Families and friends who lose loved ones look for memorable places to bury the deceased or scatter the deceased’s ashes. For some, there’s no place more appropriate than the sea. Burial at sea service businesses let families and friends say goodbye to deceased loved ones by burying the body or scattering the ashes at sea.
While these businesses frequently offer both full-body burials and ash scattering services, most of their business tends to be ash scatterings. With cremation rates above 50% and rising, the demand for this type of burial service is expected to increase in the near future.
(Importantly, this type of business is not a crematorium. Instead, it’s a way for people to scatter the already-cremated remains of their loved ones.)
Learn how to start your own Burial at Sea Service and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a burial at sea service by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Burial at Sea Service
- Form your Burial at Sea Service into a Legal Entity
- Register your Burial at Sea Service for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Burial at Sea Service
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Burial at Sea Service
- Get Burial at Sea Service Insurance
- Define your Burial at Sea Service Brand
- Create your Burial at Sea Service Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your burial at sea service. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Burial at Sea Service Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a burial at sea service?
The costs involved in opening a burial at sea service are substantial, for business owners need a boat, maritime equipment, and a slip or mooring. An office is also needed, as many families will want to plan their loved one’s service in person. A boat and office can easily be tens of thousands of dollars, and their costs could reach six-figure sums.
Businesses owners who have limited capital, however, can significantly reduce these startup expenses by partnering with others in the area. Rather than purchasing a boat, business owners can partner with a captain who already has a boat (e.g. for harbor tours) and split the profits. Funeral arrangements can be discussed in a home office or a private office that’s rented at a shared coworking space.
A website is also needed for marketing (see below), but website costs are inexpensive compared to these other expenses.
What are the ongoing expenses for a burial at sea service?
The ongoing expenses for a burial at sea service business are substantial. They include boat maintenance, docking or mooring, and fuel costs, as well as the cost of leasing office space and paying employees’ salaries.
Who is the target market?
The target market for a burial at sea business is the families of deceased sea lovers. Families of former Navy and Coast Guard personnel, avid anglers and sailors, and anyone else who spent time on the water might want to wish their loved one farewell on the ocean.
How does a burial at sea service make money?
A burial at sea service makes money by selling on-water funeral services. Usually, families or friends attend services, but a few customers may elect to simply have the business conduct an unattended service.
How much can you charge customers?
The cost of a burial at sea depends on what type of burial is conducted. The most inexpensive service is an unattended scattering of ashes, which CostHelper reports costs between $100 and $400. A small attended scattering runs between $250 and $1,000 and larger attended scatterings can range from $1,000 to $5,000 or more. A full-body burial without any additional amenities typically is between $5,000 and $10,000.
How much profit can a burial at sea service make?
With many services running over $1,000, a burial at sea business can bring in a substantial revenue. For example, Hald’s company conducted more than 1,000 burials in its first 10 years. That’s an average of at least 100 burials per year, which would be a revenue of $100,000 annually assuming a median price of $1,000.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Some burial at sea services contract with aircraft pilots to offer at-sea scatterings conducted from a plane or helicopter. These services cost substantially more, and the burial at sea service receives a significant amount of the cost.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your burial at sea service is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
There are a few federal regulations regarding the conduction of business at sea. It is important that you review such regulations to avoid legal trouble. In addition, information regarding certification for performing burial at sea services can be found here.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a burial at sea business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
FInd out what types of insurance your Burial at Sea Service needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Burial at Sea Service.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a burial at sea service
Performing burials at sea is a niche industry, and most people who are interested in these burials conduct online searches. Therefore, the best marketing strategy is one that focuses on online advertising and incorporates a well-designed website.
How to keep customers coming back
People who want a burial at sea sometimes have specific requests for their funeral service. The more that a business is able to accommodate custom requests, the more that business will stand out from others in the industry that aren’t as flexible.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
Anyone who is empathetic and loves the sea may enjoy running a burial at sea business. Empathy is a necessary attribute for anyone working in the funeral industry, and a passion for open water helps business owners connect with their customers.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a burial at sea service?
Running a burial at sea service business involves a lot of different work. On any given day, business owners might be:
- Planning burial services with family members
- Conducting burial services on boats
- Coordinating with other funeral directors and/or boat captains
- Mailing burial certificates and notifying the EPA of burials
- Maintaining boats and conducting safety checks as necessary
- Marketing the business and managing back-end operations
The burials themselves are multi-step affairs. Business owners or staff have to prep boats, welcome service attendees, perform any required safety demonstrations, leave the dock and head to sea, conduct the service itself, return to port, see attendees off the boat, clean the boat, and replenish supplies.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful burial at sea service?
Burials at sea must comply with regulations set by the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and Environmental Protection Agency, along with any applicable state- or municipality-specific laws. New England Burials at Sea offers sea burial certification classes that go over these regulatory requirements.
Additionally, most business owners are either captains, funeral directors or both. If business owners don’t serve in both capacities, they must partner with someone who has the other necessary skills.
Business owners who want a captain’s license should pursue a Master License from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, for this license is required to operate boats that hold more than six passengers. Many organizations, such as Maritime Professional License, Boatwise and SeaSchool, offer captain’s license classes.
Business owners who want to become funeral directors should check the licensing requirements in the state that they’ll operate in.
What is the growth potential for a burial at sea service?
Burial at sea businesses may be small operations that have a single boat and operate out of one port, or they can be larger companies that have multiple boats and offer services in several states. Smaller businesses that have just one boat frequently offer other boating activities, such as marine tours and transportation. Larger businesses may offer other activities but don’t always.
Equinox Island Transit is an example of a typical one-boat business. Located in Rockland, Maine, the Equinox primarily offers marine transit to and from the surrounding islands. They also perform burials at sea.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a burial at sea service?
Funeral attendees appreciate having a fixed place that they can return to in the future and remember the deceased. Tombstones have traditionally served as physical markers, but there’s no tombstone for at-sea burials. Gus Hald, who arranges burials at sea, recommends having a physical monument on land that people can see during the service and return to when they want to. He uses a nearby lighthouse, but a rock formation, point of land or pier could also work.
How and when to build a team
In order to conduct services of any size, a burial at sea service business needs employees from the outset. To make sure the service goes well even if there’s a minor boat or weather issue, it’s advisable to have at least one employee on board. In many cases, businesses have a few staff members to help care for guests, handle the boat and conduct the service.