Arranging a Burial at Sea

by MSO

Members of the U.S. Navy ceremonial guard hold an American flag over the ashes of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong during a burial at sea service on board the USS Philippine Sea (CG-58), on Friday, September 14, 2012, in the Atlantic Ocean. Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, died on Saturday, 25 August. He was 82. Photo by: NASA

Vikings were placed on their ships which were then set ablaze; ancient Egyptians set their dead on papyrus rafts that were floated out to sea and in the South Pacific deceased fishermen were placed in canoes where they sailed for eternity. Burial at sea is possibly one of the oldest methods for disposing of the body of the deceased. Although no records are available, this practice was probably initiated by the ancient mariners as a means of disposing of the dead when they were often at sea for weeks at a time.

In earlier days, bodies were sewn into a shroud, usually made of sailcloth. The bodies were weighted with rocks or cannonballs to ensure that the body didn’t float back up to the surface. Today caskets can be used but countries have different laws regarding the preparation of the casket and many will not let a body that has been embalmed be buried at sea. Scattering ashes at sea has become the more popular alternative.

Burial at sea is still quite a common practice, although it is usually preferred today by veterans, military service members and military family members most recently like Neil Armstrong who died in 2012 and had his ashes scattered in the Atlantic Ocean. However celebrities such as Alfred Hitchcock, Dick Clark, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Janis Joplin all wanted their ashes scattered at sea – a return to the water from where we are said to have evolved. Today there are many private companies in the US that will provide burial at sea services.

There are many regulations that must be adhered to when conducting a burial at sea. Your chosen funeral home can make the necessary arrangements.

1. Preparation for burial. Human remains shall be prepared for burial at sea and buried in accordance with accepted practices and requirements as may be deemed appropriate and desirable by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, or civil authority charged with the responsibility for making such arrangements.  For example, local health departments may require burial or cremation permits.

2. Disposal location and measures. Non-cremated remains. Burial at sea of human remains that are not cremated shall take place at least 3 nautical miles from land and in water at least 600 feet deep.  All necessary measures shall be taken to ensure that the remains sink to the bottom rapidly and permanently.

3. Disposal location and measures. Cremated remains. Cremated remains shall be buried in or on ocean waters without regard to the depth limitations specified for non-cremated remains in paragraph 2 above provided that such burial take place at least 3 nautical miles from land.

4. Decomposable flowers and wreaths. Flowers and wreaths consisting of materials that are readily decomposable in the marine environment may be placed at the burial site.

5. Notice to EPA within 30 days. All burials conducted shall be reported within 30 days to the EPA Region in writing.


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