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Are Full Body Burials at Sea Legal?

A lot of people ask about whether full body burials at sea are legal. Yes, they most certainly are. My other half loves to tell new acquaintances, “Ask her what she does for a living." That’s when I get to answer the dozens of questions folks have about funerals at sea, ash scattering and the holy grail of burial at sea - Full Body Burials.

The tradition of burial at sea came about for very practical reasons, vessels out at sea on long voyages had no means to preserve a body, hence full body burials at sea. One could say the practice is as old as seafaring peoples taking to our oceans. In recent times, full body burials at sea took place during World War II when naval forces were at sea for weeks and months. Traditionally the body was sewn into a weighted shroud, usually sailcloth, and the body was then sent over the side, usually accompanied by a religious ceremony.

full body burial at sea military

In 2007, when I first started taking calls for at sea burials, the vast majority asked about ash scatterings, but every now and then I was asked about full body burials. This was certainly new to me and I needed a crash course on the practice. My boss at time had arranged for only a few but it was enough for me to gather enough information to answer the rare question on the subject. In 2007, I may have had two full body burial inquiries a year. Fast forward to 2018, and inquiries number several per month. These include immediate need and questions about pre-planned services. To date, several full body burials take place every month and thousands are currently pre-planned.

One might ask what the appeal is to full body burials. Well, for some it’s wanting to be one with nature. Some years ago, I received a call from a family whose mother requested a full body burial at sea. The son explained that his mother was a survivor of the Holocaust and didn’t want to be buried in what she considered a mass grave, namely a cemetery and cremation was out of the question for obvious reasons. She said of herself that she was a citizen of the world and felt a water burial would simply suit her. Other comments I’ve heard through the years include wanting to be one with the fishes and the more popular sentiment - “We’re born of water and naturally should return to the water”. Other more pragmatic reasons focus on environmental concerns such as the carbon footprint left by traditional cremation and the use of land for ground burials.

Full body burials can be arranged from several east coast states and California. Cost varies based on the round trip distance to reach the required 600 foot depth as required by the Environmental Protection Agency. For example, from the northeast a round trip could be 180 miles with a cost of approximately $14,000.00 which includes the vessel, crew, an environmentally friendly shroud and the required weights. Other methods include the use of a specially prepared casket, which adds more to the overall costs.

Casket for Burials at Sea, Burial at Sea Burial Shroud

This beautifully sewn, full body casket-free Atlantic & Pacific Sea Burial Shroud™ is Eco Friendly per USCG regulations and is weighted with cannon balls. (Photo Credit: New England Burials at Sea)

Many of us have only considered cremation or a ground burial because of family traditions and religious beliefs, but

today our burial options are more varied than ever before. The time honored tradition of full body burial at sea carries with it the solace and closure families hope for when saying goodbye to loved ones - a permanent place of rest, a peaceful spot beneath the ocean's waves.

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