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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 percent 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.)
Who is this business right for?
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 steps to start a burial at sea service?
Once you're ready to start your burial at sea service, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your burial at sea service is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your burial at sea service keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- 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.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
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 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.
Recommended: A website is essential for promoting your business and attracting customers. Weebly is a great tool.
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.
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.
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, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
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.
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.
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.