The Burial at sea ceremony is an ancient form of disposing of human remains in the ocean, usually from a ship. It is a common ceremony performed by navy officers, but nowadays it can also be done by anyone.
Origins of ancient burials at sea ceremonies
There is not a single point of origin for this type of burial, as this type of ceremony has been recorded throughout history in different cultures and in many places around the world. For example, in the South Pacific, bodies were wrapped in a red cloth and set out to sea in a canoe, while people in India who practice Hinduism have historically cremated their dead on the shores of the Ganges River.
The ceremony in more recent times
The burial at sea ceremony has existed as long as people have lived by and traveled the sea. When sea travel became more sophisticated, the ceremonies became a necessity during long sea journeys. In such journeys, when it was unknown how long it would be before they made it to dry land, the British developed a unique ritual: the ship’s sailmaker would stitch the bodies into a weighted veil. Later, in the 19th Century, the dead sailor’s hammock would be used instead. The body would be shot with lead to make it heavy and make sure it sank to the bottom of the sea. A religious ceremony was performed by the ship’s captain. After the ceremony is over, the body would be thrown overboard.
In more recent times, sea burials took place during WWII, and nowadays, many navy officers, veterans and their relatives have decided to be buried at sea when they pass.
In the U.S., anyone who chooses to do so can have their ashes scattered at sea. However, if the burial ceremony involves a full body, it is necessary to arrange the appropriate preparations to make sure the body or the coffin sink swiftly, and the regulations require that the site where the body will be left, is at least 3.4 miles from mainland and has depth of at least 600 feet.
Why do people decide to be buried at sea?
An individual’s final resting place is a very personal decision. Some want to be buried at sea because they are deeply attached to it, such as navy officers and sailors, while others feel this is a very romantic way to go. In other cases, people decide to choose sea burials because it is a “green” way to take care of one’s remains. Whichever the reason, it is important to honor that person’s life and wishes with a beautiful ceremony.
Burial At Sea, Naval History and Heritage Command
History Hole, The Ancient Traditions of Water Burials