Many people in Massachusetts have a connection to the ocean – after all, it is the Bay State – and some want to become one with it upon their death. A recent discussion with a friend about whether we each wanted to be buried or cremated led to the question, is it legal in Massachusetts to have a burial at sea?

Burial at Sea Is Legal in Massachusetts

It’s actually federal law that allows for burial at sea, but there are some regulations that must be followed. First, whether scattering ashes or burying an entire body at sea, you must notify the Environmental Protection Agency within 30 days of doing so.

If scattering someone’s ashes, the federal Clean Water Act requires that all cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. The container for the ashes can only be placed into the sea if it will easily decompose; otherwise, you’re going to want to take it back to land with you and dispose of it properly.

Can You Scatter Ashes Over a Pond, River or Lake?

Well, for that you’re probably going to need a permit from whoever is the governing agency over that body of water. Contact your local chapter of the Environmental Protection Agency or check with your town’s Board of Health or Harbormaster.

Do You Need a Special Permit to Bring Remains Out to Sea?

Nope. The EPA has issued a general permit for any person with a registered vessel to be allowed to transport human remains for the purpose of burial at sea. You just need to make sure they understand how far out they need to go. There are certain vessels that can be chartered solely for burials at sea who know all of the ins and outs and also provide other services, such as on-board memorials and bereavements.

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What If You Want to Be Buried at Sea and Not Cremated?

That’s OK, too. There are just a few more regulations to follow. In addition to being at least three nautical miles from land, you also must ensure the body is being dropped into water that it is at least one hundred fathoms (six hundred feet) deep.

It’s not necessary to have a casket as part of the burial at sea process; a shroud is typically all that is used. If you do decide to utilize a casket, it must have no plastic located in it (because plastic won’t biodegrade and poses a danger to marine life) and you should drill holes in the recommended spots to aid with sinking.

Whether you use a casket or just a shroud, you are required to take the necessary measures to weigh down the body and ensure it rapidly and permanently sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

Can You Toss Flowers or Other Memorials Overboard as Well?

Flowers and wreaths made up of materials that will readily decompose in the ocean may also be disposed of at the site in which the human remains are disposed of. Again, no plastic materials.

Can I Bury My Pet at Sea, Too?

Unfortunately, no. The general permit for burial at sea does not cover non-human remains.

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