One popular option for final disposal is the scattering of ashes. It could be on land, water, air or at some significant public space, but there are guidelines and sometimes even restrictions to consider.
In this article, we offer several options for scattering ashes, the laws you need to be aware of, as well as suggestions for the ash scattering ceremony.
Why Scatter Ashes?
Following cremation, there are generally two common options for the remains. First, they can be stored in a permanent place such as an urn, grave, or a columbarium niche. Or you can scatter the ashes.
The scattering of ashes is easy to arrange and fairly inexpensive compared to a traditional funeral. It is also a good way to get closure as you honor your loved one.
First Thing to Consider
The first thing you should think about is the place where you want to scatter the ashes. Consider your loved one’s favorite place, as well as his/her personality.
Perhaps your loved one always loved fishing, and scattering their ashes on the water would be a meaningful send-off. If your loved one has always been one with nature, maybe you can spread the ashes in a national park.
These considerations will determine whether you’re going to spread the ashes on land or water.
Scattering Ashes on Water
Water options include the sea and also inland waters such as rivers, lakes and streams. You may be able to do this yourself or it may require the assistance of a scattering service provider.
Scattering of ashes yourself is allowed as long as you obey the pertinent regulations. When scattering at sea, it must be at least three nautical miles from the shore.
And if flowers and memorial wreaths will be tossed on the water they must be biodegradable. If you’d prefer to send the ashes in an urn, specially designed urns that are biodegradable are available and float/drift on the water.
One note: you are not allowed to scatter ashes at beaches or in wading pools. This is mandated by the federal Clean Water Act.
After disposing of the ashes at the sea, you must notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within 30 days. You must provide the location and date that you scattered the cremated remains. Here is the burial at sear report to file.
The EPA has issued a general permit about the spreading of ashes, but local regulations may may vary by state and municipality. For example, California allows the spreading of ashes to as close as 500 yards from shore.
It is best to check with the local authorities first before proceeding with scattering of ashes.
For more information, you may visit the EPA website and read their guidelines regarding disposing of cremated remains.
For rivers and lakes, scattering ashes might be allowed as well. However, the EPA general permit does not cover inland waters (anymore).
You can expect varying guidelines to fall under local jurisdiction. Check with the local authorities for rules that may apply.
States may require a permit from the state agency managing the waterway. You might also be required to spread ashes a minimum distance away from developed areas or public access.
Charter Boats For Scattering Ashes
If you have no access to a vessel for scattering the ashes on water, one option is to hire a charter boat.
This is best if you’re going to do the ash scattering ceremony without the assistance from a cremated remains disposer (see next section).
We recommend you discuss your intention with the charter owner of the boat before scattering the cremated remains. ( To avoid any conflict or surprises.)
Rental fees for charter boats vary depending on the type of vessel and location, but can range from $250 to $3,000 or more. The upper end of the price range would include high-end yachts.
Funeral directors in the area may have experience and be able to recommend charter services.
Companies Provide Scattering Ash Services
There are dedicated scattering companies that specialize in spreading ashes on the water. They are equipped to provide unattended and attended services, as well as the option to view from shore.
In unattended services, you will send the ashes of your loved one to the company and they will scatter it on the water within one to four weeks upon receipt.
The attended services are for friends and family who want to board the vessel and conduct a memorial service for the deceased.
In the services where you view from the shore, you will view the scattering from the dockside, shore, or pier while the ashes are scattered by licensed cremation remains disposers.
When selecting a scattering company, make sure that they are licensed. We recommend asking how they meet the laws of the funeral board and local officials.
Unattended services will be the most economical option here.Ashes are mailed to the service provider and the complete price might be as low as $100 to $200. Attended services with friends and family can cost between $300 to $2,000 depending on choice of vessel, the number of attendees, and the length of the journey.
Aerial Ash Scattering
Some companies offer services to scatter ashes from an aircraft. You may watch the service on the ground, or accompany the urn and witness the scattering from up above.
Aerial ash scattering services are available all around the world. The service may take place at a far away location where you do not participate. In this case, the company may provide pictures of the scattering as well as a certificate that documents where and when the scattering took place.
Ashes are not considered hazardous material or dangerous according to the U.S. government so there are no restrictions on scattering from the sky. What the federal government does prohibit is dropping objects that may cause harm to people and properties (common sense).
Aerial Service Costs
An un-witnessed ash scattering will typically range between $345 to $600 just to perform the service. Being on site to view the event from the ground, will add to the cost and range from $445 to $955. And there may be an option to ride along and participate. This is usually limited to two people and costs $100 per flyer.
Legacy of Scattering Ashes at Sea
Scattering ashes into the sea is reminiscent of the Viking ship burials in Old Norse sagas. It was said that Scandinavians sent departed kings and warriors drifting on burning ships.
They believed that the land of the dead is laid across the waves. With this practice, the bodies were cremated and buried in the sea at the same time.
