If your loved one was all about the ocean, lakes, or nature, scattering their ashes near water only makes sense. Knowing how to scatter ashes at the beach is important, however. If you understand the legal considerations and keep a few practical tips in mind, you can make sure this moment goes smoothly and is the meaningful a tribute you want it to be.
Is It Legally Okay to Spread Ashes at the Beach?
In most of the United States and all of Canada, there are no laws prohibiting scattering ashes at the beach. If the beach is private property, you should get the permission of the person who owns the land. If it's public property, it's worth a call to the organization that manages it. However, it's legal to scatter ashes on the beach in most US states, such as Florida.
The exception is California, where scattering ashes is prohibited unless it's in a designated scattering garden or you have the permission of the landowner in writing. For those who don't follow these guidelines, the maximum penalty for illegally scattering ashes in California can be up to a year in jail or up to $5,000 in fines.
There's a big difference between scattering ashes on the beach and scattering them in the water itself. You can spread ashes in the ocean, but you must comply with the Federal Clean Water Act. This means the ashes need to be at least three miles off shore and can't include anything that doesn't easily decompose (like a watch or jewelry) or non-human remains (like a special pet).
How to Scatter Ashes at the Beach
The process for scattering ashes is fairly simple, but it's important to think it through before the ceremony or the moment you plan to do it. That way, you won't have any awkward situations or things that get in the way of what really matters here: honoring your loved one. After you've checked local regulations and talked to any property owners, follow these basic steps to spread the ashes.
1. Pick the Spot on the Beach
Choose a beach that meant something to your loved one or your family or that is a special place you like to come. Before the day you plan to scatter the ashes, take some time to walk the beach and pick a specific spot for your ceremony. Consider how the wind is blowing and be sure to plan the scattering so the ashes will blow away from you.
2. Choose the Right Time
After you've chosen a spot, it's time to select a time to do the scattering. Beaches change a lot depending on the weather and the tides (if it's on the ocean). Check the upcoming weather and have a plan for rain (or even snow). Know how the tides may affect where you'll be standing on the beach.
3. Select a Container for the Ashes
The container you use for the ashes may not seem important, since you'll be scattering them anyway. The thing is, you're going to need access to them, and you may also have a ceremony before you spread them. It's nice to have a container that seals well for transport and also looks nice if you're going to be saying a few words about your loved one before you scatter the ashes.
Some people choose scattering tubes, which are available from funeral homes and online retailers. These come in different styles, but they give you a little more control over the actual process of scattering and can help things go more smoothly if it's windy or you're going to have a lot of people participating.
4. Plan a Ceremony if You Want One
This is an important moment, and you may choose to hold a special ceremony when you scatter the ashes. A spiritual leader or important friend might speak or offer wisdom during this time, or you might take turns sharing memories about your loved one. Even if there are only a few people there, marking this moment can be very meaningful.
It can be difficult to know what to wear to a beach ash-scattering ceremony, but these are generally much more casual than traditional funerals. Something dark-colored and simple is always a good choice, and you should have footwear that won't make it difficult to walk in the sand.
Special Ideas for Scattering Ashes at the Beach
Whether or not you choose to have an official ceremony, there are a lot of ways to make sure this moment is special. Try some of these ideas.
Wait for the Tide
If you're scattering ashes at the ocean, check the tide schedule ahead of time. As the tide is about to come in, scatter the ashes along the beach near the waterline. Then stand back and watch as the water level rises and floats your loved one's ashes out to sea.
Have a Beach Bonfire
If you're allowed to have a fire on the beach, this can be a special way to remember your loved one. You can scatter the ashes in the fire itself, or you can sit around the fire sharing memories and then walk down near the water to do the scattering.
Write a Message in the Sand
Using a stick or tool, write a message to your loved one in the sand. You can also just write their name. Then scatter the ashes in the letters and allow the waves to wash the words and ashes out into the lake or ocean.
Release Floating Flowers With the Ashes
Choose large flowers that will float on water, such as peonies or full roses, and clip off the stems. Deposit some of the ashes into each bloom and rest the flowers at the edge of the waves. When large waves come, they will take some of the flowers out into the water. Some may tip over, but that's okay too. The look of the flowers scattered along the beach will be beautiful.
Say a Few Words as You Scatter the Ashes
As you scatter the ashes, it can help to say a few words about your loved one or share a favorite poem or passage. While the exact words will depend on your situation and relationship to the person you're honoring, the act of saying something can be healing and can help mark this moment as important.