Burial at sea only accounts for about a dozen funerals in the UK each year, but with people increasingly turning to more personal ways to say goodbye, this unusual option may be on the rise.

So, how does burial at sea work? You’ll need to apply for a licence in order to go ahead, taking steps to make sure that the paperwork, boat and coffin all meet the official requirements. Here’s a run-through of the arrangements to help you out.

 

Can you be buried at sea?

Your loved one doesn’t have to have been in the Navy to be buried at sea. As long as they’re cleared by a doctor and the coroner agrees, anyone can be buried in this way.

However, the process is very carefully regulated, so it can help to have the assistance of a funeral director who specialises in burial at sea when making the arrangements.

Did you know? You can find and compare funeral directors in the UK using our handy find a funeral director tool.

 

Where can you get buried at sea?

There are five places that have been approved for burial at sea in the UK. In England and Wales, the preferred locations are:

  • Off The Needles, Isle of Wight
  • Off Tynemouth, North Tyneside
  • Between Hastings and Newhaven

A licence for a burial at sea in one of these locations costs £50.

You can also apply for a sea burial somewhere else, but you’ll be charged £175 for the licence, and you’ll need to prove that it is suitable. Things like currents, the depth of the water, potential pipelines and fishing in the area can all make a difference.

There are also two locations currently approved for burial at sea in Scotland:

  • 210 miles west of Oban
  • 15 miles west of John O’Groats

Did you know? You don’t need a licence to scatter ashes at sea, and can choose your location. For this reason, it can be a far easier alternative to burial at sea. Find out more about scattering ashes at sea here.

 

How do you bury someone at sea?

For offshore areas in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, you can apply for a licence from the Marine Management Organisation online: just click here.

Before you apply to the MMO, you will need to gather the following paperwork:

  • The death certificate. This is given to you when you register the death.
  • A certificate of freedom from fever and infection. You can get this from the doctor who was caring for your loved one when they died – so, either their GP or the doctor responsible for them at the hospital.
  • A notice to a coroner of intention to remove a body out of England. When you register the death, tell the registrar that you’re planning on applying for a burial at sea. They will give you a certificate of disposal, which you can then give to the coroner in order to get the notice.

You’ll also need to make sure that the person who has died:

  • Is not embalmed.
  • Is dressed in biodegradable clothing, not too thick and without too many layers.
  • Has some kind of non-biodegradable identification tag around their neck with the details of who they are and the funeral director.
  • Is in a suitable coffin for burial at sea (see below).

Because burial at sea comes with the slight risk that the body may inadvertently resurface at a later date, there has been some discussion around requiring families and funeral directors to gather a DNA record of a person before burying them at sea. As yet, this isn’t mandatory, but is worth considering just in case.

Other areas for burial at sea

To arrange a burial at sea in Scotland, you’ll need to contact the Burial, Cremation and Death Certification team at [email protected], or call 0131 244 2711.

To arrange a burial inshore of Wales, contact Natural Resources Wales for a licence. For inshore areas of Northern Ireland, reach out to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

 

Coffin requirements for burial at sea in the UK

The coffin used for a burial at sea has to be carefully constructed in order to sink properly and remain intact on the sea floor:

  • Made of solid softwood, with its weight evenly distributed
  • Drilled with 40 to 50 two inch holes
  • Weighed down at the base with about 200kg of iron, steel or concrete, secured with 10mm steel brackets
  • Have two long bands of steel running from top to bottom, and several running across every 30cms.
  • Corners butt-jointed with steel right angle brackets screwed in to strengthen them

Both the coffin and its lining have to be completely natural, non-toxic and biodegradable, with no plastic, copper, lead or zinc. You can download the full coffin requirements here.

 

How much does it cost to be buried at sea?

The cost of a burial at sea in the UK starts at around £2,200 for the committal of the coffin to the water. This does not include the funeral directors’ fees or the cost of any third party services.

The final total will depend on a few different factors:

  • If you choose one of the approved locations, the licence for a burial at sea is £50 instead of £175.
  • Where you are in the UK: if you need a funeral director to transport the person who has died a long way to get to the coast, this can increase the price.
  • The number of guests attending the committal.
  • The funeral director you choose to care for your loved one ahead of the funeral, and the provider of the boat. It’s worth reaching out to a few to compare quotes.

 

Ideas for a burial at sea

The memorial service for a sea burial can take place on the ocean, or on the shore before or after the boat heads out.

Families often prefer to hold a service on the shore if there are a lot of guests, or if the weather is bad and the sea is choppy (seasickness can become an issue). If you decide on a beach service, it’s often a good idea to choose a weekday, at a time when the beach is normally empty.

If you choose to hold the service on the boat, one thoughtful touch is to scatter flowers or petals on the water after the coffin has been committed.

Some readings and poems that might be suitable:

You can find more poems for funerals in the Beyond guides here, and on the Poetry Foundation website here. The BBC video below can also give you an idea of what to expect for the service:


Have you arranged a burial at sea? How did it go? Share your story in the comment box below.

 

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