Burial at Sea, Ash Scattering and Full Body Burials at Sea AMA

Donna Capara
Jan 10, 2018

I'm one of a handful of experts in the field.  I provide assistance to families planning a service by matching them with the best vessel for their needs.  My Blogs cover practical topics such as What Not to Wear, Sea Sickness and Managing Expectations. I also write a series, Messages of Love where I share my own experiences of what I believe are signs from beyond, in addition I welcome others to share their own experiences.

In my ten plus years in this line of work I believe I've been asked everything, but ya never know,  I'm up to challenge of answering your questions and I look forward to our session.


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Do we really get messages from heaven without the need for psychic mediums?

Jan 11, 3:44AM EST0

I’ll direct you to the question below, but yes, I believe we get messages from beyond.  Being open and recognizing them when they happen is key. As for psychic mediums, like John Edwards, Theresa Caputo and a few others, I’d like to believe they have a special gift to connect.  One of my contributors had a very engaging and life changing experience for her mother after she attended an event with John Edwards.  


and continue to Can you give us a brief insight about the series Messages of Love?

Jan 11, 8:30AM EST0

What are the common services you offer to clients? And what is the average cost of doing a burial at sea?

Jan 11, 1:31AM EST0

The common services include family attended private charters and unattended Captain’s service.   I have a network of captains I trust with the sensitive nature of the characters I book and knowledge that the unwitnessed scatterings are being performed with respect.   Cost vary depending on the location and size of the vessel.  I also have two costing models, one is more of a DIY and the other concierge.  On average a 6 - 10 passenger vessels will cost between $500.00 - $875.00, the cheapest out of the southern states and larger vessels range $700.00 - $900.00, with a handful of larger boats in the $1100.00 to $1300.00 range.

Unattended Captain’s Services are performed in a limited number of ports because I need to maintain a chain of custody.  Those range in price from $195.00 to $325.00 when the cremated remains are mailed, (industry standard) a personal drop off cost $350.00 because I need to arrange for the location and have a representative on site.

Jan 11, 8:45AM EST0

Why do you think people choose a burial at sea?

Jan 11, 12:12AM EST0

For some it’s cultural and religious, such as Buddhist or in the Hindu religion, which was once only performed in the Ganges River, but with Hindus now living around the globe it is permissible to scatter at sea in a location that’s most convenient to the family.

For others it’s about a sense of freedom to travel the ocean currents and be one with nature. The selected sites include a childhood home, a favorite vacation spot, or a place where the individual wanted to go but never got to visit, Hawaii being one of those for so many.

And lastly, it’s very economical.  Gone are the days where families feel compelled to spend thousands of dollars on ground burials and expensive caskets.  I won’t say all, but certainly many funeral directors used moments of vulnerability to guild clients into spending more than they could afford.

Jan 11, 8:57AM EST0

Can you give us a brief insight about the series Messages of Love?

Jan 10, 10:56PM EST0

Messages of Love and Messages From Heaven is a way for me to connect with others who have suffered a loss or have an interest in the topic.  We’ve all seen psychic mediums through the years that claim to connect with our loved ones on the other side.  Do they?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I have had personal experiences, as have others and sharing them makes it real.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it’s not easy to put yourself out there with these “claims”, that are personal to me and my family.  By choosing to go pubic, I’m taking a stand that Messages From Heaven are real and an authentic phenomenon.

I’ve linked this story in earlier questions, but for me, it’s by far my most significant experience that I’m happy to share.


Last edited @ Jan 11, 8:11AM EST.
Jan 11, 8:10AM EST0

What’s the worst thing that has ever happened? 

Jan 10, 6:28PM EST0

This is a bit graphic, but here it goes.  We consulted on a full body burial for a woman who wanted to participate in the arrangements, meaning she wanted to sew up the burial shroud that would be used.  (There are 3 methods, casket, body bag or shroud).  After this experience I would only recommend using a casket...but do read on.

This particular lady had quite a sense of humor, when she first called to explain her plans her husband wasn’t deceased and her way of explaining this was to say, “He ain’t circlin the drain yet”.   The shroud material was approved, the construction was inspected by the funeral director and all was a go.  I believe she lived in Tennessee and secured a transit permit to drive her husband in the shroud across state lines to Florida where the full body burial was to take place.  All went as planned until several days later when a passing fisherman saw the remains of a man floating several miles off shore.  A large pry fish had bitten into the shroud and released the remains.  After several calls I never came to learn how she proceeded afterward, however her sense of humor prevailed, she said, “Well, he said he wanted to be eaten by the fishies.”

