Permission is required for a burial at sea in the UK marine area.
A burial at sea is the process in which human remains are committed to the sea as a final resting place.
A marine licence is required from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for a burial at sea in English waters or Northern Irish offshore waters. There are three designated burial at sea locations, which are:
- off The Needles, Isle of Wight
- between Hastings and Newhaven
- off Tynemouth, North Tyneside
You don’t need a licence or permission to scatter ashes at sea after a cremation.
Before you apply for a marine licence
You require the following before you apply for a marine licence for a burial at sea:
- a 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)
- a signed DNA sample consent form (required for The Needles site only from 1 October 2023)
- A credit or debit card to pay for the marine licence.
DNA sample consent form (for The Needles site only)
Consent to take deep muscle DNA sample from the deceased must be provided by the person in the highest qualifying relationship to the deceased prior to their death. The person obtaining consent, most likely the Funeral Director, must complete the consent training provided by the Human Tissue Authority. Please click on the following for a copy of the Burial at Sea Consent Form and a copy of the UK Missing Person Notification Form
Although a rare occurrence, remains from sea burials can come ashore and will consequently need to be identified. It is therefore a requirement for three DNA samples to be taken and uploaded to the Missing Persons DNA Database. Being able to identify the remains through DNA sampling will reduce both costs and resources for the Police and Coroner who are responsible for identifying any located remains. Please note, any DNA profiles taken for this purpose will need to remain on the Missing Persons Database indefinitely as remains come ashore many years in the future.
Types of marine licences
There are two types of marine licence for a burial at sea. You can apply for either:
- a self-service marine licence; or
- a standard marine licence.
The self-service licence is restricted to the designated burial at sea locations listed above, however a self-service licence costs less and will be granted quicker than a standard marine licence.
If you wish to apply for burial at sea at a location in England or the Northern Irish offshore area that is different to the designated burial at sea sites, you can still apply for a licence but you should be aware you might also have to provide evidence your proposed burial location is suitable. Things like water depth, currents, pipelines and fishing will be considered.
Use the Interactive Assistance Tool to check whether your activity is one that is suitable for self-service marine licensing or to apply for a standard marine licence.
Marine licence conditions:
Conditions will be on a marine licence. The burial at sea must be carried out in accordance with the conditions on the marine licence. The conditions included on burial sea marine licence require the following:
- A certificate of death to be available for inspection upon request.
- A certificate confirming the deceased is free from fever or disease to be available for inspection upon request.
- A signed acknowledgment of the coroner on receipt of notice of intention to remove a body out of England to be available for inspection by upon request.
- The body of the deceased must not be embalmed.
- The deceased must only be lightly clad in biodegradable material. Canvas shrouds must not be used.
- An identification tag of plastic (or other durable material) to be attached around the neck of the deceased, and punchmarked or indelibly marked with the telephone number and reference number of the undertaker.
- The coffin and any inner liner must be constructed of solid softwood (not veneered board or solid hardwood) and must not contain or have fittings made from persistent plastic, lead, copper, zinc or any other material harmful to the environment.
- All corners of the coffin must be butt-jointed and strengthened with mild steel right-angled brackets or substantial wood bracing struts.
- The coffin must be evenly weighted with iron, steel or concrete (at least 200kg/4cwt) which is clamped to the base of the coffin with 10mm mild steel bar and at least 40 holes of 50mm diameter must be drilled in the sides and lid to achieve rapid ingress of water and escape of air.
See burial at sea coffin requirements for further information.
Please note the body and coffin may be inspected before the burial.
Burials at sea must take place within 3 months of the date the self-service licence is granted.
Please note all marine licence applications and decision are published on the MMO public register.
Fees and Charges
We recover the cost of marine licensing by charging fees to licence applicants.
Burials at sea elsewhere in the UK marine area
For further information on burials at sea please contact:
- Natural Resource Wales for burials at sea in inshore and offshore areas of Welsh waters;
- The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, for burials at sea in inshore Northern Irish waters; and
- The Burial, Cremation and Death Certification Team, for burials at sea in Scottish waters.