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 the 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, urns, tombs, tombstones, gravestones, monuments, mausoleums, artificial reefs, etc.

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

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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 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 below for more details.

General instructions for conducting and reporting a burial at sea under the MPRSA general permit are listed below along with definitions of some of the terms. Please visit our EPA's Regional Offices Contact List for information regarding who to contact about burial-at-sea inquiries. For more frequently asked questions (FAQs), please see our FAQs below.

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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 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:

  • a minimum of six 3-inch holes be drilled into the casket to facilitate rapid flooding and venting of air;
  • to further aid in rapid sinking, additional weight, such as sand or concrete (but not lead), be added to the casket based upon a four to one ratio of the body weight. For example, a whole body that weighs 150 pounds would need an additional 600 pounds to offset the buoyancy of both the body and the casket; and
  • the casket should be wrapped with a stainless steel chain along both axes in order to ensure rapid and permanent sinking. Commercial shipping straps are likely to deteriorate rapidly in the marine environment. If no casket is used, EPA recommends wrapping a shroud or sail cloth around the body and adding additional weight, such as a chain, to aid in rapid sinking.

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 the Code of Federal Regulations at 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

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

In addition to using your own boat or another boat that you are authorized to use, some charter boat operators provide services for burial at sea. Some operators specialize in performing burials at sea, including whole body burials. If the deceased is a military veteran, or their spouse, arrangements through the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard may be possible.

Do I need to apply for a permit or complete other paperwork before scattering a person’s ashes in a lake, river or bay?

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 lakes and rivers of the state. Burial of cremated remains in inland waters is prohibited in some states. You should contact the state environmental agency, health agency, or mortuary board to determine any legal requirements that apply to the scattering of ashes into waters of that state.

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 permit requires the name of a responsible party in the event that EPA needs a contact point should any questions about the burial at sea arise.

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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