In the United States, how can you get buried at sea?

A burial at sea can be a lower-cost alternative to a traditional funeral, but doesn't make it any less respectful, expressive, or meaningful. Sea burials have long been acceptable in many countries and cultures. Famous people buried at sea include explorer Sir Francis Drake, John F. Kennedy Jr., opera diva Maria Callas, English author H.G. Wells, Nazi Adolf Eichmann, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and al Qaida founder Osama bin Laden.

Sea burials for bodies or cremation ashes are allowed in the United States, but consider these pointers:

  • You'll likely need a permit. Check with a local funeral director or the health department.
  • If you're burying non-cremated remains, you must be at least 3 nautical miles (3.5 miles) from land, and the water must be at least 600 feet deep - but 1,800 feet in some areas of the U.S. You have to take steps to make certain that the remains will sink to the bottom quickly and permanently. California is the only state that prohibits full-body burials at sea.
  • Cremation ashes have no depth limitations but must be at least 3 nautical miles (3.5 miles) from land. They can be scattered or contained in an urn.
  • Flowers and wreaths can be tossed into the sea, but must be decomposable - no plastic, fabric, or metal.
  • After the burial, you must notify the EPA within 30 days, in writing, that the event occurred. Use the EPA's burial-at-sea form.

For more information about burials at sea, EPA's Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 40, Chapter 1, Section 229.1.