Jan 10, 6:29PM EST1
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Describe a time that you went above and beyond when consoling someone.

Jan 10, 3:33PM EST0

I’m not a grief counselor, I’m just an individual with  a compassionate nature.  I can’t say I went above and beyond in this example because it was just something in the moment.  About 3 years ago I worked with a mother who lost her 21 year old son in a car accident.  My son was 21 at the time and it just pierced my heart.  I put myself in her place and cried along with her.  Both of us could barely speak for a few minutes until we composed ourselves.  Having been through a sudden loss many years ago I know that there is a socially acceptable period of time that coworkers and friends (not close friends or family), but folks you come in contact with daily are sympathetic to your grief.  With the exception of losing a child I’d say, after a few months, those “acquaintances” begin to wane in the compassion department.  I think the person grieving intuitively understands this and holds back any mention of the difficulties they’re going through.  Especially in the case of losing a spouse, some of the simple things like watching a favorite TV show without your partner, or the empty kitchen chair they encounter every evening.  I get it and when any client is emotional when they first call, I assure them it’s ok and I let them talk.  That’s really all one can do is listen until they’ve worked through the pent up sorrow, release it and carry on.  Grief is very much like riding waves, it crests and troughs; it’s simply a matter of waiting a few minutes.

I wrote a blog The Empty Chair, it's about allowing yourself and your family to grieve, if you’d like to read it.


Last edited @ Jan 10, 4:38PM EST.
Jan 10, 4:33PM EST0

This is a rare business and profession, was this a family passed down business? How did you start managing this?

Jan 10, 6:13AM EST0

Hello and thank you.  I've answered this question below.

How has your education prepared you for a career as an event planner?

Last edited @ Jan 10, 4:40PM EST.
Jan 10, 12:40PM EST0

As a blogger, what are your most common topics of interests?

Jan 10, 12:36AM EST0

My blogs are information and/ or spiritual.  Dealing with Seasickness (see below) or reporting to the EPA or What Not To Wear falls under informational.  I'm also publishing a series, Messages From Heaven where I share some personal experiences of what I consider communtications of a spiritual nature and invite others to share some of their stories.  Link to Blogs:


Last edited @ Jan 10, 4:47PM EST.
Jan 10, 12:54PM EST0
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Which is common the scattering of ashes or the full body burial at sea?

Jan 9, 10:52PM EST0

Ash scattering is the more common however interest in full body burials is growing.  When I first started I might get one inquiry every several months, fast forward 10 years and the rate is one or two a month.

Jan 10, 12:41PM EST0

Is there a huge demand for this type of business?

Jan 9, 6:25PM EST0

Cremation has grown to be a popular choice for a final disposition, now in 2018, at over 50% in the US.  With the ever growing demand for Green Burials and families no longer in favor of displaying an urn, burial at sea is also gaining in popularity.  There are still many misnomers about burial at sea which includes that one had to have served in the military.  The belief that it’s illegal is still widely held, even among funeral directors.  When I first started in this business over 10 years ago, have having 2 or 3 services on a given weekend was considered busy, today it’s not unusual to have 8 to 10 in the course of a weekend, departing from ports all around the country.

Jan 9, 7:29PM EST0

Do you cater to all religion and how do you personalize the burial?

Jan 9, 3:31PM EST0

Burial at sea is a personal choice of either that of the deceased who made his or her wishes know, or by the family.  While I don’t cater perse, it’s the family who decides if the service is to be religious by nature.  Roman Catholics have had to deal with a changing edick by the church; first cremation wasn’t allowed, then it was.  Followed by scattering wasn’t allowed, but then it was as long as the ashes remained in tack within an urn.  This causes some judgement calls on behalf of the family because we follow the EPA Guidelines and will only use biodegradable urns, which eventually releases the ashes. You can see the dilemma here faced by some families.   

Buddhist sometimes have a lengthy prayer services starting as soon as the boat leaves port in route to the site of internment.  The problem here is that while people’s heads are down reading, they’re more susceptible to sea sickness.   

In closing, it’s the family that plans the service religious or otherwise, I simply provide information to insure that they understand the logistics and what’s permitted.

