Three Surprising Facts about Scattering Ashes at Sea

When did people start scattering ashes at sea?

Scattering ashes at sea begins with cremation, and cremation as we know it began in the 1800s in Italy when Professor Brunettic invented the first cremation chamber. Burials at sea, however, started well before the 1800s. While there isn’t one single point of origin, we have historical references that confirm this burial practice was part of different cultures around the world.

  • Vikings were famous for placing a deceased person on a boat with important personal belongings and sending them off into the sea.
  • Divers continue searching for the body of Sir Francis Drake, who is rumored to have been buried in his full suit of armor somewhere off the coast of Panama.
  • The Royal Navy wrapped sailcloth weights with cannonballs around the deceased bodies of sailors, weighing them down to ensure they sank properly and did not make it to shore.

Today, burials at sea have become a lot less common and more regulated. However, the rise in consumer interest in cremation has made funerary practices like spreading the ashes at sea more popular.

How popular is scattering ashes at sea?

In America, traditional burials are slowly being replaced by cremation and alternative burial or ash-scattering services. According to the 2020 NFDA Cremation & Burial Report, in 2020, the cremation rate was 56%, surpassing the burial rate of only 37.5%. One of the main reasons cremation is taking over is related to the cost of traditional burial services, where caskets alone can cost anywhere between $2,000 to $10,000. Another reason for this trend is that religious practices around burial are becoming more flexible.

Increases in cremation are followed by an increase in options regarding what to do with cremated remains. Pair that with the growing social responsibility many people feel about lightening their footprint on the earth, and eco-friendly options for burial continue to evolve. More and more consumers are considering and deciding to scatter their loved one’s ashes over the waves – letting the tides and winds take them until they find eternal rest among the natural environment of the ocean floor.

Do I need permission to scatter human ashes?

In case you were wondering if you need permission to scatter ashes at sea, the answer is yes. The US Environmental Protection Agency issued a general permit under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) to authorize the transportation and burial of human remains at sea. There may be a variety of local laws to follow as well, depending on your location, but the published federal regulations document is located here. Here are some highlights of what this document states:

  • The human remains should be prepared for burial at sea following the civil authority requirements responsible for the arrangements.
  • Cremated human remains should not be disposed of less than three nautical miles from land, no matter the water depth.
  • Flowers and wreaths should be made of decomposable materials.

How much does it cost to scatter ashes at sea?

As with most things, prices vary. From $100 to $10,000, families have choices around the type of urn or vessel they use to transport the ashes and/or scatter them from. There are a variety of bio-degradable vehicles, including more traditional urns, as well as flowers, seashells, turtles, and more, that are placed into the ocean for burial at sea.  Companies exist across the country offering different services, ceremonies, and boats that can accommodate different-sized groups and services alike. 

The sea is not like any other graveyard.

For every option that exists for scattering ashes at sea, there are equal reasons that people choose them. George Bruce’s 1884 reflection on those who die at sea still holds true: “The sea is the largest cemetery, and its slumberers sleep without a monument. All other graveyards show symbols of distinction between great and small, rich and poor: but in the ocean cemetery, the king, the clown, the prince, and the peasant are alike, undistinguishable.”  We will all return to the earth, in one way or another.  

If you would like more information, visit our website or contact the Destination Destiny team today to view their Scattering at Sea options and other offerings such as Memorial Reefs deployed to the floor of the sea.