Is it Legal to Dump Ashes in the Ocean

Loy Kratong for Scattering Ashes Ceremonies in Thailand

With the growing popularity of cremation comes questions surrounding the legality of scattering ashes and whether it is permitted to scatter ashes in certain locations. Is this practice legal in the U.S., and if so, what are the requirements surrounding it?

On the federal level, it is legal to scatter ashes in the ocean in the U.S. It is required that the scattering take place at least three nautical miles from the shore and that decomposable materials are used in the burial. It is important to check state and local laws beforehand, as they may vary.

Although the practice of scattering ashes is legal on the federal level, this general permit is limited to scattering ashes at sea, meaning there could still be regulations surrounding the scattering of ashes depending on where you live and where you are wanting to scatter the ashes. Be sure to check your state laws and local regulations so you can plan a burial ceremony accordingly without risking a fine.

Do I Need A Permit For an Ocean Burial?

Due to a general permit that has been issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is not necessary for you to obtain a permit to scatter ashes in the ocean or to hold an ocean burial. There are, however, other requirements in place for ocean burials and it is important that you follow these requirements perfectly. You can find a list of these requirements further down in this article.

What is a General Permit?

Thanks to the EPA, it is legal to scatter ashes in the ocean without filling out any sort of paperwork or obtaining a permit, since they have issued a general permit that is already in place and does not require further action from you prior to an ocean burial. With this general permit in place, it is legal for you to transport and hold a burial at sea of both cremated and non-cremated human remains, as long as you adhere to the requirements.

Requirements for An Ocean Burial

Sailing with a beautiful sunset

Be sure that you are well aware of the following requirements before holding or participating in a burial at sea. Here is what you must do:

  • Make sure that anything placed in the water will decompose easily. This includes any decorations or adornments thrown in the water, like flowers and wreaths, if you plan to use any in the burial ceremony. Any urns must be biodegradable.
  • Any remains, cremated or non-cremated, must be placed in the ocean no closer than 3 nautical miles from land. Make sure you meet the required distance from the shore before placing any ashes in the ocean. Ashes can be spread from a boat or an airplane.
  • According to what has been published in the federal regulations, all ocean burials must be reported to the respective regional administrator within 30 days of the burial. This is best to take care of sooner rather than later, so you don’t forget.

What About Other Bodies of Water?

Maybe you don’t live near any oceans and can’t make the trip out to one, but you still like the idea of scattering ashes in a body of water. This might be an option depending on where you live, but there is a good chance that this won’t be a viable option for you.

Other bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams are not subject to federal regulation and therefore are not included in the general permit. The same laws and requirements do not apply, meaning it is absolutely necessary that you find out the local laws before attempting to scatter ashes in these types of locations. In some states, they will require you to obtain a permit first while in others it is illegal to scatter ashes in inland waters. Just be sure that you are aware of the laws so you don’t end up in any sort of trouble.

Can Animal Ashes Be Scattered at Sea?

Although it is permissible to scatter human remains and cremains due to the general permit that is already in place, pet and animal ashes may not be scattered in an ocean burial without first obtaining a permit to do so.

Do The Laws Vary By State?

Beautiful cloudscape over the sea, sunrise shot

Now that we know that the practice is permitted on a federal level, does that mean you can scatter ashes at a beach anywhere in the U.S.? Here is a more in-depth look at the laws in different coastal states:

Florida Laws – There are no Florida laws that prohibit ocean burials, as long as they adhere to the requirements put in place by the EPA. Any inland water burials require a permit.

Texas Laws – The state of Texas also adheres to the EPA requirements and the Federal Clean Water Act. It is against the law to scatter ashes on beaches or in wading pools near the ocean. In this state, both federal and state laws require you to dispose of non-biodegradable containers separately from the ashes.

California Laws – California also allows water burials in the pacific ocean as long as the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act are followed. All major harbors have boating services that can take you the proper distance from the shore to perform a water burial.

Be aware that although states already adhere to the requirements of the EPA and Clean Water Act, there will often be additional laws in place in different locations that are specific to the state. California laws state that the maximum amount of time an ocean burial service can keep ashes is 60 days from the day they were received, so be sure not to send ashes to a boating service until you know exactly what day you would like the ceremony to take place.

Although following the requirements of the EPA is going to be the best and safest option in any case or U.S. location, be sure that you are aware of any additional state requirements before an ocean burial, since they do vary and some states will have other specific laws and regulations in place.

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