2019 Comprehensive Guide to Sea Burials

Over the past few years, the number of people choosing cremation over burial has increased significantly. With this rise in cremation, there has also been an increase in the number of unique memorial options available that incorporate cremated ashes. One of the most popular new memorial options involves using a tree urn offered by The Living Urn to grow a beautiful tree memorial to honor a loved one. Another memorial that is growing in popularity is a burial at sea, which involves scattering ashes in water.

Types of Burial at Sea Services

After a cremation is performed and the decision is made to scatter at sea, families have additional choices to make to determine the best way for them to perform the sea burial.  Do you rent a boat yourself, or do you hire a service? Will you attend the scattering, or will it be an unattended scattering? 

Unattended Scattering at Sea

In some situations, for scattering at sea, the family in not able to attend the actual scattering. This could be due to a variety of reasons, including illness, family members living far away, among others. In this situation, the cremated ashes of a loved one can be sent by the US Postal Service to a company that will perform the burial at sea service. The ship captain of the company you choose will take the cremated ashes out to sea and to a location of your choosing to do the scattering for you. Special requests, such as having music played, reading a prayer or poem, and more can be accommodated as part of the service.

Attended Scattering at Sea

Almost every harbor in the U.S. has a boat service that you can hire to do a burial at sea. If you prefer to attend and invite friends and family, make sure the company you hire has a boat large enough to accommodate the group.  Also, you should check beforehand that the boat is willing to go to where you would like to perform the sea burial. With an attended scattering, you can also design your own memorial service, with music, speakers and more that can all be done at sea.

Scattering Ashes at Sea Ceremonies

Many families choose to have a ceremony for their loved one on the shore or on a boat. The ceremony may include having family and friends briefly speak and share stories to celebrate and reflect on the special person who passed.  It typically also includes the actual scattering of ashes or placement of a water urn in the water as part of the ceremony. When scattering, a single person may release the ashes into the water or several people may be involved (e.g. parents, siblings, children, etc.) and each scatter a portion of the ashes.  Sometimes the entire group participates. Christian scatterings may include a minister who leads the ceremony with prayers, a scripture and/or eulogies. Some people also choose to toss flowers or rose petals into the water during the service, or release doves during the scattering.

If you hire a company or boating service to take you out to sea to perform the scattering, some offer a menu of specific services that cater to people of different interests, religions, or ethnicities. For example, a popular one is called a mariner’s farewell for both military and civilian mariners. With this service, a verse is read during the burial at sea and the ship’s bell tolls eight times. People who attend this ceremony typically toss flowers into the sea as a final sendoff.

Themed Celebration

Often times family and friends will plan an event around the water burial. If he or she was an avid fisherman, for example, then a day of deep-sea fishing may be a great way to celebrate their life. If the person was always happy and full of life, perhaps a brilliant firework display over water could also be a great way to remember. If the person loved the beach, maybe a ceremony followed by a bonfire on the beach would be the best ceremony. It all depends on your loved one and how your family wants to plan a ceremony.

Religious Service

A Christian service will typically include a minister that will involve prayers and eulogies. A Buddhist service may include monks in colorful robes along with chanting to the site of the water burial and praying while the ashes are scattered.

Scattering at the Beach

If your loved one was a beach lover, or maybe spent a lot of time at a special beach, many areas allow for what is called “trenching”, which involves digging a trench in the sand next to the water to place the ashes.  Ashes are then placed in the trench and covered with sand. Since this is performed near the water, the ashes will gradually wash into the sea with the tide. You can be creative with the shape of the trench and many people choose to design the trench in the form of their initials, a heart, or anything else you have in mind. Be sure to check on any local rules and regulations before doing a trenching on the beach.

Scattering by Surfboard, Paddleboard, Kayak, or Canoe

A popular form of a sea burial that you may have seen involves a ceremony where friends, family and sometimes a community paddle out into the ocean beyond the surf and form a circle where a loved one’s ashes are scattered.  People can say prayers and share stories during the ceremony.  Those that cannot paddle out can congregate on the shore to watch and a celebration of life can be held that involves everyone before or after the scattering.

Types of Urns for Sea Burials

sea burial

There are many ways you can scatter ashes in a sea burial. Some families choose to use a simple coffee can, while others may use the temporary container provided by the funeral home or cremation service provider.  There are also some beautiful products designed just for scattering ashes and/or sea burials and these are generally referred to as scattering urns or water urns. Below we’ve described a few of the more popular ones:

Water Urns

water burial urn

The Eco Water Urn is a unique biodegradable urn that is placed in the water to scatter ashes in a graceful and dignified way. When it is placed in the water, it will float like a buoy for a short time (a few minutes) before freeing the ashes into the water. The Eco Water Urn is all-natural and is made from recycled plant materials. In addition, the urn comes packaged in a beautiful eco-friendly bamboo casing, which serves to secure the water urn for easy transport and also serves as a beautiful presentation piece for ceremonies. Due to its look and excellent functionality, the Eco Water Urn is a very popular choice for water burials for families all over the world.

