Burial at sea

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) which began operating in 2010 and incorporates the work of the Marine and Fisheries Agency is the public body with responsibility for supervising burials at sea.

The MMO recognises that burials at sea have a long tradition in the UK and remain important particularly to people who have served in the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy or have some personal association with the sea.

However, the MMO doesn’t encourage sea burials because of the ‘significant risk’ that due to tides and currents a body may be washed up on the shore or caught up in fishermen’s nets. Instead, they encourage the scattering of ashes at sea following cremation.

Between 2001 and 2013 there were 140 burials at sea off the British coast.

Locations for burials at sea

There are only three places around the English coastline where sea burials are permitted:

1. In the stretch of water between Hastings and Newhaven in Sussex on the south coast;

2. The Needles Spoil Ground, three miles south of the Needles off the west point of the Isle of Wight; and

3. Off Tynemouth in Northumberland

Documentation required

The MMO will need to issue a marine licence which is required for all burials at sea. To do so, they will want to inspect the following documents:

1. The death certificate;

2. A certificate of freedom from fever and infection. This document you will be able to obtain from the deceased person’s GP or the hospital where they died; and

3. A notice of intention to remove a body out of England. You will be able to obtain this document from the coroner on submission of a certificate of disposal which will be given to you by the registrar when you register the death.

Possible inspection of body and coffin

The MMO may want to inspect the body and also the coffin which will be heavily weighted to ensure it remains securely positioned on the sea bed.

Bodies that have been embalmed can not be buried at sea as the embalming seriously increases the amount of time it takes for the body to decomposes thereby increasing the risk of being washed up on the shore line.

Further help

For further information and assistance, please visit the website of the Marine Management Organisation.

Please note

The information which we provide through Lasting Post is in outline for information or educational purposes only. The information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a solicitor, accountant or other professional adviser. We cannot guarantee that information provided by Lasting Post will meet your individual needs, as this will very much depend on your individual circumstances. You should therefore use the information only as a starting point for your enquiries.