How to Properly Scatter Ashes at the Beach: 8 Steps

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Commemorating your loved one in any ceremony is difficult. When you choose to do so at the beach, you’re providing those you love, and yourself, with ample opportunity to return to a spot—a place of solace and light—to return to for comfort and reflection. 

Jump ahead to the following sections:

If you intend to scatter ashes at the beach, we’ve put some step-by-step instructions for you. Along with those instructions, you’ll find tips and ideas to plan your ceremony to commemorate your loved one’s life. Whether you’re planning an event for your parents or pup, we’ve found helpful options to guide you.

Step 1: Check Local Ordinance on the Scattering of Cremains

To avoid complications with scattering cremains on a beach, read through local or federal ordinances. Laws for scattering ashes vary among locations and jurisdictions. So, if you’re not familiar with the protocol or have any questions, contact a local agency to determine the legalities of doing so.

Here are a few regulations you may encounter:

  • Controlled public lands require verification before scattering and may require a permit.
  • Uncontrolled lands may require a request for permission.
  • Some areas may require you to file an EPA general permit request under federal regulation 40 CFR 229.1.
  • If the land is culturally sensitive, choose another location to avoid offending a local tribe.
  • Pet cremains may not be allowed to be scattered in some areas.

Not all states are the same. While Washington state may have one regulation that permits the scattering of cremains in National Parks or public navigable waters, other states may be entirely different. With that, failing to conduct your own research and obtain the correct and lawful permits may result in a Class 2 misdemeanor. For these reasons, it’s imperative to do your homework before you commit to spreading ashes at any beach around the nation.

ยป MORE: When someone dies, they leave a life behind. This checklist takes you through the next steps.

 

Step 2: Purchase a Scattering Tube

A scattering tube is cylindrical and made of cardboard so that it is recyclable. Cremains are loosely placed in it without the confinement of a plastic bag because it’s meant to ease the scattering process and also reduce waste afterward.

These tubes may be purchased at your local funeral home. All you need to do is request them at the time of service from your funeral director.

Tip: If you decide to keep some of the ashes and are looking for something very unique to display (think a game, a classic car, or instrument of choice), you can custom order an urn from a store like Foreverence. You submit a design idea or sketch, then the company designs and 3D prints your urn, so you get a 100% unique container.

Step 3: Plan a Scattering Ceremony

When considering how to plan a scattering ceremony, first determine the extent of clergy or faith leaders’ involvement. That is, will you be planning a formal or informal ceremony? 

If it’s a formal ceremony, consider the location, the number in attendance, as well as the materials you’ll be bringing to the beach. Here are some other things to think about:

  • On the day before the ceremony, verify with the clergy member to make sure they have the date and time in order.
  • Have the honorarium (clergy payment or “gift of the heart”) prepared and placed in an envelope.
  • Check out the parking spaces and any car permits required for those in attendance and relay this information to them.
  • Remember that the beach is casual, and attire or shoes should be considered.
  • Look up the tide charts so as not to be caught during high tide.
  • Attendees may require a warm blanket or sunscreen safe for coral reefs.
  • Hire a videographer for the ceremony.
  • Online or virtual programs for those who can’t make it.

If the location is not local and you’ll need to fly to your destination, here are current TSA requirements regarding traveling with remains:

  • In order to travel with an urn within the United States, the urn must be able to go through the X-Ray scanner so that TSA can determine what is inside without opening the container.
  • If you are traveling outside of the United States, check with a local consulate at your destination so that you know exactly what is required to bring cremains into that country. Some requirements seem taxing, but you should follow instructions because they have the right to confiscate the urn and you may or may not get it back.Contact any international permit agencies much the same as you would if you were scattering your loved one’s ashes within the United States.
  • Carry the urn with you on the plane versus checking it with your luggage to avoid damage.
  • You will need travel documents, which consist of:
    • A letter from the funeral home stating that the cremation took place
    • A copy of the burial transit or state permit
    • A photocopy of the death certificate

If you plan to gather at a local beach restaurant after the ceremony, give the business ample notice of your arrival so that they can accommodate the group size. 

