Scattering someone's ashes at sea

After my husband died, I went to the funeral home to pick up his ashes. I knew where he wanted them scattered – at our holiday cottage, where we had spent our honeymoon and so many lovely holidays since then.

Imagine my shock when the funeral director handed me an enormous brown plastic urn, heavy and full with ashes – it was so much more than I expected!

It looked really awful too – like a tacky, brown plastic old-fashioned sweetie jar – here’s a pic. I had gone with a friend to pick them up and we saw the funny side of it, thank goodness. 

Anyway, it became obvious there were far more ashes than I had imagined. So we began immediately the process of scattering some elsewhere, and where better than on the local beach into the sea, which Philip had loved so much.  (That’s how we discovered that wind direction is a crucial factor when scattering ashes!)

The sea was important for my husband – he had had a sailing boat berthed in Auckland harbour, and we had spent a year out there living on it, and sailing amongst the islands.  It had always been a dream of his, and I was so glad he had fulfilled it. 

So when I realised there were going to be so many ashes, I thought he probably wouldn’t have minded what I then decided to do with them. 

Although I would have preferred we had discussed this beforehand, we hadn’t done that, and so I was left with hoping I was doing the right thing (I have since discovered the enormous source of comfort and solace that comes when you know exactly what your loved one wanted and are able to carry it out – but although we had discussed things a bit, we hadn’t done that with every area, so inevitably there were quite a few things we had not talked about.).

I decided to send some of his ashes through the post to friends around the world who lived in places where he had lived. This included sending them to friends in New Zealand, to be scattered at sea, near some of his favourite islands. 

Tips to help you if you wish to scatter from a boat

There are no legal restrictions on scattering ashes at sea or on any public stretch of water in the UK. If it is a private stretch of water, obviously you need permission. However, if you are elsewhere, you must check the regulations in your country or state. 

Check the weather conditions and remember the wind direction!  You do NOT want your loved one’s ashes scattered all over your cockpit or anywhere else actually on the boat. They are very fine, dusty and slightly greasy, and it doesn’t feel great having to mop them up, especially as they tend to stick to the skin.

Have a damp cloth easily available if all above does not go according to plan

Spread them as close to the water as possible. 

Choose a spot that is far away from where people swim, dive or fish. 

Ashes themselves are biodegradable, but if you include the container, then it must also be biodegradable. This also applies to any wreaths or personal items – plastic or metal parts can harm wildlife and cause litter. 

Consider choosing a water urn, and avoid the scattering of the ashes themselves. This is a biodegradable and tidier way of doing it – whatever floats your boat. 

Make it into a proper ritual, rather than just tipping them over the edge. That means taking time, saying a prayer or a reading, perhaps music – whatever is meaningful to you. Maybe you would have a photograph or video near.  This is a very special occasion and needs to be treated as such – even if it includes alcohol and partying, because that is something your loved one would have enjoyed. 

Finally  - this is a celebration of your loved one’s life, and that means all emotions are welcome!  At a time like this, it can seem that being sad is the only appropriate emotion but that is not the case. All are welcome, and if you can give permission for that (in yourself and others) you will find yourself able to enjoy the occasion, even if it is very poignant. 

Jane Duncan Rogers

 Jane Duncan Rogers’ life was turned upside down when her husband died in 2011.

She now runs Before I Go Solutions, a not for profit social enterprise dedicated to helping people make good end of life plans, much more than just a will or a funeral plan. 

Find out how prepared you are by taking her free quiz ‘How Prepared Are You?’

A will is one of the foundation stones of a good end of life plan.  If you haven’t yet got a will in place you can do yours for free at Bequeathed