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Transporting Coffins, Caskets and Bodies

Anyone with a valid driver's licence for the class of motor vehicle that the deceased is being transported in can transport a body in a casket or coffin within New Zealand.

There are no special licences needed to transport a deceased person, unless you are setting up in business as an undertaker or funeral director.

However, there are some special requirements for transporting a deceased person. They are pretty much all "common sense".

Collecting from a Mortuary - or Funeral Director

The Health (Burial) Regulations state: "No person shall remove a dead body from a mortuary except in a coffin or other suitable receptacle of a kind usually used by funeral directors." Thus even if you are picking up a body from a mortuary and travelling straight to the cemetery or crematorium you will need a casket or coffin. Regulation 38.

  • When picking up the body you will be asked to sign a Transfer of charge of body (BDM39) form (the morgue will normally supply it). Have some ID (such as a driver's licence) available, and you will be required to view the body to identify that you are picking up the correct body.

  • If the body has been stored at a funeral director's premises then you should expect to use a casket or coffin to remove it from there. Examples of such situations may be that you are transporting to another part of the country, or are transporting to the cemetery or crematorium yourself.

  • A body should not be "on display" while being transported and placement of the body in a casket or coffin covers that situation.

No Requirement to Line a Casket or Coffin

There is no legal requirement to line a casket or coffin.

  • Biohazard: However there is a requirement to disinfect any soiling in a vehicle that has been fouled by discharge from a casket or coffin. Regulation 35 Thus precautions to take are to ensure that any casket or coffin you use is sealed around its construction seams. The caskets shown elsewhere on this website all use waterproof glues in the seams so that any discharge does not affect the glue. Caskets and Coffins

  • Suggestion for Eco-burials: Caskets and coffins certified for an eco-burial will have no plastic or metal in their manufacture (but nails and screws are allowed in New Zealand!). Eco-coffins are restricted as to what glues can be used (eg. waterproof glues to waterproof seal construction seams do not properly break down in an eco cemetery). This also means that they will not have any plastic liner or plastic (eg. silicon) joint sealant. If the casket or coffin does not have a plastic or metal liner, it is a good idea to place a large plastic sheet under the casket or coffin and fold it up the sides so as to catch any possible leakage.

Health (Burial) Regulations 1946

There are some legal requirements under the Regulations for anyone organising a DIY funeral which are summarised here:

  • Anyone moving a body from a hospital mortuary must use a coffin or other similar receptacle, Regulation 38.
    This for a DIY funeral is when you are picking up the body from the hospital.

  • Anyone moving a body should ensure that there is no leakage out of the casket or coffin, Regulation 35.

  • If there is any leakage there is a requirement that the vehicle is cleaned with an approved disinfectant. Regulation 39.

    • This is common sense really.

  • Anyone having died of a communicable disease must be transported in a sealed, closed coffin or casket, and buried within 48 hours, Regulation 36.

    • This is a situation where open coffin viewing is NOT permitted.
    • Anyone handling the body needs to take very special precautions so as to not catch the disease.
    • You don't want to also kill off the mourners, do you?

The complete wording of the relevant legislation is here: Health (Burial) Regulations 1946 sections 32 to 40.

Other Things to Note

  • Because the deceased is not restrained with belts within the casket, the body can move and make noises while you are driving. As with any load being transported make sure that the casket is secured to stop it also moving. These noises coming from the casket or coffin can be disconcerting if you are not expecting them!

  • It is also a good idea to also ensure that there is adequate fresh air in the vehicle to dispell any any gasses given off while being transported (yes, the body can break wind and expel gas).

    • For example, the body will have been be chilled (not frozen) at the hospital mortuary, and as it is warming up in the transport vehicle gasses can expand and cause the body to break wind.

  • For a DIY Funeral a large stationwagon or a van is probably the most practical vehicle.

    • The regulations are NOT specific about the type of vehicle being used to transport a body, so the Regulations cover ALL types of vehicles, including boats and trailers.
    • Check the measurements of the vehicle before you turn up somewhere to collect the coffin!

  • For a longer journey (to keep the body chilled over a number of hours) you may consider packing the casket with bags of party ice or using dry ice.

    • If using dry ice - ensure that the vehicle is VERY WELL VENTILATED. As the dry ice turns to CO2 gas it could starve the driver of air and cause them to lose consciousness while driving.
    • If using party ice - ensure that there are no leaks in the bags as the ice turns to water!

Commercial Freight Forwarders

Land transport freight forwarders (eg trucking companies or couriers) normally will not transport caskets or coffins containing deceased persons. If you don't want to do long distance travel, Funeral Directors will do it, usually at a substantial price.

International Post

Human remains, including cremation ashes, are NOT permitted to travel by post through Customs.

Air Transport of Ashes

There are various methods for returning the ashes, which include air freight, courier service or even as hand luggage on the aircraft with an accompanying person as long as all the documentation is in order.

  • However, check with Customs and make any necessary arrangements before having any ashes consigned or heading off overseas to pick up the container of ashes.
  • Also make arrangements with the airline BEFORE you turn up at the airport with a container of ashes to bring back to New Zealand. Different airlines have their own protocols and if you do not follow them you may not be permitted to board the aircraft.

Air Transport of Deceased Persons

Airlines refer to the transport of a deceased person in a casket or coffin as H.R. (human remains).
There are considerably more requirements to be met for International air transport than for Domestic air travel.

The following notes are intended only as a guide to head you in the right direction, they are not intended to be fully comprehensive.

Air New Zealand will only accept H.R. for transport from funeral directors, New Zealand District Health Boards (DHBs) or the New Zealand Police.

Air New Zealand will not accept consignment of H.R. from the general public, although anyone organising a DIY funeral can pick up the H.R. from the destination cargo depot.

Domestic Air Transport of Human Remains (not ashes)

Air New Zealand does NOT require that the body is embalmed for domestic flights. Click on for information.

International Air Transport of Human Remains (not ashes)

This is when you hope that the deceased had Travel Insurance that covered repatriation.
Also pre-paid funeral plans are mainly domestic, not international.

Repatriation can be a complicated process - each country has its own regulations and procedures that must be followed, as well as international rules that must be complied with when transporting human remains.
For international flights the body must be embalmed (preserved - not just cosmetics), sealed in a casket that meets international shipping regulations, and also accompanied by the correct documentation. The casket travels in the cargo hold of the aircraft.

Normally there needs to be a high level of co-ordination between a New Zealand funeral director and also an overseas funeral director. For example, embalming requirements vary from country to country, but must also meet New Zealand standards. The overseas funeral director has to certify that the correct embalming has happened and that a casket appropriate for international shipping regulations is being consigned. There is also a raft of legal and Customs paperwork, which can vary from country to country.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Belmont.