Rosemary Newman holds a photo of her mother, Hazel Mae Nichols, whose ashes were dispersed during a memorial service on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Rosemary Newman holds a photo of her mother, Hazel Mae Nichols, whose ashes were dispersed during a memorial service on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ever after: Get married — or buried — on a Washington ferry

Ferries offer a final send-off for the cremains of loved ones. All for the price of passenger fare.

EDMONDS — Rosemary Newman wanted the perfect send-off for her mom, who lived to be 102.

So she took her on a ferry ride — and deposited her ashes in Puget Sound. The same waters where her dad was strewn 40 years earlier.

“I knew this is what she wanted,” Newman said.

What’s up with that?

Washington State Ferries offers sea memorials during regular ferry runs.

“We thought we were going to have to hire somebody with a boat to do this,” Newman said.

That’s what they did when her dad, Murray Nichols, died in 1979.

“My mother and my aunt surreptitiously put my father’s remains in the water,” she said. “So when Mother died I knew we were going to put her in the water. My mom and dad loved living in Edmonds. My dad would get the binoculars and watch the ships coming in and out.”

Her mom, Hazel, died on New Year’s Eve 2015. The sea burial was three months later.

“At the funeral home they had biodegradable containers for remains,” Newman said. “I heard you could do it from the state ferry. I went on the website. It’s not easy to find to find the information.”

No kidding. You have to dive deep. Click through the FAQ to “Special Occasions,” which include weddings and birthday parties.

The cost?

“It was the ferry fare,” said Newman, 78. “That was it.”

A chart from Washington State Ferries shows the number of memorials by year and month from 2010 to 2018. (Submitted image)

A chart from Washington State Ferries shows the number of memorials by year and month from 2010 to 2018. (Submitted image)

With the half-price senior discount, it was about $4 each for Newman and her two sisters.

Along with a few other family members, they walked on the Edmonds ferry to Kingston.

A crew official led them to the stern. About halfway into the 30-minute voyage, the ship stopped.

“They made this announcement: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the captain is stopping the ferry because we’re going to put the remains of Hazel Nichols in the water. She died at the age 102,’” Newman said.

“We threw the container into the water — you don’t have to open it. The captain blew the whistle three times. And then they gave us this lovely certificate that had the longitude and latitude. It was just lovely. It couldn’t have been nicer.”

They stayed on the ferry for its return to Edmonds.

“We all walked up the hill and had lunch in my mom’s favorite restaurant, Chanterelle. That was my mother’s funeral,” she said.

“We’re not churchgoing folks. And we don’t really do formal funerals in my family. I do enjoy going to other people’s, but we don’t do that in my family.”

Someday, Newman plans to join her parents.

“It’s in my will,” she said. “I want to end up in the Salish Sea.”

Federal law requires that cremated remains, known as cremains, be disposed at least three nautical miles from shore in ocean waters.

Among those RIPing in West Coast waters are Robin Williams, Dick Clark, Janis Joplin and the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants.

More people are opting not to end up six feet under. Cemetery plots range from several hundred dollars to thousands, depending on accommodations, plus markers and services.

Sea burials can be ferry cheap or fairly costly.

Two-hour cruises in Maui by Hawaii Ash Scatterings start at about $3,000, including appetizers and ukulele music.

California-based Pacific Coast Ashes at Sea offers the cremains of people (and pets) to be disposed using private boats and planes in six departure states. One client testimonial on its site is from a burial on an Edmonds vessel typically used for salmon fishing.

Neptune Society has a memorial reef on the ocean floor off the coast of Florida. Cremains are mixed with concrete to form sea stars or shells. Visitation is a scuba dive away.

For those who prefer a dry final landing, Mount Rainier and other national parks allow the scattering of ashes. The permit fee is $25.

Other options abound. Ashes can be infused in tattoo ink, paint, clay and diamonds. A UK company offers to immortalize loved ones with ashes pressed into playable vinyl records. Another outfit will put them in fireworks for a final bang.

In 2018, there were 179 memorial services on Washington ferries, up from 100 in 2010. In 2016, the year of Newman’s mom’s service, there were 166.

“As far as I know we haven’t had any requests for pets. We are designed for people memorials only,” said ferries spokesman Ian Sterling.

“It’s one of those services that a lot of people don’t know about. We have people getting married on the boat all the time.”

Just remember, ferries are open to the public at all times. There aren’t private rooms or separate event spaces.

For weddings, the captain is not available for hire or to blow the horn. Bring your own officiant, but not your own booze. Only beer and wine, sold in the galley, is allowed.

Food can be brought in, but why bother? The floating food court has Ivar’s clam chowder, Caffe Vita coffee, Beecher’s mac & cheese, Uli’s Famous Sausage, CB’s nuts and Seahawks cookies by Schwartz Brothers Bakery.

For birthdays, it’s OK to bring cake, but candles are not allowed.

Andrea Brown:; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

Ferry memorial services

Reservations are required at least five business days in advance, with up to a month recommended in spring and summer. Only one memorial is allowed per day. Memorials are during non-peak times, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m Monday through Friday, and before 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Routes: Seattle-Bremerton, Seattle-Bainbridge, Edmonds-Kingston, Mukilteo-Clinton, Anacortes-Friday Harbor-Orcas and Port Townsend-Coupeville.

Ashes must be in a certified biodegradable container that can be dropped intact. A floral tribute can’t have plastic, wire or ribbons.

More at 206-515-3464 or

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