Last edited @ Jan 10, 12:59PM EST.
Jan 9, 5:35PM EST0

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Jan 9, 12:31PM EST0

I find the repetitiveness of what I need to convey gets tiresome.  Almost all of my clients need to be educated in what to expect along with the logistics of a burial at sea.  I’d say 98% of my clients have never participated or planned a burial at sea, so naturally there’s a lot of information I need to make known.  Times this by 10 or 15 clients a day in the busy spring and summer and I begin to sound like a recording.

This is followed by captain’s not having availability and clients set on a particular date; it’s challenging at times.

Jan 9, 5:40PM EST1
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Any thoughts on doing or expanding the business by considering other venues or probably doing other events?

Jan 9, 8:54AM EST0

Coordinating Burials at Sea requires attention to detail, constantly monitoring weather and ocean conditions in the ports from where charters are booked.  I can’t imagine taking on anything more, although scattering by airplane has crossed my mind.

Jan 9, 7:32PM EST0

Have you encountered any particularly noteworthy burial ceremony?

Jan 9, 7:46AM EST0

In terms or noteworthy one comes to mind; the father of beautiful young woman killed in an auto accident planned her service out of Manhattan.  The boat was large enough to hold 200 passengers and his guest list was at 150.   He hired students from The Juilliard School to serenade the event as it sailed past The Statue of Liberty out to sea. I think it was the music that held everyone’s attention until the father spoke of his daughter with stoic eloquence.  

Other ceremonies I know of but weren’t in attendance include a service out of Maui where a whale and her calf both surfaced and showed their tails.

Another service out of Sandy Hook was an unattended Captain’s service.  That’s when family isn’t on board and the captain performs it.  On this particular day with a boat full of fishermen, no one had gotten a bite all day.  The captain announced to all on board what he was about to do and asked for a moment of silence.  Upon scattering, the captain told me that everyone on board was into a fish.

The services I find most noteworthy are those where families board the vessel in apprehension and leave with a sense of awe, peace and closure.

Last edited @ Jan 10, 7:13PM EST.
Jan 9, 7:12PM EST0

Have you had difficult clients? How do you deal with them?

Jan 9, 5:55AM EST0

Yes I have,from time to time there are some individuals who are very sensitive and for lack of a better phrase, seem to take offense at some aspects of this process which are totally out of my control.  For example, I had one client who insisted that her husband didn’t like cold water and reasoned that his cremated remains wouldn’t either. If memory serves me, I only had availability from her requested Northeast  port in late September or early October which was met with a bit of hostility.   

In another case this individual wanted the captain and crew to wear a Captain’s uniform, similar to a cruise ship captain.  He was rather indignant when I explained our captains don’t wear uniforms of that nature.  He also wanted me to assure him that there would be no debris floating in the water as well as avoiding any chance that the local ferry wouldn’t cross the path of scattered remains.  

Dealing with these clients takes patience.  Some clients are angry from the get go and by allowing them to vent seems to calm them down.  Grief shows itself in many forms and it’s my job to serve in a manner that is respectful and compassionate.  I know it’s not directed at me, I don’t take it personally.

Jan 9, 5:13PM EST0

During bad weather conditions, do you have proposed alternative plans for the burial? If so, what is it?

Jan 9, 3:58AM EST0

When planing for families traveling for a destination memorial service, I always recommend scheduling early in their stay to allow for back up dates.  Light rain wouldn’t necessitate a cancellation, however high winds, storms and rough sea would.  When this happens I try to reschedule as soon as the weather clears.  If availability is an issue the client has the choice to leave the cremated remains behind with the captain for an unattended service.  This situation happens infrequently but it does happen.  Last season brought many storms on the East Coast, I probably have at least 5 families that will reschedule for this season.  

Jan 9, 7:39PM EST0

Have you had strange burial experiences, can you tell us a story?

Jan 9, 3:49AM EST0

One that stands out in my mind and the subject of a blog (see below) was a woman who alone was to spread her nieces ashes.  I provided her with a scattering tube which is designed to either pour the contents out into the water or place the entire urn in the water as a biodegradable urn.  I never expected her to take fistfuls of cremated remains and attempt to throw them overboard.  It was a cold day in March, both of us wearing black coats and with each handful of remains thrown, half blew back on us.  I again attempted to instruct her how to hold the urn but she continued taking one handful at a time.  At this point I stepped away and let her do her thing.  

On the way back to port I brushed her and myself off and learned a few things about the situation.  Read More Below.


Jan 9, 4:27PM EST0

How has your education prepared you for a career as an event planner?

