Scattering Ashes at Sea: What You Need to Know

Many cruise lovers spend as much of their lives on the ocean as possible, and some are drawn to the idea of having their ashes scattered at sea instead of having their cremated remains buried.

Known as a timeless tradition, many families want to honor their loved ones by putting ashes at sea. This can also be a part of helping families heal.

But burial at sea isn’t as simple as having someone scatter ashes off the back of a cruise ship. The process is regulated by both federal agencies and the cruise line, and approval is needed to scatter cremated remains.

The Process For Scattering Ashes at Sea

sea burial water funeral
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay/MHluck)

Death may be inevitable, but it’s not a topic most of us want to spend a whole lot of time discussing. Yet if you’re hoping that a loved one will take you (or at least your cremated remains) on one final cruise, it’s definitely a conversation worth having. The conversation should talk about the cruise itinerary and where your loved one would like their final resting place.

Nothing is ever simple, so there are some rules and regulations to ensure that you are in compliance.

Getting Started 

To start, remains should be cremated at approved facilities. While this may seem like a “no brainer,” the truth is that there are plenty of stories of individuals wanting otherwise; which the law does accommodate, but the rules get very detailed and are more than most individuals would care to attempt to comply with.

If the casket is cremated along with the remains, that is fine as long as any metal or other foreign objects are removed from the ashes. If ashes are to be scattered, then not much else is said by the government on the subject.

However, if you or your loved one would prefer to be buried at sea in a container of any sort, the United States Environmental Protection Agency requires the container not be constructed of plastic of any kind, it may not float, and should be a biodegradable urn or be able to dissolve in a relatively short period of time in the sea.

There are many containers available today which fit this description including wood, plant-based solid containers, and even salt.

Once the ashes and container are assembled, there are several rules about where and what you will need so that they may be scattered, or the container be sent out to sea. 

  • The location should be off shore, at least 3 nautical miles from land and at least 600 feet deep. If you are not sure how far this is, any captain should be able to assist. Some locations, including most of Florida and the Gulf Coast, require the water to be at least 1,800 feet in depth. 
  • The weather should be calm so that ashes do not blow back onto the ship.
  • The death certificate should be brought with you.

Laws and Regulations for Spreading Ashes

It is possible to have your remains scattered at sea by loved ones while on a cruise ship. Along with the regulations stated above regarding container type and locations, the cruise lines have some broad legal requirements and particular rules as well.

  • The container should not only be biodegradable, but it should also have a certification from the funeral home stating this. It should be sealed completely, must remain onboard at all times and not transported into port, and is the sole responsibility of the guests.
  • Contact Guest Services when on the ship to arrange a date and time for the ceremony. Additionally, the staff will notify the onboard Environmental and Occupational Safety Officer on the time of the ceremony and other relevant information. 
  • The guests’ suggestions for the time of the ceremony will be taken into consideration.

Scattering Ashes and the Sea Ceremony

Once the date and time of the ceremony are finalized, Guest Services will let the family know. When the appointed time arrives, guests will be taken to the specified area of the ship by the Environmental and Occupational Safety Officer or another designated employee of the cruise line. 

The captain will let guest services and a staff member know when the wind conditions are favorable for releasing ashes.

Then, the family members and guests will have the privacy to disperse the loved one’s ashes as desired or to drop the container into the sea. Privacy will be ensured by the ship staff so that other guest activities are not interrupted, and that the ceremony receives the dignity desired.

Along with the ashes, flowers may be scattered or dispersed, but plastic materials such as ribbons, plastic urns, or other materials such as balloons are not allowed. 

For many people, scattering ashes at sea is an ideal way for their remains to be forever joined to the waters they love.

Following the simple guidelines above will ensure a smooth process for loved ones to carry out the final farewell.

Every cruise line has a page on its website detailing rules and things you need to know about bringing cremated ashes aboard the cruise. Let the cruise line know in advance what your intentions are in order to avoid any obstacles once onboard. You owe this not only to yourselves, but to your loved one as well.

Is it legal to scatter ashes at sea?

Yes, it is legal to throw ashes directly in the water, however, you do have to abide by local regulations.

However, if you want to spread ashes at a port of call, you will want to make sure you’re allowed to do that. You should never sprinkle ashes on private property without permission.

Do I need permission to scatter ashes at sea?

The EPA’s Clean Water Act requires you to obtain a permit for the ashes and what vessel they will be on. Always check local regulations. If you are scattering the ashes off of a cruise ship, the cruise line will provide details on the whole process.

How much does it cost to scatter ashes at sea?

The only costs associated with an ashes ceremony is if you wanted to hire a priest or rabbi to conduct the service. If you wanted to do the ceremony yourself, the cruise line will provide privacy while you are having the sea service.

Can I pick where we sprinkle the ashes?

You can request a desired location and the captain of the ship can get as close to that spot as he can, weather permitting. The wind plays a big factor with discharging ashes into the sea. There needs to be favorable wind conditions so the ashes do not blow back onto the vessel.

It is common practice on a cruise ship to have the ashes in biodegradable urns to allow it to drop directly into the water.

Can anything else go with the ashes?

Biodegradable items like flowers and flower petals can be dropped into the ocean with the ashes. Items that are not safe for the water or marine life are not permitted.

What happens to ashes scattered at sea?

Human ashes are like sand and they do not float. They will not dissolve in the water; instead, they will descend into the ocean until they hit the floor.

Can we have a service or a mariner’s farewell ceremony before we scatter ashes?

Yes, different families have different traditions when it comes to saying goodbye. Most cruise ships do not have chapels, but you can request to have a space on the vessel to pay honor and respect.

If the deceased is a seaman, the mariner’s farewell verse is commonly read, along with the ship’s bell tolling eight times.

If you have any questions about sea burials, contact the cruise line’s toll free number and they will put you in touch with someone from guest services, who will walk you through the process.

READ NEXT: What You Need To Know About Cruise Travel Insurance

scattering ashes at sea: what you need to know

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