Burial at Sea

A unique funeral option

Burial at sea is another alternative, chosen as part of many people's funeral planning arrangements. Of course, burial at sea is also done if someone dies at sea and it's impractical to return to shore. The U.S. Navy (and any other Navies, too) has a long history of burying officers at sea, especially during wartime. Personalized funerals such as peacetime burials at sea are also common.

Burials at sea can be presided over by the captain of the ship or by a representative of the religion of the deceased. There are some regulations concerning burial at sea that must be followed, so proper investigation is necessary if you are considering this option.

Types of Burial at Sea

Burial at sea may include burial in a casket, burial sewn in sailcloth, burial in an urn or scattering of cremated remains. Of these types, it's far easier to scatter cremated ashes than it is to bury a body at sea. 

Regulations and Laws

Bodies can be buried at sea in the United States if the location is at least 600 feet deep. Ashes of a cremated body must be scattered at least three miles from shore, although there are exceptions to this rule. In Great South Bay , New York , for example, it's legal to drop ashes from the dock.

In the US , Section 229.1 of the Environmental Protection Agency Regulations covers burial at sea. The rule is as follows:

  1. It's legal for anyone owning or operating a boat or plane registered in the United States to transport human remains for the purpose of burial.

  2. The body has to be prepared for a burial at sea according to the requirements of the United States Navy, Coast Guard or civil authority responsible for the arrangements.

  3. If the remains aren't cremated they have to be taken at least three nautical miles from land and can't be buried in water less than one hundred fathoms or six hundred feet deep. You have to take precautions to be sure that the remains will sink to the bottom quickly and permanently.

  4. If the remains are cremated, they can be buried in any depth of water as long as it's at least three nautical miles from land.

  5. Flowers and wreaths can be left at the site of disposal as long as they're decomposable in water.

  6. A burial at sea has to be reported to the Regional Administrator of the Region within 30 days.

US Navy Burial at Sea

A burial at sea can also be covered by provisions of the US Navy for the following:

  1. active duty members of the uniformed services

  2. retirees and veterans who were honorably discharged

  3. U.S. civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command

  4. dependent family members of active duty personnel, retirees, and veterans of the uniformed services

Points of embarkation for a U.S. navy burial at sea are Norfolk, Virginia: Jacksonville, Florida: Corpus Christi, Texas; San Diego, California; Bremerton, Washington; Honolulu, Hawaii.

Who Else is Out There

Some famous people who have been buried at sea include Janis Joplin, L. Ron Hubbard, Dennis Wilson (the Beach Boys), Ingrid Bergman, Steve McQueen and Jerry Garcia.

A more unusual kind of burial at sea is the creation of a concrete block to become part of an artificial reef, which just goes to show that burial at sea and other non-traditional memorials are becoming increasingly popular.

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