Scattering ashes at sea, on a river, at a lake or in a beach-side ceremony can be a genuinely uplifting experience. With the regulations ranging from light to non-existent, the only real barrier to a peaceful service is dealing with the practical details – and we can help with those. Here’s what you need to know.


Regulations on scattering ashes at sea in the UK

Unlike sea burials, when it comes to scattering ashes at sea, the regulations are very generous. You don’t need a licence or permit to scatter ashes on the ocean.

However, if you are scattering within 5 miles of the coast, or over a river or a lake, then the Environmental Agency has a few guidelines that you should follow:

  • The ashes themselves don’t have any real impact on water quality, but please don’t scatter any non-biodegradable tributes, such as personal items or wreaths made with plastic.
  • Find a spot that’s away from any buildings or marinas, and avoid places where people might be bathing or fishing.
  • Stay more than 1km upstream of any place where water is being collected. Your local Environmental Agency can help you check.
  • Scatter the ashes very close to the water’s surface and try to avoid windy days, to that the ashes don’t blow about and impact people who live or work close by.

A local funeral director or faith leader should be able to tell you if a particular site has already been approved for ash scattering. If not, it’s worth reaching out to your local branch to make sure it’s okay to go ahead.


How to scatter ashes at sea, in a river, or in a lake

You can ask a funeral director to help you arrange to have ashes scattered at sea, but many families choose to organise the service themselves.

One popular option is to arrange a direct cremation (that’s an inexpensive cremation without a service) with a funeral director, before going on to hire a boat. The website here can help you find one.

You could also consider scattering the ashes over the side of a riverbank, bridge, or quay. This is less private and can be a little harder to do gracefully – but it does have the benefit of letting you choose your location and timing freely, and invite as many guests as you’d like. It’s also less expensive.

Remember! Watch out for the wind. Keep the urn below waist height, and make sure that the wind is blowing at your back, away from you and any guests.

The format of any ceremony for spreading ashes at sea or on a river is really up to you. It can be very meaningful and beautiful.

Many people choose to simply say a few words, play music, and release the ashes into the water. While non-biodegradable tributes are discouraged, you can scatter flower petals, messages on paper, or a floral wreath – just make sure to tell your florist what it’s for, so that they only use biodegradable materials.

Need ideas? Looking for readings and poems for scattering ashes at sea? We have a few service ideas in our article on sea burial.


Urns for scattering ashes at sea

While you can scatter the ashes into the water by hand (either gently pouring them out of the urn close to the surface of the water, or letting guests do the same with a small amount each), you could also consider using a special biodegradable water urn.

A biodegradable water urn takes away the worry that the ashes will blow back onto the boat. The urn will often float for a while before quietly sinking into the water.

Most urns for scattering ashes at sea in this way are made of paper or cardboard, but there are also Himalayan salt urns that will dissolve, as well as Viking funeral boat urns you can set fire to in a truly dramatic ceremony.

Wondering what happens to ashes scattered at sea? Ashes themselves are made of tiny fragments of calcium phosphate from bones. Much like pebbles, these fragments will slowly sink into the water, to be gently worn down by the tides.


How to scatter ashes on a beach

If you’d like to scatter ashes on a beach, the first thing to do is choose a time when the tide is out, and when your chosen beach will be clear of other people. Early in the morning is generally a good time.

It can also help to choose a spot that isn’t too popular with holidaymakers and dog walkers, away from the beach’s main entrance.

Did you know? You can find tide schedules for UK beaches on the MET office site here.

Most people who choose to scatter ashes at the beach use a technique called “trenching” or “beaching” so that the ashes don’t blow about.

To do this, dig out a long, shallow trench in the sand (perhaps in the shape of the person’s name, or a heart) and then scatter the ashes into the trench. Make sure that your trench is close enough to the sea to eventually be swept away by the tide – look out for the tide line, where seaweed and other debris have been washed up the beach.

If you time your beach ceremony so that the tide is out, but coming back in, you can watch together as the waves return and wash over the ashes. 

Have you scattered a loved one’s ashes at sea? How did it go? We’d love to hear from you – share your tips and memories in the comment box below.

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