Though sailors have honored the tradition of burying their dead at sea for centuries, a trend in sea burials has only recently developed among civilians—not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well.
The reasons people find it to be a fitting form of burial vary. For some, it is an extension of their loved one’s affinity for the sea. For others, it represents the novelty of being buried in such an eco-friendly manner, reflecting the way a person may have lived. Others simply see burials at sea as more economical and less complex than embalmings, services, interments, motorcades, or wakes.
One thing is certain: No matter what the underlying reason, the percentage of those finding the appeal of sea burials is growing at a steady rate.
How Burials at Sea Work
Even though it is fast becoming part of the popular culture, burials at sea still need to follow the stringent codes dictated by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard or the civil authority charged with overseeing such arrangements in your area. Some jurisdictions even require a permit from the local health department before allowing you to bury your dead in the sea.
Currently, there are three acceptable ways to bury the dead in the sea: the full body burial, the scattering of ashes (cremation), and reef burial.
For cremated remains, the process is quite simple. The ashes must be placed in an urn or a biodegradable container while shipping. The distance of scattering the remains is still 3 nautical miles from land, but without any depth restrictions.
For the full body or intact remains, specific guidelines need to be met. For example, in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations, all necessary measures must be taken to ensure that the body will sink rapidly and permanently. For this reason, the body should either be put in a metal casket or in a weighted shroud. The general rule requires the body to be buried 3 nautical miles from land and at a depth of at least 600 feet, but some states require a stricter measure that requires the depth to be at least 1,800 feet.
Those who want to help the environment, even after death, usually choose the reef burial. In this case, the remains are cremated and mixed with cement to lie at the bottom of the sea and become new habitat for aquatic animals. Though this method is still largely experimental, without definitive findings for its effectiveness, many environmentalists are captivated by this idea.
The Universal Appeal of Burials at Sea
Most recently, burials at sea have enamored people of various religions, specifically the Hindus and Buddhists who wish to offer the descendants more freedom to pay respect for the dead. Yet, even Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims see the beauty and appeal of being sent to the next life through the sea.
Even if it is not for religious or sentimental reasons, some people still choose this novel option, since it is less expensive and complex than a traditional funeral. Unlike the old-fashioned burial, in which you need to purchase a small parcel of land to be buried, all you need for sea burials are the required permits and a private boat charter to take you to your loved one’s final resting place.
For multiple reasons, the number of those inclined to be buried at the bottom of the wide, open sea is bound to increase in coming years.
After Death: 8 Burial Alternatives That Are Going Mainstream, LiveScience.com
United States Navy Mortuary Affairs Burial At Sea Program, Navy.mil
Burial of Human Remains At Sea, EPA.gov