Jan 8, 10:43PM EST0

No, not at all.  My degree is in Fine Arts and typical of many I found myself in a career far removed from the art world.  Most of my career was in manufacturing applications, but after being laid off I took a side job to establish a database of captains for my then boss who got me started in the business.  He too was a licenced boat captain performing burial at sea as well as coordinating for others. He was away from the office quite a bit so I started answering the phone to help out. Before long I made myself indispensable and began to add more value added services such as designing a scattering urn, sourcing and having it manufactured for us.,  I wrote helpful hints gathered prayers and reading with a nautical reference and began listening to their needs and expectations.   In those years I learned, absorbed and finally decided I had enough of a knowledge base and captains with whom I work very closely with to venture out on my own.  In this industry nothing can prepare you except experience.  It also helps to be a compassionate individual and a good listener.  

Last edited @ Jan 11, 9:00AM EST.
Jan 9, 3:26PM EST0

Was there a time that you managed multiple burials at a time? How did you multitask?

Jan 8, 2:31PM EST0

I’m typically not on board with the family.  Once the charter is booked,  I fully explain what to expect, and the Captain & mates are there to assist the family.  No one officates unless the family brings their own clery person.  The families I work with tend to keep the service simple with a prayer, reading or simply sharing their favorite memories.  I’m on call in the event of any last minute questions or problem, however the client also has the phone number for the captain or fleet office.

Last edited @ Jan 9, 4:53PM EST.
Jan 9, 3:25PM EST1
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What advice can you give to people interested into going into your field?

Jan 8, 1:54PM EST0

Hmmm, my experience came about by circumstance, I found myself unemployed from a 20+ year career in manufacturing.  I took a side job to establish a database of captains for my then boss who got me started in the business.  He too was a licence boat captain performing burial at sea as well as coordinating for others. He was away from the office quite a bit so I started answering the phone to help out. Before long I made myself indispensable and began to add more value added services such as designing a scattering urn, sourcing and having it manufactured for us.,  I wrote helpful hints gathered prayers and reading with a nautical reference and began listening to their needs and expectations.   In those years I learned, absorbed and finally decided I had enough of a knowledge base and captains with whom I work very closely with to venture out on my own.  Truthfully, unless you plan to purchase a vessel or already have one, I suggest you get a captain’s license and work one on one with individuals.  In this industry nothing can prepare you except experience.  It also helps to be a compassionate individual and a good listener.  

Jan 9, 3:24PM EST0

For over ten years in the business, what are the common challenges or setbacks have you encountered?

Jan 8, 10:37AM EST0

The biggest common challenge is changing people's expectations in terms of what they envision and the reality of being out on a boat.  I first need to educate them to explain what they can expect.  That's not to say that a burial at sea can't have lake like ocean conditions with a beautiful setting sun, but more often it's 4 foot swells and needing to hold on.  Extended prayer services are reduced to one or two so they don’t experience sea sickness because their heads are down for an extended period. 

I would say Mother Nature is one I would categorize as a setback, folks often travel to a destination and don't allow for backup dates in the event of bad weather or turbulent ocean conditions. Many individuals are so set on performing the service on a meaningful date and don’t realize that day may bring storms or high winds, it’s quite a disappointment for them.

Lastly, the other challenge is working with families that didn’t prepare well in advance and have very specific requirements for the selected dates.  When they chose holiday weekends with only a 5 day notice, it’s difficult to find availability.

It’s understood that in some cultures performing the burial at sea must be done as soon as possible and to that end it sometimes takes hours to find last minute availability.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 11:16AM EST.
Jan 8, 10:58AM EST0
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I would love to read your blogs, I am not on facebook.  Is there a  link to your blog? 

Jan 8, 10:35AM EST0

Thank you, here is the direct link.


Jan 8, 10:41AM EST0

How do you handle the emotions of the job? Does being around a lot of grieving people affect you emotionally or did you build up an immunity over time?

Jan 8, 8:38AM EST0

For the most part the burial at sea planning is several weeks, months or even years after the person has passed so the clients are resolved and unemotional.  I have developed a method to get to the business at hand which is to find out what their needs are such as the boat size, port of departure etc.  But I do get emotional at times, especially when my clients are burying a child. I have certainly cried right along with them, composed myself and carried on.  I’ve learned to leave the job behind when I walk away from my computer but there was a day not too long ago when I worked with 3 families, each planning for a child.  I was a mess that night.  This job teaches me everyday to be mindful of what others are going through and how important living in the moment is because life turns on a dime. 

