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Can You Spread Ashes in the Ocean?

If your loved one enjoyed the sea, you might consider scattering their ashes at the shore. You may be wondering, “Can you spread ashes in the ocean?” 


Yes, you can. There are several meaningful options to scatter ashes in the sea. However, you must follow specific guidelines for each type of ceremony.

Table of Contents

Plan an Ocean Burial
How Do I Request a Burial at Sea?
Your Options: Scattering Ashes at Sea
Your Options: Scattering Ashes on the Beach

There are two common misconceptions about Burial at Sea. First, many people assume you can simply scatter ashes on the beach or in the ocean. However, the EPA regulates burial at sea. You must follow their specific guidelines. 

Second, people think it only applies to members of the United States Navy. While you must meet certain requirements for a free military burial at sea, anyone can hold a private ceremony. You just need to follow the EPA’s guidelines. 

Anyone can plan a burial at sea ceremony. First, determine whether you qualify for a military ceremony or if you must conduct a private ceremony. Then, you can review your options for scattering ashes at sea. 

Plan an Ocean Burial

By definition, burial at sea includes any disposal of human remains in the ocean. Many people think of military funeral services conducted by the United States Navy. However, there are private options available to civilians. 

How Do I Request a Burial at Sea?

There are two ways to request a burial at sea. If you qualify for a Navy burial at sea, you must contact the Veterans Affairs Office. If you are interested in a private ceremony, you can contact a company that provides these services. 

Q: Who qualifies for burial at sea?

Anyone can be buried at sea. There are two ways people can be buried at sea: military services or private services. 

Navy Burial at Sea

In the US, people eligible for a free Navy burial at sea are:

  • Active-duty members of the uniformed services
  • Retirees and honorably discharged veterans
  • Military Sealift Command U.S. civilian marine personnel
  • Family members of the above

For more information, please contact the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Service Format

To begin, the officer of the deck calls All hands bury the dead. They stop the ship and lower the ship’s flags to half-mast. Then, the ship’s crew assemble on the deck. They stand in parade rest at the beginning of the ceremony. Next, they cover the coffin with an American flag which is carried feet first on deck. Then, they place the casket on a stand, with the feet overboard. For cremated remains, the urn is brought on deck and placed on a stand.

A Navy chaplain or a commanding officer conducts the religious portion of the ceremony. Typically, they read scripture and say a prayer. 

Next, they order the firing party with “Firing party, present arms”. The casket bearers tilt the platform with the casket. The casket slides off the platform into the ocean and the draped flag remains on board. 

For cremated remains, they may bury the remains similarly using the urn. Some choose to scatter the ashes into the wind.

Finally, the firing party fires a three volley salute and the bugler plays Taps. The ceremony ends when they fold the flag. 

Afterward, the deceased relatives are informed of the time and location of the burial.

Civilian or Private Burial at Sea

If you do not qualify for the Navy Burial at Sea, you may plan a private burial at sea service. These can be performed by ship or aircraft. Cremated ashes are the most common form of burial. They can be scattered on the water or floated using a biodegradable urn. There are even some people who have chosen to mix ashes in concrete and have them added to an artificial reef such as the Atlantis Reef. 

Service Format

Most people choose between a scattering ceremony and a floating ceremony. 

In a scattering ceremony, the family takes an active part in scattering the ashes of their loved one. You can designate a single person to release the ashes. In other ceremonies, guests will take a portion of the ashes to scatter. Guests may choose to share something before they release the ashes. Also, the group may choose to release the separated ashes together instead.

Often, people light candles or cast flowers along with the ashes. This gives the family a beautiful memory as they finish their ceremony.

In a floating ceremony, you place the cremation ash in a specially designed water-soluble urn. The urns can be simple or ornate, according to your taste.

After, or as a part of, the memorial, you place the urn in the water. The urn floats for several minutes before it begins to sink. To conclude the ceremony, guests can toss live flowers, petals, or wreaths into the water.

Q: Can I be buried at sea?

