After the loss of a loved one, our only desire is to honor them and their memory in the best way possible. We want to bid them farewell in a manner that reflects who they were and how they lived their lives. We also try to fulfill their final wishes if they documented or shared any before death. That is why funerals are conducted differently because it is meant to be tailored according to the deceased.
One of the different elements of a funeral is the disposition method. Among the methods is a burial at sea. Although it is not as popular as burials on land, it is a unique way of honoring the memory of a loved one. It especially applies if the deceased spent most of his/her life at sea, or had a strong connection to the sea.
There are, however, many regulations that surround such a burial. In this post, we will discuss important details related to burials at sea, to prepare you in case you or a loved one wishes to have such a funeral.
What You Need to Know About Burial at Sea.
There is a long history when it comes to burials at sea. It is a practice that dates as far back as the Viking ages, possibly further. At the time burials at sea was a practice reserved for honored warriors and kings.
It was believed that the sea was a passage between the world of the living and the dead. Therefore, burying a deceased in the sea was seen as a symbol of the end of the physical life and the re-birth of a spiritual one.
This practice has been noted throughout history, with Greeks, Egyptians, and modern countries today.
Today the practice is done as a commemoration of the deceased life. It is a personalized way of disposing of the remains of a loved one. Although it is not the most common practice, it is performed in many countries around the world. There are, however, two main factors that affect burials at sea:
Religious beliefs play a huge role when it comes to funerals, including burials at sea. For some religions like Hinduism, the practice is a part of the funeral rituals and must be performed. The cremated remains of a loved one are meant to be submerged or scattered in River Ganges or any sacred water body.
Most Christian denominations are not opposed to the idea of burying a loved one’s body or cremains at sea. It is, however, not their preferred method. With Anglicans, there are specific requirements like the body should be buried whole, sewn in a canvas, and properly weighted.
Other religions like Islam and Judaism are against such burials unless it is necessary. Like in circumstances where the body is at sea and there is no way to get it on land for what they consider a proper burial. You, therefore, need to consider your religion before deciding on a burial at sea.
There are a lot of laws regulating burials at sea. These laws may differ based on the country, in terms of who is permitted to be buried at sea, what is required, and how the burial should take place. There certain legal bodies that govern these regulations.
In the US burials at sea are governed by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while in Australia the Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping) Act regulates the practice.
In most countries including the US, not a lot of attention is given to scattering the ashes in the sea as opposed to burying the body whole.
For the latter, there are more requirements to be met. They are also specific locations set aside for burials at sea, especially when it’s a whole body.
Before planning a burial at sea, it is best to consult and find out the laws and requirements in your state about the practice. That way you won’t risk violating any laws.
Types of Burials at Sea.
When it comes to Burying at sea, there are two common ways of disposing of the remains of the deceased. The following are those two ways:
Full Body Burial at Sea
As the name suggests, this type of burial at sea involves the immersion of the deceased’s full body into the water.
As mentioned, there were a lot of regulations surrounding this method. In the US, these regulations may vary by state based on whether the state adds additional regulations to what the Environmental Protection Agency has set up. Every state, however, must adhere to the EPA regulations.
To begin with, the body should not be embalmed or preserved using any form of chemicals, this is because the chemicals would pollute the water and be a danger to marine life.
Additionally, the body must be placed in a special coffin that meets the requirements of EPA. For instance, the coffins must be properly weighted and made of biodegradable material, not plastic. Moreover, there should be even holes drilled at the bottom of the coffin, to help with the sinking.
Usually, the family must hire a company, specialized in performing such burials. Your funeral director should be able to guide you as to which company is the best. The company will offer transport to the legal site where burials are allowed to take place at sea.
It should be at least 15 miles from shore where the water should be at least 18,000+ft deep. A funeral service can be conducted as usual. Afterwards, the casket or coffin is lowered into the water and should immediately sink.
Families are allowed to throw flowers into the water after the coffin has been immersed. It is then customary for the ship to circle the burial site three times and blow the horn in honor of the deceased.
The whole process normally should take less than three hours. As the family, you are, however, allowed to add any special request if you have any.
Scattering Ashes at Sea.
Due to the strict regulations that govern full-body burial at sea, most people prefer cremating the body and scattering the ashes. With scattering, you have more freedom especially when it comes to the location.
