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How to Hold a Water Burial

How to Hold a Water Burial

Whether your departed loved one requested a water burial, or you’re attracted to the idea for its symbolism, you may now be wondering how to hold a water burial. With a traditional burial and funeral, a funeral director and staff help with the funeral arrangements. There’s also a set order to follow, which reduces the decisions to be made. You’re starting from scratch with everything, including the location, with a water burial. And, hosting an event on the water holds its own complications. In this article, we’ll walk through how to hold a water burial.

How to Find a Body of Water for Scattering

water burial

You can legally scatter your loved one’s ashes in the ocean. Check with your local governments before scattering them on lakes, rivers, or the shore. It may be legal in your area, but you’ll need to do your research since it varies across the U.S. (And, the last thing you’d want is to have your scattering ceremony broken up by the authorities).

  • The most natural place to hold a water burial is a body of water that had special meaning to the departed loved one. Perhaps there was a special place where they fished or took the family boating. That would be the ideal place for your water burial. If you need to travel to the special ocean spot, that can be part of the ceremony. The journey can be part of the gift. 
  • You can also choose a part of the ocean that is meaningful to you or others who were close to the departed. There is no wrong decision to make here. This is one of those decisions with only correct choices.
  • Of course, it’s also OK to choose a part of the ocean that’s close by, to make things easier. There’s significance to any body of water since water symbolizes the cyclical nature of life. (It expands through evaporation and then is released, reborn as water, somewhere new as rain or snow.) It’s ok if you don’t drive for hours to your loved one’s favorite spot when there is an ocean place nearby. And, often, when dealing with the deep grief a loss can bring, it’s essential to make things as easy as possible.
  • Another option is if there is someone in your circle that owns beach front property. While you can’t scatter on the shore there, you can charter a boat nearby and use your friend’s or family’s property to make base camp, and perhaps hold a reception after the water burial. 

How to Have an Ocean Burial

ocean burial

Here are some of the things you need to know about an ocean water burial. 

  1. Scattering your loved one’s ashes at sea is a timeless way to memorialize their remains and honor their memory. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the scattering of cremated remains at sea, so there are a few rules you’ll need to follow.

  2. You’ll need to notify the EPA within thirty days of scattering ashes on the ocean. Report your scattering to the regional EPA office closest to where the ship you took departed. Click here to submit a form to the EPA.

  3. Anything placed in the water, including urns and wreathes, must be completely biodegradable. The Living Urn offers two biodegradable urns for water burials. The Eco Water Urn will float upright for a short time as the bottom dissolves and releases the ashes. The Eco Scattering Urn is an all-natural urn made from bamboo, a sustainable resource, and gives families the ability to scatter their loved one's ashes in the water with ease.

  4. According to the EPA, all scattering of cremated remains must take place at least three nautical miles from the shore.

How to Hold a Ceremony on the Water

water burial flowers

This section will discuss how to hold a water burial on the water. If you have a support system, try to delegate as much of the planning process as possible. If you’re doing the planning, remember that it’s OK if you need to make things simple during this time of grief. That could look like a small ceremony and forgoing any food or drinks. A lot of what we’ll go into in this section is optional. So feel free to customize your ceremony based on what you need or can do right now.

Taking a boat out on the open water to scatter a loved one’s ashes is a timeless way to memorialize someone special. If you decide to hold a water burial on a boat, here are a few things to consider:

  • Is there enough parking? If carpooling or shuttles need to be arranged, it’s good to know in advance. There will likely be plenty of parking if you’re using a private charter company, but it’s a good thing to ask someone else to check out before the day of the ceremony. Or, ask the charter company if there be will enough parking for your party.

  • Where exactly will you do the scattering? You’ll need the exact coordinates if there was a special fishing spot you’re wanting to do the scattering at. And if you’re wanting a specific spot, you’ll need to check that it’s 3 nautical miles away from shore. If it’s not, you won’t be able to do your scattering there.

  • Will members of your party need assistance walking to the boat and boarding it? It’s likely your chartered boat crew is used to helping people on and off the boat, but, if for example, you have a family member in a wheelchair who wants to be present at the water burial, you may need to plan for extra help.

  • What kind of shoes are best for a boat? Ask the charter company or do some googling. You’ll want to prepare your guests for success, so wearing shoes that are able to grip a slick boat deck is essential. 
  • How many people will attend? The price for chartering a boat for a water burial will increase as the guest count rises. The average cost for 1-6 passengers is about $500, with 7-9 costing $700, and the price increases from there. The length of these boat rides is 1-2 hours.
  • Do you want anything extra? Many charter companies offer additional amenities like flowers and champagne for toasting your loved one. If your budget allows, taking advantage of these packages might make things easier on the event day. 
  • Does anyone attending get seasick? Pack some ginger candies or ginger ale if someone starts to feel the waves.
  • Do you have any needed paperwork? Some states, like California, require a permit for scattering ashes at sea that the chartered boat captain requests. If a permit is needed, the crematorium will likely provide it. But, do your homework beforehand or ask the chartered boat company if they require paperwork. 
  • Assign someone to pack food and light snacks for the boat ride. Since the event will be at least an hour, people will likely get hungry and thirsty. And, since grief can impact appetite, it’s good to be prepared if anyone bereaved suddenly feels hungry. 

  • What’s the weather going to be like on event day? Ask your guests to prepare for the boat ride with appropriate gear like raincoats and hats, or sunscreen and hats if it is bright out. Also, remember that it may be colder out on the water with the wind factor.  