Jan 8, 11:31AM EST0

Have you ever encountered a client who planned his own burial? How do you deal with this scenario?

Jan 8, 8:37AM EST0

Pre-planning today is common for several reasons, including ensuring that their wishes are honored, to relieve busy children of the task of researching and coordinating the service at sea and for financial reasons.   By preplanning your costs are locked in at today’s rate.  For the purposes of burial at sea, this only relates to a Captain’s service because we can’t guarantee a vessel will be in operation for a future need. Pre-planned cremations are also very common for the same reasons.

That said, the other aspect of working with clients pre planning when they’ve been diagnosed with a catastrophic illness is always uncomfortable. I’ve learned to put my own feelings of awkwardness aside and simply ask “What’s going on?”.  It’s an open ended question they can chose to answer in detail or not.  I feel in this society we skirt the topic of death with euphemisms like Passing and Going Home instead saying died.  Likewise, those who are handed a diagnosis of being terminal ill deal with family and friends who maintain that a positive attitude and fighting and being a strong person will overcome the dibliating cancers and other diseases.  The truth that these individuals face by taking the brave step to pre plan their own funerals is a testament to their resolve and one I sometimes comment on.  My role in setting up a pre planned burial at sea for these individuals is to achknowlege what they are sharing with me and to respect that they know the end is nearing.

Last edited @ Jan 9, 8:23PM EST.
Jan 9, 8:22PM EST0
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How do you view death?

Jan 8, 7:25AM EST0

As an older individual my view is that it's a natural progression of the soul's journey, which is not to say that the passing of young person is any less painful.  I came upon a phrase it's goes something like a Death Out of Order, meaning sudden, tragic or that of a child.  I struggle with my emotions with these types of deaths and have often choked up while on the phone with clients that were planning burial services for their child.  It's never easy.

I should add that there are times when my belief system is challenged and I think back on what I believe are messages from beyond.  If you get a chance, take a look at some of my blogs, Hearts in Unexpected Places is one in particular.


Last edited @ Jan 10, 1:26PM EST.
Jan 8, 7:48AM EST0

How do you conduct a full body burial at sea? What are the necessary steps needed?

Jan 8, 5:51AM EST0

Full Body Burials can be complicated because the EPA requirement states that the burial must take place in 600 feet of water.  Off the Northeast that can mean a 40 mile journey.  Off the coast of Florida that depth can easily be reached within 4 miles.  For the most part a funeral home and director must be involved as the body must be accompanied at all times.  The body must also be prepared with 100 pounds of weight to insure it descends quickly and permanently which brings up another topic on the use of shroud vs casket.   I prefer a casket which has pre-drilled holes to allow water and small marine life in vs a shroud that can be torn into from larger prey fish such as sharks. As for the planning, it always helps to know as far in advance as possibe and be given a call quickly at the time of need to line up the funeral home and the vessel.

Last edited @ Jan 9, 8:27PM EST.
Jan 8, 7:39AM EST0

How do your family and friends feel about your job/business?

Jan 8, 1:02AM EST1

At this point they're accustomed to it.  They often hear me on the phone talking with clients and understand the delicate nature of these conversations.  Often afterwards they'll comment with a "Nice Job", as I console and listen to my clients.  This job is more than just making arrangements for boat charters, it also entails bringing your humanity to each conversation and asking those difficult questions that clients want to share but feel the voice on the other end wouldn't care...to the contrary I do.  I'll ask, "How did your daughter die" or "What have you been diagnosed with".  It's important to me and I hope my kids are a learning life lessons as well.  

My boyfriend on the other hand finds it amusing.  It's not unusual for him to strike up conversations and then say "Ask her what she does".  Makes for interesting conversation.  I didn't include here, but I also sell body bags, that's a whole other topic.  Thank you for asking.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 7:40AM EST.
Jan 8, 7:32AM EST0

There's so much innovation in the space, what else do you see customers are asking for nowadays?

Jan 7, 2:39PM EST1

Very good question, in my experience families are looking for meaningful and personalized memorial services.  Although I provide popular prayers and readings, many with a nautical theme, most opt to simply share their favorite memories and anecdotes.  Because there's  often been a formal memorial or religious service most families keep it simple and casual without too much ceremony.  The most sought after time of day is sunset as folks envision the serenity and perhaps the significance of the setting sun.

Jan 7, 4:28PM EST0
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