Burial at Sea

Burial at SeaThe practice of burial at sea dates back to ancient times. The tradition is rich with history and lore and still offers a strong appeal for those who have a love of the sea.

Indeed, it is still possible to have a full-body sea burial. There are many practical considerations in selecting this type of interment, however, because the practice is heavily regulated. In most cases, the deceased’s loved ones will hire a specialized charter company to handle this type of burial.

Far more common than actual full-body burial is scattering cremation ashes into open water or lowering a biodegradable urn into the water.

Full Body Burial at Sea

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates sea burials in the United States. The EPA sets down requirements such as how far from shore the burial must be and what types of permits are required. In addition to Federal regulations, state and local laws and ordinances may be applicable. States may enact their own restrictions, but they can not relax any of the rules set down by the EPA. The EPA prohibits burying animals at sea.

A specialized casket or burial cloth is used, and all materials involved must be biodegradable. Some states require that the body be weighted.

EPA Requirements for Burial or Scattering at Sea

1) Burial or scattering must take place at least three nautical miles from land in waters at least 600 feet deep. Depth requirement does not apply to scattering.

2) Materials used must be biodegradable. This includes flowers, wreaths, and other memorial items.

3) The EPA must be notified within 30 days of the burial or scattering.

4) Only human remains may be buried or scattered.

5) Remains may not be mixed with medical waste.

For more detailed information visit the EPA burial at sea pages. (https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping/burial-sea)

Veterans Benefits

The Department of the Navy offers free burial at sea services for veterans and their families subject to certain restrictions. The veteran may be buried in a casket or a cremation urn, which contains the remains lowered into the water.

To be eligible for burial at sea veteran’s benefits, you must be:

  • An active-duty member of the uniformed services
  • A retiree and honorably discharged veteran
  • A member of the Military Sealift Command U.S. civilian marine personnel
  • A family member of the above

The burial includes a military and religious ceremony which is customized to the religion of the deceased. Click here for more information on the U.S. Navy burial at sea program.

The U.S. Coast Guard also offers burial at sea for qualified individuals. For more information on the Coast Guard program, click here.

Scattering Ashes at Sea

The most common method of burial at sea is a scattering of cremated remains. Many private charter companies offer scattering services. A local funeral director can help you find a scattering service in your area. Another useful resource is your local EPA office.

Like full-body burial, scattering at sea is subject to EPA regulations and state and local laws. While law enforcement tends to turn a blind eye to violations of scattering regulations, it is always recommended that you follow the official guidelines for more information on things to consider when scattering ashes, visit our Scattering Ashes page.

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