Burials At Sea

Burials at Sea

Despite Bridgnorth being located ‘in-land’, burials at sea are still a service we offer and can provide a family who wish for their loved ones remains to be be buried at sea. In Nelson’s navy, burial at sea was a necessity. In modern Britain, it is perhaps more of an emotional impulse. But whatever the motive, burial at sea carries on, just as it has done for hundreds of years. Many of ex-Royal Navy and Royal Marines also still request burial at sea; using the link below will guide you through Armed Forces procedures:


Since 2001, 140 people have been laid to rest in the seas off the British coast, many of them former sailors from the Royal Navy or the Merchant Marine, although the numbers appear to be diminishing.

In 2002 there were 21 sea burials: last year there were only four, perhaps because the old servicemen whoserved in Second World War convoys, or have similar powerful attachments to the waves, have mostly passed on. But the tradition is still firmly continuing, and there has already been one burial at sea in 2013.

In Nelson’s day they sewed the deceased up in a hammock, with the last stitch through the deceased nose including a couple of round shot at the deceased feet to ensure the body sunk.

Today, everything is carefully regulated by the Marine Management Organisation (https://www.gov.uk/burial-at-sea) and due to the logistics relating to the vessel used, normally a maximum of 12 people are allowed on the boat.

There are three designated sea burial sites.

  • One off Tynemouth in Northumberland,
  • One off Newhaven in East Sussex,
  • One three miles south of the Needles, the extreme westerly point of the Isle of Wight, and it is at this last site that the vast majority of sea burials take place.

Virtually all of the burials at se are carried out by a specialist Devon-based company, Britannia Shipping, which makes the funeral voyage from the Hampshire ports of Lymington or Keyhaven on chartered cruisers, with the coffin on deck under a flag – a white or red ensign, for the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy, or the Union Jack.

Whatever the circumstances, the burial of human remains at sea requires a marine licence. Burial at sea is not normally encouraged mainly due to the tides and currents and this method of disposal can pose a significant risk of the body being returned to shore or being caught up in fishing gear. Such events naturally cause considerable distress to relatives and all concerned. To avoid that risk, the Marine Management Organisation recommend the scattering of cremation ashes at sea in place of burial where possible.

  • Specifications for the coffin
    The coffin must be constructed to withstand the stress of entering the sea and its descent to and impact with the sea bed.
  • The coffin must be made of softwood and must not have any fittings of plastic, lead, copper or zinc.
  • The corners of the coffin should be butt-jointed and strengthened with either mild steel right angle brackets screwed internally, or substantial wooden bracing struts (such as 50 x 38 mm).
  • Forty to fifty 50 mm (2 inch) holes should be drilled in the coffin to facilitate rapid ingress of water so that the coffin sinks quickly.
    200 kg of iron, steel or concrete should be clamped to the base of the coffin with brackets of 10 mm mild steel bar. Blocks of weak concrete mix are suitable. The weight should be distributed so that the coffin resists turning vertical when discharge to water.
  • Two mild steel bands must be applied from head to foot end of the coffin and at intervals of 30 cm around it to provide extra strength.

CREMATED REMAINS – Burial of, or scattering at sea

The MMO encourages burial or scattering of ashes at sea over full body burial at sea. All material put into the sea should be biodegradable and weighted so that they sink. No documentation is required to bury or scatter at sea.

If burying a casket containing cremated remains, adequate weights should be placed inside the casket and sufficient holes bored to allow the casket to sink. Plastic bags must not be used inside the casket.

One original way of disposing of cremated remains at sea is to place them in an un-kilned pot which when thrown, should be twice as thick as normal and the bottom would need to be at least two inches thick in order to make sure that it sinks when placed in the sea. The cremated remains can then be placed in the un-kilned pot and sealed with a lid of the same material. On entry into the water the pot will gradually disintegrate ensuring that the contents are dispersed in a dignified manner. Urns made of various degradable products, including compressed salt, are also now available for the dispersal of cremated remains in the sea.

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