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All you need to know about Burials at Sea and Burials by Boat

What is a burial at sea?

A burial at sea is the disposal of final remains in the ocean, which is typically done from a ship or boat; however, can also be done by plane. It’s a unique form of burial than many cultures still do today with different traditions throughout time.

It is an alternative to traditional burial and is legal in the U.S. within certain guidelines. Burial at sea is more common among active duty members and Navy veterans than among civilians and is often less expensive than in-ground burial.  It could also be an appealing choice to those with a special attachment to the ocean. Rules for disposal differ depending on the method.

For all the information on what to know about the cost, legal regulations and logistics for a burial at sea:

How does a burial by boat work?

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), disposal must take place at least three nautical miles from shore.
  • Remains can be in a casket, a burial shroud, a cremation urn or loose ashes to be scattered.
  • According to the EPA, efforts should be made to ensure that remains sink quickly and permanently, and the EPA provides instructions for each method, such as adding weight to a burial shroud or drilling holes in a casket so water can enter.

Burial at Sea: Today

Unsurprisingly, protecting the environment is a central concern when it comes to contemporary sea burials. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency regulations state that burials at sea require the burial “site”  to be at least three nautical miles (3.5 miles) from land, and at a depth of at least 600 feet. Some states have even more specific regulations about how far from shore these burials can take place– all depending on the depth of the water in certain areas. For instance, off of the Eastern coast of the United States, the closest sufficient depths are off Miami (5 miles) and Long Island (75 miles). This means that, in some cases, you would be required to travel more than 30 miles into the ocean to find a burial site!

Burial at sea

Burial at Sea provided by friskyboattours.com

Spreading cremations Pensacola beach

        EPA Requirements

Burial at Sea: Additional options

While full body burial at sea may not be available to just anyone but scattering ashes can be a different story. You could choose to buy a biodegradable urn that will sink to the bottom of the sea. Another option are Eternal Reefs. This company offers to turn cremated remains into a living ocean reef. Their reef balls remain fixed to the ocean floor and become vital habitat for marine life.  We have conducted such burials with Eternal Reefs.com in the past and they are a great resource.

Eternal Reefs create permanent living legacies, memorializing the passing of a loved one.

For families and individuals that choose cremation, Eternal Reefs offers a unique memorial choice that replaces cremation urns and ash scatterings with a permanent environmental living legacy. It is both a gift to the environment and to future generations.

Families and friends are invited and encouraged to participate in the creation of their loved one’s memorial reef as much as they wish. From placing hand prints and memorabilia in the damp concrete during the casting, making a rubbing of the bronze plaque during the viewing ceremony, placing a flag on your loved one’s memorial reef during military honors, or boating to the placement site to watch the Eternal Reef be deployed to its final ocean rest, all activities at an Eternal Reefs project are designed to be a positive experience and provide peace of mind for everyone involved.  For more information click here: Eternal Reefs

A little lagniappe:

Could include scattering petals and flowers over the water once the ashes have been scattered or a memorial biodegradable wreath.  Create a playlist with Classical music associated with the sea such as Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture or Debussy’s La Mer can also be incredibly beautiful or go casual with our traditional upbeat Island music.

Listen to or read poetry associated with the sea:

The Full Sea Rolls And Thunders

William Ernest Henley

The full sea rolls and thunders
In glory and in glee.
O, bury me not in the senseless earth
But in the living sea!

Ay, bury me where it surges
A thousand miles from shore,
And in its brotherly unrest
I’ll range for evermore.

Alone I Will Not Be 

by: Captain Chad Theesfeld,

My comfort will come from the sea.
The stillness of calm waves will gently drift by
I will be as one with the sea.

When the sun sets on the ocean blue, remember me as I will always remember you.
As the sun rises…go live life as full as can be
Apart…you and me…but be at peace for I am free.

There are many ways you can say goodbye, some of which our Captain and Crew handle to put your mind at ease.

