Scattering Ashes

scattering ashes at seaCremation often leads to scattering of the ashes, usually in a location that is significant to the loved one. Sometimes it is specified in a last will and testament; sometimes it is the choice of survivors who feel the location would comply with the loved one’s last wishes. Many families are personalizing the ritual to create a tribute that is meaningful and relevant to the life of their loved one. For example, the family of an avid fisherman might choose to scatter the ashes of their loved one near a favorite fishing spot. Others choose a location with natural beauty – perhaps a park, a meadow, or a mountain trail. Other options include scattering at sea and aerial scattering.

Regardless of the motivation behind it, scattering of cremated remains is a common practice, but before taking action there are several things to understand. Make sure that you check local laws that might prohibit scattering in the location you are considering.

Private Property

As long as it is your own property. Giant Stadium is private property, just not yours! There are no laws that say you cannot scatter on private land.

Public Land

National parks, public beaches, federally owned land, controlled public lands such as public city parks and greenways may have rules and regulations. If you want to scatter the ashes in a park, you will need to contact the municipality and ask if they require a permit. You should not scatter within 100 yards of public roads, walks, or trails.

Scattering Over Water

Scattering the ashes by boat is a similar service wherein ashes are dispersed into a body of water, sometimes along with an urn (similar to the concept of “burial at sea”). In most cases, the professional service will take the precautions of seeking legal approval, but it is still advised to follow up on that topic to avoid complications.

Aerial Scattering

aerial scatteringAerial scattering involves the use of planes, hot air balloons, or other airborne devices to disperse the cremated ashes while in active flight. A number of private and commercial companies across the country provide this service. Aerial scattering is a creative option that allows the family to scatter their loved one’s ashes over scenic and remote areas that might not be otherwise accessible except through flight. In aerial dispersal, the ashes are scattered from a low-flying airplane and taken by the wind. This method is usually part of a larger memorial service.

Scattering Gardens

A scattering garden is a plot of land set aside for scattering the cremated remains of humans or pets. The scattering garden is usually owned by a cemetery or crematory. Along with the scattering garden, the facility may offer memorial options, for example, a memorial plaque, wall, or piece of art on which the names are inscribed, or a living memorial such as a tree with a plaque. Some scattering gardens maintain a “Book of Remembrance” for their patrons. The Book of Remembrance is a type of elaborately decorated register containing the names of the people whose ashes have been scattered in the garden.

Common questions about scattering ashes

Is it legal to scatter ashes anywhere you want? 

No. Depending on the location, there may be a number of local and governmental restrictions that prohibit the scattering of ashes in populated areas, certain public areas, some national parks, and other areas. In some cases, a permit may be required. If you are considering scattering the ashes of a loved one on public lands, it is best to contact the agency which has jurisdiction over that area. This information can usually be found by conducting an online search. Also, if you are considering scattering the ashes on private property, be sure to obtain permission from the landowner first.

Can ashes be scattered on private property? 

Generally speaking, yes – provided you obtain permission from the property owner. In some cases, a permit may be required as well.

Do I need a permit?

Before deciding to scatter the ashes in any public place, it is necessary to look into any laws or regulations that may prohibit it, as it could be theoretically illegal. For example, in the event of national parks, many require a written, formal request outlining exactly what you plan to do. If approved, they’ll send a letter back explaining their requirements. Most of this criteria/process can be found on a park’s website. It is sound advice to research any policy that may exist prohibiting the scattering of ashes, or it could result in steep fines, a trip to court, or worse. Additionally, scattering on private property should not be considered unless the landowner has specifically given permission.

What are the requirements for scattering ashes at sea? 

Ashes must be scattered at least three nautical miles out to sea. Any scattering performed in the ocean requires that a report be sent to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within 30 days of the date of the scattering. The report form can be found at http://www.epa.gov/region4/water/oceans/documents/burialatsea.pdf

Is there a cost involved in scattering ashes in the ocean? 

If you hire the services of a charter boat or a flying service to help facilitate scattering the ashes, the company will charge you a fee for their services. The cost may vary from one provider to another, so you may want to check with several companies to compare prices.

On the other hand, if you are fortunate enough to know someone who has a private boat or airplane, you can take the boat or plane and scatter the ashes yourself. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requires that any scattering be done at least 3 nautical miles out from shore. They also require that you submit a report of any at sea burials within 30 days of the event taking place.