Step 4: Share Words of Remembrance

If you’re not planning for a formal ceremony, there are still ways to share words of remembrance without the formality.

If you’re not sure what to say when scattering ashes without a clergyman present, think about the following options:

  • Recite a favorite quote or poem
  • Offer prayers
  • Talk about struggles
  • Offer memories
  • Play a song of remembrance
  • Scatter rose petals (if allowed)
  • Write words of remembrance in the sand to be carried out with the surf

Once you’ve said something, it’s open the floor for others to speak. Only scatter the ashes after everyone who wants to speak has had an opportunity to do so. 

By sharing these experiences with others, you’ll enable attendees to create a memory that lasts. Then each time they return to the beach, those memories will be layered with positive experiences and thoughts for their loved ones. 

Step 5: Be Courteous to Those Around You

After you’ve completed the scattering ceremony and shared your words of remembrance, be situationally aware of those who are sharing your space. If your location gets busy, find a secluded spot before the event so you aren’t interrupted by anyone during your ceremony.

It’s a common misconception that scattering cremains of public land is illegal, so be courteous to families, fishermen, and anyone else who may bear witness.

Step 6: Check Wind Direction 

Are you savvy about wind direction? If not, spread the ashes downwind—or, with the direction of the wind. That’ll make sure that the ashes don’t blow back at you or toward those who are in attendance or others sharing your space. 

Here are a few options that might make scattering ashes at the beach a little easier:

  • If the beach you choose allows you to drive on it, then release the ashes out the window so that they fall behind the vehicle. Remember to keep all other windows closed otherwise the ashes will blow back inside your vehicle. 
  • If you live where a pier can take you away from the beach itself, then lift the ashes high above your head and release them into the wind.
  • Do you live near a river that feeds out into the ocean? If so, the current will carry out the ashes, so you won’t have to worry about them blowing back in.

If these options are unavailable to you, note that the wind blows inward toward the beach. That means you’ll need to choose between lifting the tube high above your head or lower to the ground to achieve the best results. 

Step 7. Dispose of Any Containers at Home

The scattering tube that you purchased is recyclable. So, once home, you’ll want to remove any identification coins or labels before placing this in your at-home recycling container.

While there is no legal requirement to do so, by removing any identification from the tube, you’re ensuring your loved one and you some privacy.

Step 8. Plan a Yearly Visit

Rather than concluding your loved one’s life with the scattering of their ashes, plan a yearly sojourn on the day to the same spot to help with your grief process. If you’re not sure what to do, here are a few ideas:  

  • Plan a picnic with immediate family and close friends.
  • Have a sunset bonfire if the beach allows one.
  • Conduct a prayer vigil with those who can attend.
  • Take your dogs for a walk on the beach.
  • Go kite surfing.
  • Buy a permit to go surf fishing or clam-digging.
  • Meditate or practice yoga.
  • Put together a beach run in their honor and the watch as the event grows with time.
  • Build a sandcastle with the children and grandchildren of the deceased.
  • Beachcomb once high tide rolls out.
  • Relax, enjoy, and take some time with your thoughts.
  • Join or create a beach clean-up group to honor your loved one.
  • Collect water samples for a local aquarium to promote scientific research.

Each year that you layer the memory day with events that bring joy, you’ll begin to look forward to the day as a celebration of life.

Commemorating Your Loved One on the Beach

Hopefully, this article has helped you plan to honor your loved one by scattering their ashes and creating a place to make memories in their name for years to come. 

Another beautiful option for keeping a loved one's memory alive is a memorial diamond or stone created from ashes. Some companies, like Eterneva, create lab-grown diamonds and allow you to pick from several cuts and colors for your gemstone. And Parting Stone can turn your loved one's ashes into a set of beautiful, natural-looking stones. 

If any of these options sounds like something you want to request at your own memorial, then think about creating a free end-of-life plan today.

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