Anyone can be buried at sea. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate fisherman, boaters, or even beach lovers. 

Your Options: Scattering Ashes at Sea

There are legal guidelines to follow for scattering ashes at sea. The EPA needs documentation of your burial at sea service. We recommend working with an ash scattering service company. This frees you to focus on the ceremony with your family and friends.

Can You Spread Ashes in the Ocean?

To scatter ashes in the ocean, you must follow EPA regulations. These guidelines include limits to where you can scatter ashes and how to properly report the burial.

How to Scatter Ashes at Sea

According to the EPA, cremated remains must be buried in or on ocean waters of any depth. This burial must be at least three nautical miles from land. You may use flowers or wreaths that are readily decomposable in the marine environment. This excludes plastic flowers and synthetic wreaths.

Within 30 days following your event, you must notify EPA. All burials at sea conducted under the MPRSA general permit must be reported to the EPA Region from which the vessel carrying the remains departed.

Procedure From EPA.gov

“A burial at sea of non-cremated and cremated human remains may be reported to EPA using the Burial at Sea Reporting Tool. The Burial at Sea Reporting Tool enables individuals or companies that have conducted a burial at sea to enter information into a simple online form and report the burial directly to EPA. For information about the Burial at Sea Reporting Tool including instructions for reporting one or multiple burials at sea, please see the Burial at Sea Reporting Tool Fact Sheet. Please note that you do not need to submit documentation, such as a Certificate of Death, to EPA when reporting a burial at sea.

To report a burial of human remains by other means, please contact the EPA Region where the vessel carrying the remains departed. To identify the appropriate EPA Regional contact, please see EPA’s Regional Offices Contact List.”

Restrictions From EPA.gov:

“The following activity is not allowed under the MPRSA general permit for burial at sea:

  • Burying human remains in ocean waters within three nautical miles from shore, i.e., the ordinary low water mark or a closing line drawn on nautical charts across the openings of bays and rivers.
  • Burial of non-human remains (such as pet remains).
  • Placement of materials which are not readily decomposable in the marine environment, such as plastic or metal flowers and wreaths, tombs, tombstones, gravestones, monuments, mausoleums, artificial reefs, etc.

Any such activity would require an application for an MPRSA special permit.”

Your Options: Scatter Ashes at the Beach

Although you may be fond of a particular pier or dune, you cannot legally scatter ashes on the beach. You must secure a boat to take you out more than three nautical miles from the shore. Then, you can follow the regulations stated in the above section. 

Can you scatter ashes on the beach?

No, you must scatter ashes on ocean water. While you can’t scatter ashes directly on the beach, you can take them onto a boat and scatter them on the open water. These ceremonies create a lovely tribute to someone who loved the ocean. 

How to scatter ashes at the beach

If you want to scatter ashes at the beach, you must secure a boat captain to take you out to open water at the appropriate distance from the shore. They must abide by the EPA guidelines under the MPRSA general permit for burial at sea. This includes the proper reporting of the burial as noted in the section above.

Scattering Ashes at Sea

Can you spread ashes in the ocean? Yes! You can plan a beautiful service that reflects on the life of your loved one. 

We recommend choosing a service that follows the MPRSA general permit for burial at sea. Our scattering locations include the Outer Banks, North Carolina, Topsail Island, North Carolina, and Virginia Beach, Virginia.  At Rest Ashured, we offer both attended and unattended burial at sea options

Attended Ceremony

We will put you in direct contact with a boat captain to schedule the special day and time. On your scheduled day,  you will meet him at the boat slip to begin your time on the water. 

Unattended Ceremony

The boat captain will respectfully scatter your loved one’s ashes on your behalf. This is typically done within 30 days. We will inform you on the day of release. 

Can You Spread Ashes in the Ocean?

Yes, you can request a burial at sea for anyone. We’re here to help make that possible and can answer any questions including, “Can You Spread Ashes in the Ocean?” Please get in touch with us. Call 434-534-4007 or email us at info@restashured.com.