Scattering Urns

scatter ashes

The Eco Scattering Bio Urn is a unique and popular option due to its attractive look, eco friendly construction and exceptional functionality. The Eco Scattering Urn has a cylindrical shape and a proprietary open/close mechanism on the top to make it easy for families to scatter ashes in a sea burial with control and in a graceful manner. The Eco Scattering Urn is light and strong, made entirely of bamboo, which is one of the most eco friendly building materials on earth. The unique top secures the remains for transport and also allows families to open and re-close/lock if they want to scatter at multiple places or involve multiple people.  Starting at $49, it’s an affordable option to include as part of your sea burial.

Sea Burial Regulations

There are not many regulations related to scattering cremated ashes at sea.  They can be scattered at any depth and at any location, but it must be done three or more nautical miles from shore at most places.  Including items such as flowers or urns are permitted as long as they’re 100% biodegradable so they won’t harm the ocean or sea life.   

While cremated ashes are sterile and harmless, you still need to contact the US Environmental Protection Agency within 30 days of a planned sea burial event and fill out a simple form. Some states differ on the rules and regulations, so we recommend you contact your local EPA offices or check out the EPA website to learn more.

Reasons Why People Choose a Sea Burial

The ocean is a treasure and has special meaning to so many people. For those with a connection to the ocean, using a special bio urn for a burial at sea can be a beautiful way to memorialize a loved one.  There are many reasons why people choose to be buried at sea. For some, the ocean may be special due to recreational activities they enjoy. For others, they may just love to be near it.  Below we’ve outlined a few of the most common ones:

  • Love of the Ocean & Nature

Looking out over the ocean and seeing a body of water that seems endless can give us a sense of wonder and amazement. Our precious ocean covers a vast area that covers about 70 percent of the earth’s surface. Even though it has and continues to be studied by many, there are still a lot of unknowns. According to the MarineBio Conservation Society, people have only explored about 10 percent of the total ocean area, leaving a majority to the imagination. It is estimated that over 2 million species live in the ocean that represent over 50 percent of life on earth. In addition, the ocean is one of mankind’s most important resources, providing food and water for million and millions. For these reasons, and many others, the ocean and everything it represents is loved by many.

  • Member of the U.S. Navy or other Military Branch

Many people who served in the U.S. Navy or other military branch spent a lot of time on or near the ocean. Therefore, this may have special meaning to the family and the person who passed.

  • Passion for Fishing

Whether on the ocean or a lake or river, tens of millions of Americans set out to fish each year. While many have never ‘caught the big one’, it’s a unique passion that, for some, can become a lifestyle. While some fish as a source of food, many Americans fish for recreation and a way to be outdoors, in nature, enjoying the water and the sun and spending time alone or bonding with others that are close.  Spending time on the water, watching the sun rise or set, can evoke special feelings and a sense of peace. With this special connection to the water, a water burial may be an appropriate way to be memorialized

  • Love of Sailing

Sailing is a favorite activity for many people that are lucky enough to live by the water.  Millions of Americans set sail each year from ports all over the world. For some, it’s a feeling of pure relaxation to be out on the ocean blue cruising to the sound of the wind. For others, it’s for sport and the feeling of going fast and navigating the tides, wind and swells gives them of sense of excitement and a connection to nature.

  • Surfing

Many Americans love to paddle out at their local beach and surf, a pastime that has grown in popularity over the years.  It can be a relaxing breakaway from the stresses of the day and puts you in the middle of nature’s beauty.  A common memorial for people who loved to surf is for their friends and family to paddle out just past the break at a favorite surf spot and reflect on their loved one while taking turns scattering ashes.

  • Swimming

Whether you swim to compete or simply to have fun, it’s a great activity that the entire family can enjoy.  Add a mask and a snorkel to explore the world that lives underwater.  People who loved to swim can be memorialized at that favorite place in the water.

  • Diving

Exploring underwater up-close and personal can be an invigorating activity. Many people are passionate about diving and love to see what magnificent species lie below in the ocean. Now they can have their cremated ashes memorialized at their favorite dive spot with a water burial.

  • The Beach

Tens of millions of Americans visit a beach each year, and some may never touch the water.  However, the site, sound, and smell of just being at the beach and seeing the beauty of the water in full display is a site many truly enjoy. Many people also have special memories associated with their favorite beach, whether it was spending time there growing up, an annual vacation destination for the family or a local beach where family and friends congregated. People who love the beach in general or have a special connection to a certain beach may also feel a water burial is the perfect memorial for them.

Is a Sea Burial the Right Choice for You or Your Family Member?

There are many reasons why people choose a burial at sea as a special way to celebrate the life of a loved one lost.  Is this the right choice for you and your family?  Hopefully the information provided above is helpful in your decision making process. If you still have questions, we also recommend reaching out to your local funeral director, cremation service provider or Church clergy who can typically offer further assistance.