You can pick somewhere special that meant something to the deceased as long as it is not privately owned land. The laws regulating the scattering of ashes at sea are not as strict, nonetheless, some regulations must be adhered to.
Firstly, before scattering the ashes, the family must notify the EPA 30 days in advance. On the day of the scattering, it should be done at least 3 nautical miles from the shore. It should be at a public beach or shore unless you’re the owner of the private beach.
Anything else that is thrown into the water with the ashes should be biodegradable. Since some families may want to submerge the urn along with the ashes, it must be made of biodegradable material.
The ceremony that accompanies the scattering of the ashes will depend on the deceased’s final wishes or the family’s preference. A funeral director doesn’t have to be present as with the full-body burial. It can be a private event with just family members and close friends.
Requesting a Burial at Sea in the US.
There are two main ways of requesting burial at sea in the US. You can either go through the US Navy or a Civilian Charter company. Either way, there are specific regulations to be followed through each. Both will, however, provide you with the date, time, and place for the committal.
For a normal civilian who wishes to have a burial at sea either for yourself or for a loved one, it’s advisable to use a company that’s licensed and an official burial at sea provider.
This way, you can be sure that the vessel they provide you with for the funeral meets the Coast Guard inspection for safety and comfort. You can also be sure that all the EPA regulations have been met.
You have the option of picking the vessel that best suits your ad your family as well as the needs for the funeral. You can pick a vessel small enough for just the immediate family if you want a more private occasion.
Alternatively, there are options for larger vessels that can accommodate the family and other guests and charter you to the desired location. According to EPA standards that should be at least 3 nautical miles from shore where the water is at least 100ft deep.
You can choose to either have a full-body burial or scatter the ashes in the sea. For a full-body burial, a licensed funeral director needs to be hired to oversee the care of the body until the burial.
They should ensure that the body is cared for using non-chemicals and that the coffin or burial vessel used is made using bio-degradable material. If you opt for scattering the ashes instead, then a funeral director is not necessary.
You can simply conduct your ceremony on the vessel and scatter the ashes after. Still, ensure that whatever is thrown into the sea with the ashes, including the urn and flowers, should be biodegradable.
Regardless of the type of burial at sea, you decide on, the company will offer you a certificate at the end of it. The certificate will contain information like the time date as well as the longitude and latitude of burial at sea.
Naval Military Vessel.
For a military or marine, burial at sea is a great way of honoring their memory. As part of the army force, they have the option of requesting the burial through the US Navy. That means that the vessel used for the burial is the Naval military vessel.
Normally, the vessel is active and deployed at the time of the committal ceremony therefore family members cannot be on the ship.
The commanding officer who is in charge of conducting the ceremony usually sends the family a personal letter with the date-time longitude and latitude of where the ceremony will be performed.
Photos taken during the ceremony will also be shared with the family. Some family members, however, opt to hire a civilian vessel and position it nearby so they can observe the ceremony.
Similar to the burials on land, all military honors including flying the flag half-mast and closing of colors are included in the ceremony.
To request a burial at sea through the Navy, the applicants require certain documents. These documents include a copy of the death certificate and a cremation certificate or burial transit permit.
You will also need a copy of the discharge certificate if the deceased was a veteran and to fill a burial at sea request form.
Not everyone is eligible for it. Those eligible include military who died on active duty or veterans or retirees with an honorable discharge. Civilian personnel from the Military Sea Lift Command and a dependent of a military or veteran/retiree are also eligible for this type of burial.
For veterans and immediate family members, the Navy offers a free burial service at sea. There are, however, certain restrictions. It’s important to keep up with the benefits that may change over time.
EPA Requirements for Burial or Scattering at Sea.
The following is a summary of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) requirements for conducting a burial at sea:
- The vessel for the ceremony should be taken at least 3 nautical miles where the water is at least 600ft deep for burying a full body or scattering the ashes.
- The EPA must receive a notice 30 days in advance from the family or whoever is applying for a burial at sea.
- Remains of the deceased should not contain any chemicals or toxic elements.
- Coffins or urns used must be biodegradable as well as the flowers or anything thing else thrown in the water along with the remains.
- Only human remains are allowed to be buried at sea, other remains like pets are not allowed.
A burial at sea is a very unique way of laying a loved one to rest. It is significant especially if the deceased had a strong connection with the sea. Given the regulations involved, it is better to start planning for it in advance. You can consult official service providers for burial at sea, to offer guidance on the right procedures to follow.