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Burial at Sea

The EPA has issued a general permit under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) to authorize the burial of human remains at sea. The general permit is published in the federal regulations at 40 CFR 229.1.

The MPRSA general permit authorizes the transportation and burial at sea of non-cremated and cremated human remains in ocean waters under specified conditions.  

The following activity is not allowed under the MPRSA general permit for burial at sea:

  • Placement of human remains in ocean waters within three nautical miles from shore, i.e., the ordinary low water mark or a closing line drawn on nauticalUS Military conducting a burial-at-sea.
    charts across the openings of bays and rivers.
  • Placement of non-human remains (such as pet remains).
  • Placement of materials which are not readily decomposable in the marine environment, such as plastic or metal flowers and wreaths, tombs, tombstones, gravestones, monuments, mausoleums, artificial reefs, etc.

Any such activity would require an application for an MPRSA special permit.

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Instructions for burial at sea 

Preparation for burial at sea

Human remains shall be prepared for burial at sea and buried in accordance with accepted practices and requirements as may be deemed appropriate and desirable by the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard or civil authority charged with the responsibility for making such arrangements. In addition, state and/or local requirements may apply to the transportation of human remains on land, for example, to locations other than cemeteries.

Non-cremated, non-casketed remains

If no casket is used, EPA recommends wrapping a natural fiber shroud or sail cloth around the body and adding additional weight, such as a steel chain, to aid in rapid sinking.

Non-cremated casketed remains

If using a casket, plastic materials should be removed from the casket before burial at sea because plastic materials do not degrade and may create unacceptable marine debris. EPA recommends that:

  • Recommended casket preparations to aid rapid, permanent and intact sinking: twenty 2-inch holes, six bands and a total weight of at least 300 pounds. Diagram from the United States Navy Burial at Sea Program's Guidelines for Casket Preparation (2010).a minimum of twenty 2-inch (5 cm) holes be drilled into the casket to facilitate rapid flooding and venting of air. The holes should be evenly spaced on the top (8 holes), bottom (8 holes) and head and foot ends (2 holes each) of the casket. The holes may be covered with a porous material like cloth or paper so that the remains are not visible, as long as plastic-containing adhesives like tape are not used;
  • to aid rapid sinking, additional weight, such as sand or concrete (but not lead), be added to the casket to achieve a total weight of at least 300 pounds (136 kg) to offset the buoyancy of both the body and the casket. Weighing the foot end of the casket facilitates feet-first sinking; and
  • the casket should be banded with at least six durable stainless steel bands, chains or natural fiber ropes in order to ensure rapid and permanent sinking of the intact casket. One band should be placed over each of the two lengthwise axes of the casket (top-to-bottom and head-to-foot), as well as four bands at evenly spaced intervals along the narrow axis of the casket. The latter is important for caskets with separate head and foot caps. Commercial shipping straps are likely to deteriorate rapidly in the marine environment and should not be used.

The United States Navy Burial at Sea Program provides additional information.

Disposal location and measures

Non-cremated remains

The MPRSA general permit authorizes burial at sea of non-cremated human remains at locations at least three nautical miles from land and in ocean waters at least 600 feet deep. In certain areas, specifically east central Florida, the Dry Tortugas, Florida and west of Pensacola, Florida to the Mississippi River Delta, such at sea burials are only authorized in ocean waters at least 1,800 feet deep. Refer to 40 CFR 229.1(a)(2) for details. All necessary measures must be taken to ensure that the remains sink to the bottom rapidly and permanently.

Cremated remains

Cremated remains shall be buried in or on ocean waters of any depth provided that such burial takes place at least three nautical miles from land.

Decomposable flowers and wreaths

Flowers and wreaths consisting of materials that are readily decomposable in the marine environment may be placed at the burial site. Plastic flowers or synthetic wreaths would not be expected to decompose rapidly.

Notice to EPA within 30 days

You must notify EPA of the burial at sea within 30 days following the event. All burials at sea conducted under the MPRSA general permit must be reported to the EPA Region from which the vessel carrying the remains departed.

A burial at sea may be reported to EPA by submitting a completed burial at sea form to the EPA Region from which the vessel carrying the remains departed. To identify the appropriate EPA Regional contact, please see EPA's Regional Offices Contact List.

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Burial at sea – frequently asked questions

Who is eligible under the MPRSA general permit for burial at sea?

The MPRSA general permit may be used by:

  • all persons transporting human remains from the United States for the purpose of burial at sea;
  • all persons owning or operating a vessel or aircraft registered in the United States or flying the United States flag transporting human remains from any location for the purpose of burial at sea; or
  • all departments, agencies or instrumentalities of the United States transporting human remains from any location for the purpose of burial at sea. 

The MPRSA general permit is not available for human remains transported from a location outside of the United States for placement in U.S. ocean waters within 12 nautical miles from shore. Any such placement would require application for an MPRSA special permit.

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Is an application (or other paperwork) required for the permit prior to a burial at sea?

No. The MPRSA general permit for burial at sea does not require an application or prior notice to EPA. The permit does, however, require EPA notification within 30 days of the burial. Please see our instructions for more details.

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How do I find a boat to conduct a burial at sea?

You may use your own boat or a boat that you are authorized to use. Additionally, many charter boat operators offer services for burial at sea. Some operators specialize in performing burials at sea. If the deceased is a military veteran or their spouse, you may also be able to make arrangements through the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard.

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The Burial at Sea Reporting Form on EPA’s website has an entry for the name and phone number of the “Director or Person(s) Responsible for Burial Arrangements.” What are the qualifications needed for that person? Does this person have to be a funeral director or someone licensed?

