is included in specific packages.

The burial will, of course, be weather dependent, so may need to be rescheduled at short notice if it is not safe to go out to sea. At such an emotional time, this can be difficult, but it is important to be prepared for this just in case.

Holding a Funeral Service for a Sea Burial

Depending on the number of people attending, and on the weather and water conditions on the day, it may be necessary or preferable to hold a ceremony on land before or after the burial.

The content and style of the service is a matter of personal preference. It may include traditional elements, such as songs, readings and prayers, or might be something completely unique and different.

To find general information about funerals, please go to Planning a Funeral, or visit our Inspiration pages. Here you can find popular music, poems and readings for this type of service.

whiteballoon’s free Planning Tools, including helpful checklists, can help you to gather, share and keep track of ideas and information.

What to do next?

There are a number of companies who organise burials at sea and you can find details of some of these in Funeral Locations Providers. They help with the necessary paperwork and have suitably adapted vessels that hold the body and on which the service can take place.

You may also be interested inInformation about Cremation

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