How to Get a Burial at Sea Licence in the UK

Learn more about sea burials and how to get a burial at sea licence

Last updated: 5 October 2017

To bury someone at sea in UK waters, there are a number of requirements that need to be met in order to ensure the safety of mourners and that the burial is environmentally friendly. You will need to apply for a licence, which will cost £175, and make sure that the burial happens in accordance with the rules set by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

If you are in Scotland, you will need to contact the Burial, Cremation and Death Certification Team by calling 0131 244 2711, or emailing certificationofdeath@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

Meeting the requirements

It will be your responsibility to make sure that your loved one, their coffin and the boat you use is prepared to the standards set by the MMO. Your loved one has to be prepared for a sea burial in a particular way. They must:

  • be cleared of all fever and infections by a doctor
  • not have undergone embalming
  • have permission to be removed from the UK by the Coroner
  • be clothed in only biodegradable materials

A coffin fit for sea burial must also follow strict and precise guidelines. You must ensure that the coffin is:

  • made of solid softwood
  • contains no plastic, lead, copper or zinc
  • has 40-50mm holes drilled throughout
  • is constructed with several mild steel bands across the coffin at 30cm intervals along its length
  • made with butt-jointed and strengthened corners with mild steel right angle brackets screwed internally, or substantial wooden bracing struts of 50 x 38mm
  • weighed down with approx 200kg of iron, steel or concrete clamped to the base with brackets of 10mm mild steel bars, or blocks of - weak concrete mix
  • constructed with the weight evenly distributed along it’s base
  • made with two long mild steel bands running from top to bottom

You also must ensure that the coffin and any inside liner is made from natural, non-toxic and biodegradable materials.

The boat that you use for the funeral also needs to be fit for purpose. Among these requirements, you must ensure that boat is:

  • big enough to carry the coffin and the mourners
  • equipped with positioning technology to ensure that the burial happens at the correct coordinates

The MMO has the right to inspect your loved one, their coffin or the boat you will use at any time before the burial to ensure that all of these criteria are met.

Where can you bury someone at sea

The water around the UK are some of the busiest in Europe. To get permission to bury your loved one at sea you must do so at a predetermined location. The areas in which the MMO encourages sea burials includes:

  • off the Needle, Isle of White
  • between Hastings and Newhaven
  • off Tynemouth, North Tyneside

You can also request a sea burial in other areas off of the UK coast when you apply for your licence. To propose a location, you will need to provide the coordinates of your preferred site and evidence that the area is suitable for a sea burial.

What you will need to apply

With your application, you should include:

  • your loved one’s death certificate
  • a Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection from your loved one’s GP or doctor
  • a notice of intention to remove a body out of England or Wales (given by the Coroner in exchange for a Certificate of Disposal provided by the Registrar)

To ensure that your loved one gets the sea burial they wanted, you can even apply for your licence before they pass away. You will, however, need to submit all of the above documents before you can go ahead with the burial. Once your application is submitted, it will be published on the MMO’s website.

Considerations

If you want to scatter your loved one’s ashes at sea, you don’t need any documentation or licence to do so. Whether you’re planning a sea burial or want to spread your loved one’s ashes, you should consider separating the committal from any funeral service you wish to have.

The waters around the UK can be rough, making any service you have out at sea difficult and uncomfortable for mourners. Many choose to have the service on the shore or arrange a memorial service at a different time.

The safety of everyone involved is of most importance. Because of this, if the conditions are too rough, the burial will be cancelled. If you are wanting a sea burial in Scottish waters, you will need to contact the Burial, Cremation and Death Certification Team.

If you would like help planning other aspects of your loved one’s funeral, why not consult our guides to arranging a funeral?