Losing a loved one is hard. But sending them off with a meaningful, personalized service can be a great comfort – and that’s exactly what Capt. Brad White aims to offer the clients of New England Burials At Sea LLC.
I spoke with him about his amazing dedication to service, his family’s funeral home background, and his upcoming book detailing his fascinating experiences with providing burials at sea.
Check out our interview below!
Tell us about your business. It’s probably the most unique business we’ve featured on the blog.
New England Burials At Sea is the largest East coast provider for customized ash-scattering memorials and full-body burial at sea events in the USA.
Based in Massachusetts the company operates year-round from Maine to Miami and on the west coast from San Diego to Seattle, serving all faiths with personalized and affordable services. We are recommended and approved by most funeral homes. We’re properly insured, USCG licensed, and use over 84 different vessels, (including some vintage yachts dating back to 1935) departing from over 73 ports for up to 400 people. Our vessels are clean and current, with the latest safety gear.
I am the founder, a Master USCG Licensed Captain. I oversee sales, marketing, operations, customer service, and wholesale relationships.
So how does it work, and who are your customers?
Our unattended scattering prices start at just $495. The event includes an official ship’s parchment sea burial certificate marking the coordinates of the decedent’s final resting place, an eight bell end-of-watch blessing, and a ten-gauge cannon salute as the ship circles the flower field. Families are encouraged and welcome to participate.
Everyone is a potential customer. The people who call us are generally 35-65 years old, with an even number of between male and female. The actual customer we bury at sea had a love for the ocean or the idea of going back to nature. There are 175 million people who live within 10 miles of the water in the USA. We serve all races, cultures, and creeds, civilian or military, and we create a unique and fitting send off for each.
People come from all over the world to use our services and we are proud of that as we’ve worked hard to earn the recognition as the go-to company for a quality event at sea.
What made you choose this path?
I’ve always loved the ocean. I was in the corporate world in business development, sales and marketing for over 25 years and decided to fill this need that we can continue to develop as the market leader in proper and meaningful burials at sea.
Is it a family legacy or are you a pioneer?
Yes to the legacy. In the mid 1900s, my family was in the milk business, delivering dairy products by horse and buggy throughout New England. My great uncle Edwin said “if the horses are not working in the afternoons, let’s get into the funeral business and pull hearses.” The McKelly Funeral home was then born in Boston and later became Gormley Funeral Services, which another family continues to operate today.
Fast forward to the 2000s, NEBAS was founded when asked to scatter someone’s cremated remains at sea — one became 20, which became 200, and the business was founded in 2006. I’m definitely a pioneer — but without a horse — I use a fleet of boats instead!
Did you go to school for it or are you learning as you go?
My B.S. Degree is in management and I have a white glove customer service background in Consumer Marketing. I am not a funeral director, but I don’t need to be, as we work with Sea Burial Certified® funeral directors that we train from coast to coast. And yes, we learn every day and apply new science and technology to our company, sea services, vessels and associates. I am into extreme attention to detail.
They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day.
I am driven by happy customers—good people get great people and our associates always strive to deliver way more than is expected. That positive experience and feedback that we recognize daily allows us to grant the wishes of a loved one like no one else can—to me, that is success.
Why do you love what you do?
The combination of a love of the ocean and its wildlife and owning a business makes me want to get up and experience it every day. Our version of drive-time traffic out there is when we slow down for a passing pod of humpback whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, or busting blue fin tuna fish—that we can share that with families on a very important day for them is rewarding to me.
A whale breaches the surface during a sea burial. (Al Saganich)
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
No adversity as of yet — people embrace the greening of the death care industry via burials at sea for cremated remains or full bodies from coast to coast. Smooth sailing—yes, as we watch and heed weather reports hourly. One thing we can’t control is Mother Nature, but we want client families to enjoy the event and not have to remember bad weather, so we are flexible in case we have to make schedule changes.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
When a women wanted to put her Dad’s cremated remains in a 36” sailing ship model that her dad built as a hobbyist and later wanted to be used for his Viking burial at sea, we granted it, setting the model ship ablaze while it was deployed three miles to sea. As it sailed away from us, the whole family looked to the sky, arms outstretched above their heads chanted, and “We forgive you.” This was obviously a cathartic service for them.
We have had hundreds of serious, humorous, and interesting stories of our events at sea and have started a book to share them. While we have outlined almost 20 chapters, it is a work in progress — I’ve been too busy to put a pen to paper, so I dictate to a recorder to compile the interesting stories, without infringing on privacy or sharing others hurtful details. This is a project we are proud that will help many glean different ways to design their final chapter in life when they read it.
What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
Good question! I try to walk two miles daily with my Schipperke boat dog, and my wife and I snowshoe, ski, and stay active. Of course, I enjoy boating and also photography.
I am always reading current articles on boat safety, taking additional maritime training classes, and I train funeral schools, funeral homes, senior centers, union halls and more. I work about a 36-hour day but do manage to take a week or two off per year to reboot.
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
It is paramount—that is how we are growing, and I have four associates that make that happen. A search engine optimizer, a Facebook marketing guru, a public relations expert and my brother Dominic White, a website developer who has been with me since 1998 and is one of the best around. We have a robust and informative website, www.NewEnglandBurialsAtSea.com, complete with rules, regulations, customer comments, videos of actual events, and more. We regularly receive compliments on how helpful the website is to inquiring families.
Are you involved in your community?
Very much so, I’m a member of three chamber of commerce groups, fishing groups, national and regional associations for charter boat operators, and I am in the FBI Citizens Outreach Academy. I am also active in shellfish reseeding projects.
What does supporting local mean to you?
When the going gets tough, the locals get going — we always support local, and we only work with products that we design and manufacture here in the USA.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
It looks great—with the cremation rate expected to exceed 78% of total deaths in the USA in the year 2035 and people opting away from traditional in-ground burials, we are well-positioned to grow as we build the official New England Burials at Sea brand over the next 20 years. I want us to be the Levi Strauss of the industry. Meaning the best and most rugged quality company out there offering what we do with product and service.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Yes, establish a good database, accounting and financial reporting system first so that you can manage and build your business. Hire the best people you can, DO NOT over-promise and under-deliver so you maintain a high level of credibility.
I recommend to students today to spend some time in various places — the East coast, in the mid-West, on the West coast, as well as in a foreign country in order to get a good picture of our world and cultures. It’s really important when you are working with the public to be well rounded, knowledgeable, and respectful. And then, try to do what you enjoy!
For more information on NEBAS, Please visit: www.NewEnglandBurialsAtSea.com, Capt. Brad White Direct: (781) 834.0112, toll free (877) 897.7700, email: [email protected], Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/l96ndpe
Header photo: Richard Martin Photography
Featured photo of Capt. White: Jessica Leigh Photography