"Everyone says Sausalito is a boating community, but I had no idea how much until the other day," said a librarian friend who was working at the Sausalito Library recently. "A woman called wondering about the legality of burial at sea."
"Oh, there are loads of charter boats that will take families out to spread ashes," I responded.
"I know, but I couldn’t find a single one that would take a whole body, plus she wanted to do it on her own boat."
That’s when I clicked on my recorder.
As a research librarian, it’s my friend’s job to dig deeper than the average person can, but as it turns out, there’s simply not much information available on how to properly dispose of a body (not ashes) at sea.
"The EPA doesn’t require a permit unless ashes are to be spread on an inland waterway," my friend noted, "but they do have rules [which can be found here]." Non-cremated remains must be buried at least three miles from land in water at least 600 feet deep, and measures must be taken to ensure the body sinks fast and permanently. They make no suggestions on exactly how to do that.
The EPA also requires to be notified in writing of such a burial within 30 days, preferably using the Burial at Sea Form from their site, and sent to the appropriate regional contacts (California’s is located in San Francisco).
As hard as she tried, our friend couldn’t find any specific California state rules or requirements for non-cremated remains. Permits must be obtained to take possession of any kind of remains, but rules pertaining to burial at sea only refer to "cremated remains." Of course, the Navy has a burial at sea program for its personnel, but the questions remains: Can a civilian legally commit the intact remains of a loved one to the sea from his/her own boat?
If anyone has insight into or personal experience with burying non-cremated remains at sea, we’d love to hear about it and pass on the information to our librarian friend.