I was surprised to be contacted multiple times this season to provide charter services for people who wanted to honor a deceased loved one by spreading their ashes at sea. Not sure what the rules were, I did some digging and found that the rules for the spreading of ashes were . Here are the rules and things to consider if you would like to spread ashes at sea.
What are the rules? The state of New Jersey law defers to the Federal EPA laws which fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Waters Act. Simply put, there are two basic requirements to comply with the law when it comes to spreading of ashes in the ocean. The first requirement is that the ashes be spread beyond the 3-mile from shore limit. This demarcation line runs roughly parallel to the coastline and is specifically noted on most nautical charts The second requirement is that the spreading of the ashes be reported to the EPA. The EPA has a simple website where you need to input the some very basic information for the record. Specifically, you will need the latitude and longitude where the ashes were spread as well as some basic info about the deceased. It is not a big deal but most charter captains who provide such trips usually have an account already and will take care of this for yo
Consider the ceremony size You may want to pic a special spot off shore of a favorite location. I had a trip this summer where we found a spot off of the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City as this was where the deceased first met his wife of off 50 years. However, most people just want to find a compliant location any where in the ocean. If you are going to charter a boat to do this, decide on how many people will want to attend. Charter boats fall into two basic categories: inspected and uninspected vessels. An “uninspected” vessel is a recreation style fishing or cruising boat that is operated by a USCG licensed captain (often the owner of the boat as well). This type of vessel is limited to carrying only 6 passengers or less. If you have more people, you will need to find and “inspected” vessel to charter. These vessels are inspected annually by the USCG and may carry many more passengers that is determined by boat size. A “party” fishing boat or dinner cruise boat are examples of the types of vessels.
Consider the ability of the attendees If you have people attending who may have some physical limitations, you may want to charter a larger vessel that has an interior cabin, perhaps over 40 feet. Aboard Shore Thing, we can take up to 6 passengers and we run spring to fall as we have an open layout. We do have a plastic enclosure that shields wind and most weather should that be necessary.
Spreading the actual ashes Aboard shore thing, we run out of the Ocean City, NJ area. After arriving offshore, we put the boat into a following sea if you are conducting a ceremony or saying a few words before spreading the ashes. This is the most comfortable ride. We also have a Bluetooth music system where you can play any send off music you wish as part of your service. Some funeral homes can provide the ashes for this service in a respectful biodegradable “pillow” that you can drop into the ocean that quickly dissolves. These are available on line also if you already have a traditional urn. If you do have an urn, we turn the boat back into the wind and one person from your arty or the captain, if requested, will spread the ashes off of the stern dive step.
Weather/ Seasickness Most charter captains will refund your money in full or reschedule if the weather is bad. This decision is generally made at the captain’s discretion after consulting with you. The 3 miles is fairly short trip that can be traversed in 10-20 minute by most boats. Should you have a breezy day, anyone in your group who gets seasick will likely not be out there long enough to not be able to gut it out. However, if this is a concern, take medicine well before getting aboard, as directed, as its usually too late once sickness sets in.
Loosing a loved one is always difficult but the beauty of the open ocean and endless horizon can be the great place send off your loved one. My brother and I spread my own father’s ashes at sea at the tip of the Wilmington Canyon, his favorite fishing spot/. We found it was a great way to honor his memory and recall some of our best times together.
Capt. Mike Bernert, Shore Thing Charters, OCNJ