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For some, there's a certain allure to the idea of a burial-at-sea. Johnathan Pryor, in the 2008 academic paper "Interment without Earth: A Study of Sea Burials during the Age of Sail", shared this descriptive journal entry written by Lt. Frederick Perry in 1876,

"His body was reverently carried into the carpenter’s shop and was laid out on the bench.The sail maker and the carpenter prepared it for burial by washing and dressing him up in his best suit of “go-ashore” clothes, then sewing him up in a heavy piece of new canvas for a shroud, and with a couple of old iron cable shackles fastened at his feet, they laid the body on the sliding board, covered with the ship’s ensign, to await burial ..."

Literature is full of descriptive images of burial-at sea. There's the image of the royal sea burial of Sheafson, king of the Danes, in the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, and the sea burials of seaman Claggart and the title character Billy, in Herman Melville's Billy Budd. And there's the quietly beautiful passage, from William Golding's Lord of the Flies: "Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon's...body moved out toward the open sea."

Interestingly enough, it is possible to obtain a sea burial even if you're not in the service of your country. However, it can be very difficult, time-consuming and expensive to pursue such a burial-at-sea. This is because the practice is heavily regulated by the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency. Basically, these are their guidelines (for whole-body burial-at-sea, as well as the sea burial of cremated remains):

  1. Human remains shall be prepared and buried in accordance with accepted practices and requirements as deemed appropriate by authorities responsible for the arrangements.
  2. Burial of non-cremated remains shall take place no closer than three (3) nautical miles from land and in water which is not less than six hundred feet deep.
  3. All steps should be taken to ensure the physical remains sink quickly (and permanently) to the bottom.
  4. Cremated remains shall be buried without regard to depth limitations; however the three (3) nautical mile limit from shore remains in effect.
  5. Flowers and/or wreaths must be readily decomposable in this marine environment.
  6. All sea burials (whether of cremated remains or of the whole body) shall be reported within thirty (30) days to the EPA Regional Administrator of the region or locality where the vessel departed from shore.

For additional information on Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing sea burials, we encourage you to visit their website.

What's Involved in a Military Sea Burial?

According to the U.S. Navy Personnel Command, a military sea burial is performed onboard a U.S. Navy vessel, at a time of deployment (which means family members are not able to be present). However, "the commanding officer of the ship assigned to perform the ceremony will notify the family of the date, time, and longitude and latitude once the committal service has been completed."

Who is Eligible?

Naval command identifies the following individuals as being eligible for sea burial:
(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

Here's something you may find interesting (and valuable) about naval sea burial: dependent family members of active duty personnel, retirees, and veterans of the uniformed services are also eligible for a naval burial-at-sea.

How to Arrange a Military Burial-at-Sea

Here's how to begin the process of arranging a naval sea burial: call us at (519) 941-1392. It's that easy; we've had considerable experience dealing with government agencies responsible for the performance of military honors at funerals and memorial services, and burials-at-sea. We will need the involvement of what the government calls the PADD, or "Person Authorized to Direct Disposition" (usually a family member, identified on the basis of the accepted order-of-precedence who is responsible for service and disposition arrangements–or the individual noted in a Record of Emergency Data form).  

Together we will complete the requisite paperwork, and provide all required supporting documents, including:

(1) A photocopy of the death certificate

(2) The burial transit permit or the cremation certificate

(3) A copy of the DD Form 214, discharge certificate, or retirement order.

We will submit the completed packet to the proper authorities on your behalf, and handle all the logistical details.

On another note; anyone who wishes a military burial-at-sea who is in the process of completing a funeral pre-plan should put his or her preference in writing, (as in a will or other legally-executed document).

Let Us Help

After the death of a loved one, there really isn't a need for you to feel isolated, alone and unsupported. That's because we're here to assist you and your family with all the necessary steps in providing his or her final care. Whether your need is for a military sea burial, or you simply wish to arrange for private maritime ash scattering service, we can certainly help. Call us at (519) 941-1392 to discover the ways we can help you make arrangements for a burial-at-sea.

Online Sources:

Pryor, Johnathan, "Interment without Earth: A Study of Sea Burials during the Age of Sail", Duke University, 2008, accessed 2014

Navy Personnel Command, "Burial-at-Sea", updated 2014, accessed 2014