  • Will you be serving any refreshments? If you’re not choosing a refreshments package from your chartered boat, you may want to bring formal refreshments, aside from the emergency snacks mentioned earlier. Toasting the departed loved ones with their favorite beverage as the ashes melt into the water would be meaningful. And nibbles will make the long boat ride more enjoyable. Double-check with the boat company that they permit outside food and drinks, but most do. Treat this like any other outdoor meal and pack food into coolers with ice. Think finger foods and bring along hand sanitizer and napkins, and a trash bag just in case. Delegating the task of purchasing and preparing the food and bringing any necessary utensils and plates will help lighten your load on this emotional day.

How to Plan a Water Burial

water burial urn

  • Choose the urn

You have several options when it comes to urns for a water burial. There is the classic scattering urn, which you can use to scatter your loved one’s ashes. Scattering in this way is best done on days with little wind. The Living Urn’s bamboo scattering urn is easy to use and will hold the ashes securely until it’s time to scatter them.

They also offer a biodegradable urn designed for water burials - the Eco Water Urn. This urn will float while the bottom of the urn dissolves and scatters the ashes into the water - making for a beautiful and comforting experience for many. 

  • Decide on the guest list

If you’re taking a chartered boat, you may need to limit your guest list, depending on your budget. Sending invitations and tracking RSVPs can be very simple with the internet. However, some people may prefer to send out paper invitations. Whatever way you invite your guests to the water burial is fine. Try to give as much notice as possible; however, a short turnaround is expected for burials.

  • Do you want to include any Items to scatter along with the ashes?

As long as they are biodegradable, you and your guests can scatter items like flowers into the water with the ashes. Placing flowers into graves is an old tradition that you and your guests can easily carry out with a water burial. You can use any kind of flower. Roses are traditional, but a flower that meant a lot to your departed loved one makes a touching memorial. Many people often commission wreathes for water burials, which may not be suitable for an ocean burial. Remember, the EPA requires that anything cast into the ocean be biodegradable, including the urn and anything used to make a wreathe. Paper notes or letters are also commonly cast into the water. You can invite your guests to write down a message to the deceased or a beloved memory of them as part of your water burial ceremony.

  • Special words for the ceremony

You and others close to the departed may wish to share memories or sentiments before or after the scattering. Ask those whom you want to speak before the ceremony to plan on saying a few words. Ideas for special words include those from the heart, poems special to the deceased, or music. A water burial is a special time, and marking it with music, performed or played, is very meaningful. Music helps us grieve and heal and is a beautiful addition to any water burial.

  • Special equipment

While water burials can be quite simple, consider if your party will need anything particular such as:

  1. Umbrellas or slickers for inclement weather. These can be rented, purchased, or borrowed in case guests forget their own. Like with shoes, be sure to give your guests a heads up about what they might need to be comfortable. 
  2. Chairs or seating for the elderly or those in poor health. If some of your guests will need chairs, it’s a good idea to be prepared. Ask your charter company about the number of seats on the boat, and if you can bring extra chairs if needed.  
  3. Tables for writing notes, holding flowers, speakers, or food and drinks. (If you’re chartering a boat, ask beforehand since they may have tables and chairs onboard.)
  4. First aid kit. It’s better to be prepared when going on any incursion out into nature. Be sure to stock anti-nausea medicine for going out onto the water and sunscreen if sunny. Hand sanitizer is a must if you will serve food. A standard first aid kit will have the rest of the necessities.
  5. Music. Since you’ll be outside on a boat, you’ll need to plan for music. Ask the charter company if they provide a music sound system. If not, you’ll need to provide your own speaker. Tasking someone with creating a playlist and bringing a (charged) Bluetooth speaker is a great way to delegate.

Closing the Ceremony on the Water

water burial music

Once you’ve scattered the ashes, what next? Here are a few ideas for closing your water burial.

  • Invite your guests to say a few words

This is a beautiful opportunity to invite guests to speak about the dearly departed for a few moments. It will allow everyone there to remember the one you’ve all lost and add to their memories. Maybe a few people haven’t heard about that one time… This kind of speaking can happen naturally, with people speaking (or not) as they feel led. It can also be in addition to an earlier, more formal speech.

  • Light a candle or candles

Candle lighting has always held special significance and is a precious opportunity to bring some light into a dark time. Candle ceremonies can be as simple as lighting a single candle in remembrance once the ashes have been scattered or every guest having their own candle, creating an opportunity for silent reflection, and remembering. (If chartering a boat, be sure to check with the charter company about their candle policy.) 

  • Have a longer speech

One way to close your water burial is to invite a close friend or family member to give a speech about your departed loved one. You could request more than one person to speak as well. You, of course, are not required to speak, but this would be a good time for you to do so. Speeches, while sounding formal, don’t need to be in this situation. Instead, they can be a warm way to share your love for the person who passed.

  • Moment of silence

The sound of the sea and wind will be soothing as you and your guests remember, and perhaps say goodbye, to your departed loved one. This is a traditional ritual around loss, to allow the silence to take hold and simply be with the grief. There’s no need to set a timer, simply allow the moment to come and go. 

  • Play special music

Closing your ceremony with some special music is a lovely way to honor the one who passed and comfort those who mourn. Whether it’s Bach or the Ramones, it will personalize the events and bring back memories of the dearly departed. There are many ways to make the special music a memorial, such as choosing songs about loss, those with beautiful melodies, and music the deceased adored.

Another idea to close would be to hold a moment of quiet during one song and then have the rest of the music in the background for mingling and small talk.

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