Burial at sea and on private land

Burial at sea

There is no automatic right to be buried at sea. Usually some long-standing connection to the sea has to be demonstrated. However, the cost of hiring a boat makes burials at sea much more expensive than conventional burials. Under section 19 of the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 (Cth), the Minister may grant or refuse to grant a permit.


Applications for burials at sea cost $1675 and are forwarded to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The application form asks for details about the vessel to be used, where loading will take place, the location of the proposed burial site and reasons why burial at sea is requested. The death certificate must also be shown. If there are no complications, permits are usually given within a few days.

Complications and delays most commonly arise in relation to finding a suitable burial site. The burial site must be away from any area trawled by fishing boats, and must be approved by the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The department can provide details of sites off the coast of Sydney which it has designated as suitable for burials.


Bodies buried at sea must not be embalmed and should be covered with a heavy canvas shroud. The body also needs to be weighted so that it sinks rapidly. Burials at sea should be organised by a funeral home so that the body is prepared in accordance with the Ship Captain’s Medical Guide. The prepared body is usually transported on the charter vessel in an overseas type packing case.

At the point of disposal, the body is lifted out of the case and placed on the lid. A service may follow. After the service, the end of the lid is raised and the body slides into the sea.

After a burial at sea, a full report outlining all the details must be sent to the department. A more common and cheaper alternative to burial at sea is cremating the body and scattering the ashes into the ocean (see Cremation).

Burial on private land

Strict regulations control burial on private property. Local councils can prohibit burials outside cemeteries. NSW Health guideline Guidance on Burying a Body on Private Land - Public Health Regulation 2012 sets out the conditions on which approvals may be granted.

Clause 22 of the Public Health (Disposal of Bodies) Regulation 2002 also deals with burials on private property, and requires that the burial is not likely to cause contamination to drinking water or a domestic water supply The area of landholding needs to be five hectares or more and the location has to have been approved for that purpose by the local authority. In any case, burying a person on private land changes the zoning to that of a cemetery, so selling the land could be a problem. The owner of the land also has to provide access to the grave for mourners.