Caskets to fit growing dimensions

18:27, Feb 14 2012

A funeral director in Blenheim isn't planning on buying a new cremator to accommodate larger coffins just yet.

Caskets had increased in size since Geoffrey T Sowman Funeral Directors opened at the corner of Hutcheson and Parker streets in 1986, manager Barry Hayman said.

Mr Hayman was speaking after reports that a Hawke's Bay crematorium, which is only 12 years old, is already due for replacement partly because it can take coffins only up to 820mm wide, which the region's cemetery manager says is too narrow "by today's standards".

This, combined with the cremator's failing parts, has prompted the manager to look for a new one, probably from the United States and costing about $250,000, to take bigger coffins.

Funeral Directors' Association president Tony Garing said caskets were getting bigger to accommodate bigger citizens.

Mr Hayman said rising levels of obesity was a global issue but the trend for bigger coffins had not hit here yet.


"I think you'll find that most crematoriums in New Zealand are about the same size," he said.

"Really we have no issue getting an over-sized casket into the cremator."

Geoffrey T Sowman Funeral Directors has the only cremator in Marlborough.

"We're not planning to buy a new cremator," Mr Hayman said.

"You get different sizes [of coffins] to suit different people, though."

Mr Garing said the size of a standard casket had increased four times during the past 20 years and was now 570mm wide across the shoulder. "Coffins can be made to fit anybody.

"I'm aware of a funeral director in one North Island town who once or twice a year has a need for a coffin the size of a single bed."

Most modern crematoriums could take the larger coffins, he said, but some oversized caskets were suitable only for burial.

Gavin Murphy, manager of Hutt Valley funeral directors Gee & Hickton, is looking to buy a new and larger cremator. He runs the largest cremator in Wellington, capable of taking 820mm-wide coffins.

"We hope to have a 1-metre-wide one in place by the end of the year," he said. "It's no secret that people are getting bigger. People always look comfortable in a casket if there's space along the sides for mementoes, etc. People tend to prefer larger caskets."

Casket manufacturer Bernard Bellamy, of Windsor Industries in Pahiatua, said caskets were getting bigger to accommodate larger people.

"We've got staff who have been making caskets for decades. Going back a few years, the standard casket size across the shoulders was 19 inches. Now it's 22-23, which ends up at 660mm or 670mm wide on the outside. We've gone up an inch in the last five years."

The biggest casket Windsor makes is more than a metre wide. "Sometimes we just make a rectangle box as close as possible to the required size, " Mr Bellamy said. "Anything that size will not fit in a cremator. They're just for burial."

Larger people are also creating extra pressure on emergency services. St John ambulance is looking to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on specialist gear to transport obese people.


A Health Ministry report in September showed there had been a huge rise in obesity in New Zealand adults in recent decades. In 1977, 9 per cent of males were obese.

In 2008-09 the figure was 27 per cent. Female obesity has increased from 11 per cent to 27.8 per cent during the same period. Obesity is excess weight to the extent that health may be affected.

The Marlborough Express