Burial at Sea: Military

For many sailors and Marines, there is no more honored choice and tradition for their mortal remains than a military burial at sea. Since the burial is from an active military ship, family members are not able to attend the ceremony in person. Family members choose to observe the ceremony from a civilian ship such as Frisky Mermaid that is positioned nearby. For families who want to attend the service, civilian organizations offer burial at sea from a civilian vessel. That’s us.

Military burial at sea

Burial at sea for Coast Guardsman Julius T. Petrella KIA aboard the USCGC Spencer 17th.

Historically, British seamen (in particular, the British Navy) found it necessary to perform burials at sea. This practice stood in contrast to practices of the Spanish and French, who would prefer to keep the bodies of the deceased onboard until they reached a port of entry where they could anchor and perform earth burials.

Sailors have historically been superstitious people, so it comes as no surprise that there are a number of superstitions associated with burials at sea. A common superstition amongst sailors was that sea birds carried the souls of dead sailors to the afterlife, which also meant that it was extremely unlucky to do such birds any harm.

Famous Mates Buried at Sea

Believe it or not, a burial at sea is not only one of the oldest ceremonies associated with death, but it still occurs today all around the world.  Most recently many recall when the U.S. Military placed Osama Bin Laden’s body in a metal coffin and into the Arabian Sea.

From explorers to performers lots of famous people have had sea burials throughout history:

·     Sir Frances Drake

(1956): his ashes were scattered off the coast of Portobelo in Panama, South America.

·     Alfred Hitchcock

(1899–1980): his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

·     Steve McQueen

(1930–1980): was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

·     Vincent Price

(1911–1993): his ashes scattered off Point Dume in Malibu, California.

·     Gene Kelly

(1912–1996): cremated ashes scattered in the sea.

·     John F. Kennedy Jr.

(1960–1999): ashes were scattered into the Atlantic Ocean by the U.S. Navy off Martha’s Vineyard.

·     Robin Williams

(1951–2014): was cremated the day after his death, and his ashes were scattered in San Francisco Bay.

·     Janis Joplin

(1970): the american singer-songwriter, had her ashes scattered from a plane along Stinson beach.

Some Burial at Sea History

History of Burials at Sea in Ancient Times: Romans, Greeks and Egyptians

Burials at sea can be traced back thousands of years, with recorded instances of sea burials dating back as far as the ancient civilizations of the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians. Sea burial was considered a common funerary practice alongside other traditions practiced in these societies. Though all of these ancient civilizations gave preference to burial in tombs, there were still occasions which necessitated a sea burial. In particular, deaths during battle, when the dead were far from home especially when conducting an earth burial would not be possible for obvious reasons.

Burial at Sea

Ancient Roman Naval Ship

History of Burials at Sea in Ancient Times: The Vikings

Perhaps the most famous example of a civilization that practiced sea burials were the Vikings. The infamy of the Vikings’ ship burial is in part a result of their invasion of the British Isles in 700 A.D. Their “ship burials”, as they are called now, involved the use of an entire naval ship as a container for the dead and the various traditional objects buried with them. These kinds of burials can be traced back in Scandinavia to the Iron Age, and are featured prominently in the Norse Sagas.

These sagas also speak of ashes being scattered over the sea, and of Viking ships being set on fire and pushed out to sea to be consumed by the flames. It should be noted that ship burials often took place on land, with the ship either cremated or interred under a burial mound. One would probably not want to argue with a Viking about the technicality of a sea burial on land.

A boat on fire in water Description automatically generated

Recreation of a Viking Burial

  • Cruise Time: 7:30am-10:30am
From $1,499

When you release your loved one’s cremains into the ocean, you’re not saying goodbye.  It’s “letting go”, creating that “special place of memory”  and “celebrating your loved one’s freedom.”   Frisky Mermaid also understands that many of our families choose to consider ecological values (Biodegradable/Green Urns) when making their end-of-life arrangements and will assist accordingly.