2020 State Guide to Scattering Ashes - California Edition

This state guide to scattering ashes focuses on the beautiful state of California. This is our fourth edition of state rules and regulations related to storing and scattering ashes of a loved one (other editions include Florida, Michigan, and Colorado). More state guides related to scattering ashes will be published over the next few months so be sure to check back soon! 

California is an amazing state that boasts over eight hundred miles of picturesque coastline, snow-capped mountains, and pristine desert. It is well known for its great climate and a diverse culture. Nearly 40 million people call California home and its GDP is about $2.7 trillion (making the state the 5th largest economy in the world!).

California Regulations for Scattering Ashes

scattering ashes California

We receive many questions from families about the rules related to scattering ashes of a loved one or pet in California. This can include a special place outdoors, on private property, in state or national parks, in the ocean, or in lakes or rivers, among other places. In this guide, we include useful information about storing and scattering ashes in California. In addition, we also provide important information related to dignified and uplifting memorial options that you can do for a loved one!

State laws exist in California related to storing and scattering ashes, which are fairly straightforward and easy to follow. According to California law, ashes may be scattered by employees at a licensed cemetery, crematory, registered cremated remains disposers, funeral establishment staff members, family members of the deceased, or any person who has the right to control the disposition of the remains or their designee as long as that person does not dispose of more than ten sets of remains in any calendar year. People are permitted to scatter in California where no local prohibition exists and with written permission of the governing agency or property owner (if it’s not property you own). In addition, the ashes, once scattered, must not be distinguishable to the public.

Locations to Scatter Ashes in California

When a loved one or pet passes, many families choose to scatter their ashes at a special place or meaningful location. Scattering a loved one’s ashes can bring comfort to family and friends at a time of strong emotions and grief. Many families decide to hold a memorial service prior to, during, or after the scattering event. This can be as formal or informal as you wish and can be a great way to honor a loved one in a special way.

There are virtually endless places to scatter the ashes of a loved one in California. Below we’ve highlighted some of the more popular ones:

  • Private Land - similar to most other states, in California you can scatter ashes on your own private property or the private property of another person or organization with their written permission.
  • Scattering Gardens - many churches, cemeteries, and memorial parks throughout California now have designated areas where people can scatter ashes of a loved one. This is commonly referred to as a scattering garden and you can typically find one near you by reaching out to your local funeral home, church, or cemetery staff.
  • Public Land - California is home to some of the most beautiful places in the country. This includes amazing beaches, mountain peaks, and a pristine desert. Before scattering ashes on public land in California be sure to get written permission first. In addition, it is recommended to inquire at your local city or county offices to learn about any other regulations that may exist at a local level.
  • Federal Land - Prior to scattering ashes on federal land, it is recommended to get permission first. California has some beautiful National Parks and rules and regulations related to scattering at each park is available online. Many of the national parks throughout the U.S. allow people to scatter ashes in select areas of the park as long as you apply for and receive a permit before scattering and do the scattering away from main trails.
  • Pacific Ocean - Scattering ashes in the ocean, commonly referred to as a burial at sea or water burial, is a popular option for families in California. According to the Federal Clean Water Act, you can scatter ashes in the ocean as long as it is done at least 3 nautical miles from shore. All of the major harbors in California have boating services that can take you and family/friends out the proper distance from shore to do the scattering. By doing a quick internet search, you can most likely find multiple options available near you. California state law requires that boating services that perform scattering at sea services post copies of their boating licenses and address of where they store ashes. In addition, the maximum amount of time a boating service can store ashes is 60 days after receiving them, so if you want to do a scattering at sea but don’t have a date in mind yet, hold off on sending  them to the boating service until you're ready.
  • By Air - Federal law prohibits dropping any objects from the air that may cause harm to people or property. Ashes are not considered dangerous to people or property, and therefore, they are permitted to be dropped out of an airplane. Just be sure that the urn or other container holding the ashes  during scattering is held on to and not dropped. In addition, and similar to boating services, California requires air scattering services to post their licenses and to not store ashes for more than 60 days.

Additional Things to Consider When Scattering Ashes in California

In addition to California state laws (which can be found at www.cfb.ca.gov/consumer/funeral.shtml), it is recommended to also check if there are any local city or county regulations where you plan on scattering. In addition, state and national parks each have their own rules and guidelines to follow - if you plan on scattering at one of these locations it is important to first check to find out if there are any forms that you need to fill out or other special requirements that need to be met before scattering. With a simple internet search, you can find the phone number of the administrator at the park or location - just give them a call, they are there to help! In addition, it is always advised to use common sense when scattering and be respectful and courteous to others (do not scatter on crowded trails, on walkways, etc.).

How to Scatter Ashes? 

With the surge in people choosing cremation in California and in other states throughout the U.S., along with more and more families scattering their loved one’s ashes, many new scattering urns and memorials have recently been introduced. Some of the more popular ones are highlighted below:

Eco Water Urn

California has over 800 miles of coastline, and because of this, scattering ashes at sea is a popular option. The patent pending Eco Water Urn was recently introduced and has been an extremely popular choice among families and funeral homes nationwide. This special biodegradable water urn floats upright like a buoy before the bottom dissolves, gracefully spreading the ashes in the water. In addition, it comes packaged in an attractive and eco-friendly bamboo case – perfect to transport the urn to a special location for the scattering or for ceremonies prior to or during the scattering event.

Eco Scattering Urns

The patented Eco Scattering Urn is another popular option for scattering a loved one’s ashes. This unique scattering urn is made entirely from bamboo, a sustainable resource and gives families the ability to scatter a loved one’s ashes with control and ease. Its unique top has a locking mechanism which can secure the ashes in the urn during transport, then it can be opened when you’re ready to scatter. This urn comes in four sizes and is commonly used in scatterings at sea or on land. Starting at $49, the Eco Scattering Urn is an affordable option for most families.

Scattering Urns Made from Paper or Cardboard

In addition to the scattering urns described above, there are also a number of urns on the market that are made from paper. These urns typically have a design printed on the outside of the urn and are a low-cost option to other urns. Many of the scattering urns manufactured from paper require that you glue an insert in place once it is loaded with ashes.

Dividing Ashes

Many families choose to only scatter a portion of a loved one or pet’s ashes at a special location. They then either keep the remaining ashes at home, scatter the remainder at another location, or do another memorial with the remaining ashes. This can include having a tree burial with The Living Urn, having some of the ashes included in a piece of jewelry, bury the ashes at a special place with a biodegradable burial urn, or having a portion of the ashes infused into a decorative glass piece, among other options.