The MPRSA general permit for burial at sea does not require that the person responsible for the burial have any special credentials. The website requests the name of a responsible party in the event that EPA needs a contact should any questions about the burial at sea arise.

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Can pet or non-human remains be buried at sea under the MPRSA general permit?

No. The MPRSA general permit at 40 CFR 229.1 authorizes the burial at sea of human remains only. Pet ashes or ashes of other animals cannot be mixed with cremated human remains for authorized burial under the general permit.

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Can cremated remains be buried at sea if they are comingled with medical wastes?

No. Only the disposal at sea of cremated human remains is authorized under the MPRSA general permit. Ocean dumping of medical wastes is prohibited under the MPRSA, and medical wastes cannot be mixed with cremated remains prior to burial under the general permit. Medical wastes that otherwise exist within the body of the deceased would not be subject to the MPRSA prohibition against the ocean dumping of medical wastes.

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Can human body parts (cremated or not cremated) be buried at sea as human remains under the MPRSA general permit?

Yes. The permit authorizes the disposal at sea of human remains. Cremated or non-cremated body parts are appropriately characterized as human remains provided that they originate from a single, deceased human and that the remains are not intermixed with other deceased humans or non-human remains, or body parts from living humans, or other materials, particularly medical wastes. Medical wastes that otherwise exist within the body of the deceased would not be subject to the MPRSA prohibition against the ocean dumping of medical wastes.

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Can cremated human remains be buried at sea if a casket was cremated?

Yes. EPA understands that it is a standard practice for a human body to be cremated within a casket, and for metal objects to be removed from the ashes by the crematorium.

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Can cremated remains be incorporated into an artificial reef structure and placed as an artificial reef under the MPRSA general permit?

No. Such a structure would not be eligible for authorization under the terms of the general permit. As a general matter, the MPRSA definition of dumping excludes artificial reefs to the extent that an artificial reef is placed for a purpose other than disposal and regulated under another federal law. Creation and placement of a structure incorporating cremated remains does not necessary mean that the structure will function as an artificial reef. Whether such a structure would function as an artificial reef depends on a variety of factors. Persons intending to place an artificial reef should consult and coordinate with relevant state fisheries agencies, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Can cremated remains be incorporated into a monument (large or small) or similar structure to be sunk under the MPRSA general permit?

No. Cremated remains incorporated into a monument are ineligible for authorization under the MPRSA general permit. Such a structure would not be expected to rapidly decompose and could pose a hazard to fishing and navigation. Any such structure, if placed for a purpose other than disposal, would require permit authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Can remains be transported by an expendable device, such as a balloon, rocket, or similar pyrotechnics, to land in or release remains over ocean waters?

No. The MPRSA general permit authorizes the transport of human remains only. To the extent that burial would additionally involve the disposal of the unrecovered means of transport – like a balloon or rocket – the permit does not authorize such disposal. For this reason, EPA expects that the means of transportation for burial at sea would be a vessel or an aircraft that returns to land after the burial.

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Is burning a boat or floating funeral pyre permitted under the MPRSA general permit if the burning is done in connection with a burial at sea?

No. Such a burial does not comply with the MPRSA general permit which does not authorize disposal of a vessel or other structure. In addition, transportation by an uncontrolled boat or floating pyre precludes control over the disposal location. The uncontrolled burning of these structures is likely to generate smoke, ash and debris consisting of materials other than human remains. For this reason, EPA expects that the means of transportation for burial at sea would be a vessel or an aircraft that returns to land after the burial.

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Can cremated human remains be buried at sea inside of a container?

Yes. There may be instances where the scattering of cremated human remains on the sea surface is not appropriate due to wind conditions or for other reasons. In these instances, the ashes may be buried at sea in an acceptable container. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard provide guidance on burial of cremated remains in containers. The container must not contain plastic of any kind, float, or otherwise contribute to marine debris. Ideally, the container should degrade or dissolve in a relatively short period of time in the marine environment.

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Can states regulate burial of human remains at sea?

No. The MPRSA general permit for burial at sea applies to ocean waters. States may not authorize burials in ocean waters or relax a federal requirement for ocean dumping. States may not relax the MPRSA General Permit requirement that burials in ocean waters must be conducted at least three nautical miles from shore. States may authorize burials in inland waters, including rivers, lakes and bays, under state law and/or under the Clean Water Act. States may impose additional requirements regarding dumping within the jurisdiction of the State (MPRSA section 106(d)), but may not permit or authorize the dumping to the extent regulated under the MPRSA (MPRSA section 106(a)).

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Can I scatter cremated remains in a lake, river or bay? If so, does this require a permit or additional paperwork?

The MPRSA general permit for burial at sea applies to ocean waters. Scattering of cremated remains in lakes, rivers, or other inland waters is not subject to federal regulation under the MPRSA. States, however, may have requirements governing the scattering of cremated remains into internal, non-ocean waters, like lakes and rivers of the state. Burial of cremated remains in inland waters is prohibited in some states. Contact the state environmental agency, health agency, or mortuary board to determine any legal requirements that may apply to the scattering of ashes into non-ocean waters of that state.

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Can remains be transported from the United States and buried at sea in another country’s waters?

It depends on the laws and regulations of the other country. The MPRSA general permit for burial at sea applies to all persons transporting human remains from the United States for the purpose of burial at sea, as well as U.S. flagged vessels and aircraft, and U.S. departments, agencies or instrumentalities. In addition to adhering to the rules and regulations under the MPRSA, the country into whose sovereign waters the burial would take place must be contacted and that country’s laws and regulations for burial at sea also would need to be followed. Some countries may prohibit burials at sea in their waters.

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Who can I contact for more information?

For more questions about burial at sea, please contact the appropriate EPA Regional contact listed at EPA's Regional Offices Contact List.

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