Burial at sea is a fairly rare practice, occurring approximately only 10 or 15 times per year. While the majority of people who opt for burial at sea served in the Royal Navy, it may surprise you to know that anyone can apply for a sea burial.
However, since the 1985 Food and Environment Protection Act (FEPA), a special license is necessary if you wish for the burial of your body – or the body of a loved one – to take place at sea. Costing £175, the license is not too expensive to attain, but there are a number of criteria you must satisfy prior to getting hold of it.
This handy checklist will point you in the right direction if you’re looking to obtain a burial at sea license in the UK.
- Choose a location
While anyone can be buried at sea, they can’t be buried anywhere. At present, there are three recommended sea burial sites off the UK coastline. These can be found at Newhaven in East Sussex, Tynemouth in Tyne and Wear and The Needles Spoil Ground close to the Isle of Wight.
It is possible to suggest a new location for sea burial at the time of submitting your application, but you will be required to provide exact coordinates of the location, as well as evidence indicating that it is a suitable spot. It can’t be too close to the shore or disturb commercial fishing routes, for example.
- Prepare the body
It’s important the body does not contaminate the region in which it is buried. Therefore, you must obtain a certificate from your doctor confirming that the deceased is free from fever and infection and their body cannot be embalmed prior to the burial. They must also be clothed only in biodegradable attire which won’t damage the environment.
- Prepare the coffin
As with the body, there are strict guidelines surrounding the coffin used to house the deceased. In the first place, it must be constructed of solid softwood and not have any copper, lead, plastic or zinc in its composition. It must also have weights attached evenly to its underside to stop it floating around and holes drilled through its surfaces to allow water to enter. The corners must also be reinforced and steel bands must be used to hold it together.
- Get the paperwork in order
In order to obtain the license, you’ll need to have to submit the death certificate, a certificate affirming that the body is free from fever or infections and a notice signalling your intention to remove the body from the UK mainland (obtainable from the coroner) along with the £175 in the application. Once all of these criteria have been satisfied, you can go ahead with the burial.
A far simpler and cheaper alternative to sea burial is the distribution of ashes at sea. For this, no license nor location is required by law; you simply need to retain the ashes after cremation, choose a suitable spot and hire, buy or borrow a boat for the purpose. In this way, scattering ashes at sea might pose an attractive option for those who don’t have the time or money to meet all the legal requirements attached to a sea burial.