(NEXSTAR) – You may only think of military members being buried in the ocean, but the tradition is not just for the armed forces. Given the right set of circumstances, anyone can skip a traditional cemetery in favor of a goodbye via boat.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has parameters for at-sea burials, however.
Here are some of the basics:
- While EPA doesn’t charge, a burial at sea must be authorized by the agency with a general permit
- Human remains can be released in ocean waters that are at least three nautical miles away from the shore
- Only human remains can be released (no pet remains)
- Flowers, wreaths and other typical gravesite items can be placed but they must be easily decomposable (non-plastic)
How are bodies prepared for sea burials?
Bodies buried at sea can be either cremated, in a traditional casket, or non-cremated and not in a casket (i.e., the body is just released straight into the ocean).
- Cremated remains: All or even just parts of a body can be scattered as ashes into the sea, EPA explains. There are some rules, however. Cremated remains can include the casket if it was burned as part of the process, but metal objects should be removed by the crematorium beforehand. Cremated remains of someone who had medical waste inside their bodies are not allowed
- Non-cremated in a casket: Holes must drilled into the casket to help it sink. Additional weight, like sand bags or lead-free concrete, should be added inside to achieve a total weight of 300 pounds. The extra weight helps offset the buoyancy of the body and the casket, EPA says. At least six chains need to be secured around the casket to keep it closed
- Non-cremated and not in a casket: A natural fiber shroud should be wrapped around the body, in addition to extra weight, like chains
Can any boat be used for a sea burial?
Aside from using a personal boat (or boat the driver is authorized to operate), there are some options to get a body or remains three nautical miles from shore.
- Charter boat companies may offer sea burial services, according to EPA
- Military veterans and their spouses may be eligible for at-sea burial through the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Coast Guard
- Those in charge of burials are required to notify the EPA within 30 days after the event, EPA says
Can you burn a funeral pyre?
Unfortunately, Viking funerals are not allowed by the EPA. Floating a flaming body and a burnable structure out to sea can generate smoke, ash and debris. The agency says the vessel that carries the body out to sea must be the structure that comes back
What are the benefits of at-sea burials?
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Judah Ben-Hur, owner of Argos Cremation and Burials, said the average cost of an at-sea burial is between $5,000 and $10,000.
At-sea burials could potentially be cheaper than ordinary burial costs in some cases, though the National Funeral Directors Association says the average cost of a funeral, with a burial, is $7,848. Needs or wants for services would dictate which process makes more financial sense.