Burial at sea - what you need to know

Burial at sea is only permitted at specific sites around the British Isles

The UK has a long history of burial at sea, though only at approved locations. Here are the rules that must be followed

You need a licence, costing £175, to bury someone at sea. The Marine Management Organisation has provided useful information for those wishing to be buried at sea, or to bury a loved one at sea.

This is an edited version of the MMO’s information on applying for a licence to bury someone at sea.

You can apply for a marine licence to bury someone at sea in England:

  • off The Needles, Isle of Wight;
  • between Hastings and Newhaven, Sussex;
  • off Tynemouth, North Tyneside.

You can also propose a new site when you make your application. You’ll need to supply coordinates and evidence that the site is suitable for burials at sea.
The coffin must be made of solid softwood and must not contain any plastic, lead, copper or zinc. It must have:

  • between 40 and 50 50mm holes drilled throughout;
  • corners butt-jointed and strengthened with mild steel right angle brackets screwed internally, or substantial wooden bracing struts 50 x 38mm;
  • about 200kg of iron, steel or concrete clamped to the base of the coffin with brackets of 10mm mild steel bar, or blocks of weak concrete mix, with the weight distributed evenly;
  • 2 long mild steel bands running from the top to the bottom of the coffin;
  • several mild steel bands across the coffin at about 30cm intervals along its length.

The coffin and any inner box or liner must be made from natural, non-toxic and biodegradable materials. They must be able to carry the body quickly to the seabed and not come apart when hitting the seabed.
When you apply you must include:

  • the death certificate;
  • a Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection (available from the deceased person’s GP or hospital doctor);
  • a notice of intention to remove a body out of England (available from the Coroner in exchange for a Certificate of Disposal provided by the Registrar).

You can apply for a licence to bury someone at sea before they die to reduce delays.

You don’t need a licence or permission to scatter ashes at sea following a cremation.

However, it’s not a good idea to sprinkle all the ashes of a loved on the sea, or on the surface of a river or lake. The ashes of a cremated adult weigh at least 7 pounds (3 kilos). It is better to deposit the ashes into a slowly dissolving urn which gradually releases the ashes on the bottom of the sea, lake or river. Look up ‘water dissolving urns’.

You may also want to consider ‘beaching’ the ashes. This is where at low tide, the ashes are spread over quite a big area in shallow rows, maybe spelling the name of the deceased. As the tide comes in, the ashes are slowly washed out to sea to mix with the sand. While this is happening, the family can have a private remembrance of the deceased loved one. This is also suitable for the ashes of the family pet dog.

Tags: Burial at sea Marine Management Organisation MMO The Needles

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