Scattering Ashes on Land
Before scattering ashes on land, we recommend researching the location.
One thing to consider is that the land use may change in the future. This could affect your ability to visit the chosen spot. Public area such as parks, may evolve and limit access and if you are going to scatter ashes on undeveloped land, consider what may be developed later.
Cemeteries and crematoriums offer dedicated scattering gardens that are set aside soully for the purpose of scattering services. Check with your local cemetery or crematorium for information.
This service usually includes an option to place a plaque with your loved one’s name or other items that may serve in memory of the person. This may cost from $100 to $1000 depending on the location and the provider.
Another option is to scatter the ashes on private property. Even on private land, local restrictions may apply. The rules may be minimal, but best to be aware. The local funeral home and/or cemetery should be able to provide guidelines.
And if your choice is private land that you do not own, we highly recommend requesting permission from the owner before any plans are made.
Similarly, if you want to spread the ashes on public land, it is best to check with the authorities first. There are two types of public space; controlled and uncontrolled, which have different regulations.
In a controlled public land such as city parks, you must contact the local authorities and ask if there are requirements for ash scattering.
For uncontrolled public land such as woodlands, you won’t need to ask for permission. However, it’s still best to check with the local guidelines first before proceeding.
The National Park Service lets individual parks set their own guidelines. They might ask you to obtain a permit first from the park superintendent for around $25 to $50.
You also might be asked to scatter the ashes in areas away from the trails and bodies of water.
Some Advice for the Ash Scattering Ceremony
Each ceremony is unique and can be personalized according to religious affiliation, family traditions, culture, or wishes of the deceased.
In contrast to traditional funerals, the scattering of ashes does not have to be formal. There is more freedom to celebrate your loved one how you want. You can do almost anything as long as it’s legal.
Tips for Performing a Scattering Ceremony:
- Most likely the ceremony will take place outdoors so plan for weather.
- A celebrant such as a religious leader, a family member, or a friend may lead the ceremony.
- You may want to include elements such as scattering flowers, delivering eulogies, prayers, poems, and song/music. The ceremony will culminate with final words and the scattering ashes.
- Multiple people may be involved which requires passing the vessel. Take care or consider arrangements so the container is easy to transfer and won’t be dropped. (Sometimes the vessel is awkward to handle or the location may make it difficult to maneuver – especially if elderly persons are involved.)
- Keep in mind the direction of the wind to make sure the ashes blow away from you.
- Decide how you want to scatter the ashes among the participants. For example, family and friends may pass around the ashes as you each take a turn in speaking a few words before scattering ashes.
This video, by Stardust Memorials, demonstrates how to scatter ashes.
Yes. You are allowed to scatter ashes at sea as long as you do it at least three nautical miles from the shore. However, make sure that everything you dispose into the sea such as flowers and memorial wreaths are biodegradable. Lastly, after you scatter the ashes at sea, you must inform the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within 30 days about when and where you scattered the ashes.
Yes, but you have to ask permission first from the authorities because they might require permits before you can scatter the ashes.
If you own the private land where you want to scatter the ashes, then yes, you are allowed to do so. However, if you do not own the land, we recommend asking for permission from the owner before any plans are made. Even on private land, it is best practice to check with local authorities regarding any requirements or permits before scattering ashes.
Yes, but individual parks have their own guidelines about scattering ashes. Some might require you to obtain a permit first. Some national parks might also ask you to scatter the ashes away from trails and people. Check the website of the National Park Service for more information.
Yes, but you have to check with the authorities managing the waterway. Rules and guidelines about scattering ashes on inland waters vary per locality and state.
Yes. Some companies offer aerial ash scattering services. You may request to witness the scattering from the ground or you may accompany the urn and witness the service from up above.
No. Although there is no Federal law that regulates the scattering of ashes, there are still some regulations that exist and are imposed by local ordinances. Before proceeding with the scattering, check with local authorities first to see what is required.
It is legal but there may be some regulations depending on the area where you want to scatter the ashes.
Only you can decide which is the best place to scatter the ashes. Think about the places that are significant to your loved one. If you are still undecided, you might want to consider scattering ashes at sea which is one of the most popular choices.
Yes. It is best practice to seek the permission of the local offices and authorities before scattering ashes. Even if you are going to scatter the ashes on private land, it is best to have permission from the owner first.
Yes. Many services exist that can assist in ash scattering. They offer a variety of options including air and sea. And you will have options to participate or simply observe from afar.
Thanks for reading! We hope you find this helpful. If you have suggestions, or feedback, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My friend and I got on the topic of different kinds of burials and what we would like for ourselves one day. He’s been working with the navy since he got out of high school so he’s interested in having his ashes scattered at sea. Thank you for explaining that it must be at least three nautical miles from shore before the ashes can be scattered. We weren’t aware of the clean water act, but it’s good to know if this becomes a solid plan.