Burial at Sea
A burial at sea is a complex matter and one that is not particularly popular in the United Kingdom. In fact, there are very limited locations in which a burial at sea can take place, and specific preparations must be made before such a burial. Not all commercial funeral services are available to assist with such burials.
Registering the DeathAll deaths in the United Kingdom must be registered with the appropriate authority: the General Register Office (England and Wales), the General Register Office (Northern Ireland) or the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland). Documents such as a medical certificate stating the cause of death, the deceased’s birth and marriage certificate, the deceased’s NHS card and information relating to the deceased’s government pension or benefit collection should all be brought at this time. During this registration it should be made known that a burial at sea is desired so that proper forms, such at the Coroner’s Out of England form, which allow for burials at sea may be issued. Information on where these forms should be sent will also be given at this time.
Organising a Burial at SeaProfessional funeral directors may be able to organise a burial at sea, though this service could cost upwards of £2,000. If family members are going to organise a sea burial, then, in addition to registering the death, they will need to procure a licence for a burial at sea. This licence is free from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). This licence grants approval for a sea burial at one of two designated areas: Newhaven, East Sussex or The Needles Spoil Ground, Isle of Wight. The local Fisheries District Inspector at either location may be able to grant a licence for a burial at sea as well.
When preparing the body for burial, no embalming is allowed as this preservative could cause water pollution. Instead, a cotton sheet or biodegradable body bag may be employed. In fact, no materials may be included in the coffin which could present a danger to the marine environment. This includes the body itself (a certificate acknowledging that it is free from fever and infection should be obtained) and the coffin itself (which must not be made of synthetic materials, zinc, lead or copper).
Special ConsiderationsThere are several special considerations for burials at sea. The hire of a suitable boat will be necessary, the cost of which will need to be covered either by the deceased’s estate or by family members. The coffin will need to be weighted, and appropriately prepared with drilled holes, so that it will sink rapidly and stay lodged on the sea bed. Unfortunately, not all coffins (and bodies) do so, and there have been cases of unidentifiable bodies washing back up on the shore. To avoid this situation, it is recommended that tags be secured to the body bearing proper identification information. The type of service desired prior to burial will need to be decided, as will the location. Such services may take place on board the boat, however many families find that spending hours onboard is not possible and opt for a service in the harbour instead.
When the date of the burial at sea is decided, DEFRA should be advised of this decision as the organisation may wish to inspect the coffin before burial. DEFRA may also be contacted following the burial at sea if requested.