Burial at Sea

A burial at sea, is not only an option for former sailors or Naval personnel, but an option available to everybody. In recent times it hasn’t been that popular in the UK, with only a few dozen being carried out each year, at only 2 designated sites in England. Its popularity however, is suggested to be on the increase, as the strict regulations surrounding Sea burial mean it’s quite a green way to go.

Most of the information below can also be found by clicking on the following link for the government department responsible, called the Marine Management Organisation.

Alternatively contact Britannia Shipping at www.burialatsea.co.uk who are one of the few companies offering such a service.


Burial at Sea Locations

Newhaven, East Sussex, and The Needles Spoil Ground, Isle of Wight, are the two main sites where sea burial is allowed to take place in England. There is a third site near Tynemouth, Northumberland, but according to the Marine and Fisheries Agency (phone conversation 18/03/10), this third site is only to be used if there is no chance of using the other two designated areas.

Due to the small possibility of the body being returned to shore by strong currents, or being trawled up by commercial fishing nets, these specific sites have been chosen very carefully and designated for this purpose.


Rules for Burial at Sea

Sea Burial Considerations

Where burial at sea off the coast of England is proposed, an application for a FEPA licence should be made to the Marine Management Organisation (previously the Marine and Fisheries Agency), a subsidery of DEFRA ( Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs). The licence normally takes the form of a letter and where granted, will be issued free of charge.

Such licences will include the date and the location at which burial must take place, and other conditions, including specifications of the materials and special design of the coffin be used (to ensure it sinks quickly, stays there, and does not contain any materials that may present a danger to the marine environment). Bodies which have been embalmed will not be allowed burial at sea, for similar environmental reasons, as this preservative could cause water pollution.

Amongst other information, the application will need to include a certificate from the appropriate medical practitioner that the body is clear of fever and infection. The Coroner may also need to be informed of the intention to remove a body out of England as prescribed in the Removal of Bodies Regulations 1954 (as amended).

Lastly, (besides the usual things that need to be organised for a funeral), you need to make sure that the boat you charter to take you out is big enough to carry the coffin and those attending the commital, and has up-to-date positioning technology on board, so that it all happens in the correct location. If a service of some form is to take place, bear in mind that if the waters are a bit choppy, the boat will probably not be the most comfortable place to hold something like that, and so either on shore prior, or after commital, is probably a better bet. Concerning the weather, one last thing to consider, if it’s too bad to sail, the whole thing can be called off.


Companies Providing Burial at Sea Service

The contacts below offer sea burials if you wish to organise the whole event yourself, alternatively funeral directors local to the designated sites should be able to make all the necessary arrangements for you.

Britannia Shipping www.burialatsea.co.uk
3 The Old Sawmills, Colaton Raleigh, Sidmouth, Devon EX10 OHP. Please follow the above link for more information from Britannia Shipping at their Burial at Sea website, or ring John Lister on 01395 568028.

The Maritime Volunteer Service (MVS) East Sussex Sovereign Harbour Unit carries out committals in conjunction with undertakers. Anybody wishing to find out more is welcome to contact. 01892 853500 or 01323 768998 (E-mail: info@sovmvs.wanadoo.co.uk)


How to obtain a sea burial licence