Yes! Anyone can be buried at sea, so long as the person arranging it has a licence – available for £175 from the Maritime Management Organisation (MMO) and complies with some environmental rules.
Applicants must provide a certificate from a doctor that the body is clear of fever and infection, and the coroner may also need to be informed.
The person being buried must not be embalmed and should be clad in light, biodegradable clothing.
Some funeral directors will arrange the event and the Britannia Shipping Company is one such specialist on the south coast of the UK.
The navy conducts its own burials at sea, for those veterans who wish it. For more detailed information you should contact the chaplain at the base from which the dead person served.
But you cannot simply be buried anywhere
There are only three designated burial sites in English coastal waters. They are at Newhaven in East Sussex, The Needles Spoil Ground near the Isle of Wight and Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear.
If you want to bury someone in a location other than one of the three above, you can propose a new site when making your application. You will need to supply exact co-ordinates and evidence to demonstrate that the site is suitable for burials at sea.
It must be somewhere there is a minimal risk of the body being returned to shore by strong currents or being disturbed by commercial fishing nets. In some rare cases, bodies do drift. Because of this, the person buried must have an identification tag attached to them.
It can also take about five hours to reach the burial site often in choppy waters, often families choose to have a ceremony on land, before saying goodbye from the quayside.
A special coffin is required
The MMO specifies the coffin must be made from solid softwood and must not contain any plastic, lead, copper or zinc. This is to make sure it biodegrades and to protect the area from contamination.
It must have:
- between 40 and 50 50mm (2 inch) 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
- weight distributed evenly to prevent the coffin from turning to the vertical
- 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 both be able to withstand any impact and be able to carry the body quickly to the seabed.
Scattering ashes is easier!
Anyone can scatter ashes at sea, and you don’t need a special licence or the involvement of an undertaker. Defra recommends the scattering of cremation ashes at sea, rather than burial at sea, to alleviates the risk of bodies being washed up.
Famous people whose ashes were strewn upon the waves include Alfred Hitchcock and Janis Joplin (Pacific Ocean), Edmund Hillary (New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf), Robin Williams (San Francisco Bay) and Dad’s Army actor John Laurie (English Channel).