Burial at Sea Requirements in the United Kingdom

Burial at Sea Requirements in the United Kingdom
Burial at Sea Requirements in the United Kingdom

In a recent publication from the UK’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO), the specifications for coffins for burial at sea have been confirmed.

Whilst this article is a little outside the normal environmental and sustainability issues, there is quite a demand for sea burials and so it is important to set out the compliance requirements for those families planning a burial & for organisations, which will need to incorporate the requirements into their compliance obligations under ISO 14001:2015.

Firstly, it should be noted that you do not need a licence or permission to scatter ashes at sea after a cremation.

It is, however, a requirement for burials at sea to be regulated by a licence obtained from either;

Marine Management Organisation
For burials in England and offshore areas of Wales and Northern Ireland, the licence can be applied for here

Natural Resources Wales
For burials in inshore areas of Wales, licences can be applied for here.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
For burials in inshore areas of Northern Ireland you’ll need a licence from the here.

Burial, Cremation and Death Certification Team
For burials at sea in Scotland, an application for a licence should be initiated by e-mail to certificationofdeath@scotland.gsi.gov.uk


Application process for a licence for burial at sea
The application should be accompanied by the following documents:

  • the death certificate
  • a Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection (available from the deceased person’s GP or hospital doctor)
  • a Notice to a Coroner of Intention to Remove a Body out of England (available from the coroner in exchange for a Certificate of Disposal provided by the registrar)

You might also have to provide evidence your proposed burial location is suitable, such as water depth, currents, pipelines and fishing, should be supplied.

A licence costs £50 for any burial:

  • off The Needles, Isle of Wight
  • between Hastings and Newhaven
  • off Tynemouth, North Tyneside

Elsewhere, any burial in England or in the offshore areas of Wales or Northern Ireland, the licence will cost £175.

If the burial will be more than 3 months after the licence application, the licence will cost £175.


Coffin requirements for burial at sea
The recent MMO guidance stipulates that a coffin for sea burials should be constructed to the following specification:

The coffin must be made of solid softwood and must not contain any plastic, lead, copper or zinc.

It must have:

  • between 40 and 50 50 mm (2 inch) holes drilled throughout
  • corners butt-jointed and strengthened with mild steel right angle brackets screwed internally, or substantial wooden bracing struts 50 x 38 mm
  • about 200 kg of iron, steel or concrete clamped to the base of the coffin with brackets of 10mm mild steel bar, or blocks of weak concrete mix
  • weight distributed evenly to prevent the coffin from turning to the vertical
  • 2 long mild steel bands running from the top to the bottom of the coffin
  • several mild steel bands across the coffin at about 30 cm intervals along its length

The coffin and any inner box or liner must be made from natural, non-toxic and biodegradable materials. They must both be able to withstand any impact and be able to carry the body quickly to the seabed.

The guidance on the specifications for a coffin to be used in a burial at sea can be freely accessed here


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