About Burial At Sea
Burial at sea is the disposal of human remains in the ocean, normally from a ship or boat. It is regularly performed by navies, and is done by private citizens in many countries.
Burial-at-sea services are available at many different locations and with many different customs, either by ship or by aircraft. Usually, either the captain (or commanding officer) of the ship or aircraft or a representative of the religion performs the ceremony.
The ceremony may include burial in a casket, burial sewn in sailcloth, burial in an urn, or scattering of the cremated remains by ship. Burial at sea by aircraft is usually done only with cremated remains. Other types of burial at sea include the mixing of the ashes with concrete and dropping the concrete block to form an artificial reef such as the Atlantis Reef.
Below is a list of religions in alphabetical order that allow burial at sea, with some details of the burial. However, there are always many different beliefs even within the same religion, and views may differ according to those beliefs.
There are very few traditional Buddhist burials at sea. Traditionally, the deceased are cremated and the ashes are placed in a grave or columbarium. Particularly in East Asian or Mahayana Buddhism, a physical gravesite is considered important for the conduct of memorial and ancestor rites. The Buddhist Churches of America, the North American branch of Japanese Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, has created a service for Buddhist burials at sea, primarily for military service members. In Thailand ashes are generally placed in a wreath with lit candles and floated off to sea from a vessel followed by a procession of mourning wreaths, with lit candles also.
Officially, the Roman Catholic Church prefers normal casket burials over cremations, but does allow for cremation subject to the condition that the ashes are entombed or buried. It is not proper to scatter or pour the cremated remains over the sea, water, or on the land. According to the Roman Catholic Church this action does not give due respect to the remains of the deceased, nor does it allow for the closure and healing of family and friends. Likewise they see that the housing the remains with family or friends and not placing the deceased in the ground, does not offer loved ones a specific and sacred place to visit the individual. Visiting the deceased in a holy place provides believers with a space to offer prayers, commune with the those who have gone before them in faith, and reminds them to await the resurrection of their own bodies. Burial at sea in a casket or in an urn is approved for cases where the deceased expired in the sea. The committal prayer number 406§4 is used in this case.
The Anglican Communion has detailed procedures for burial at sea. The ship has to be stopped, and the body has to be sewn in sailcloth, together with two cannon balls for weight. Anglican (and other) chaplains of the Royal Navy bury cremated remains of ex-Naval personnel at sea. Scattering of cremated remains is discouraged, not least for practical reasons.
Many Lutheran naval veterans and seamen prefer to be buried at sea. In those cases either the casket or urn is set to sea, or ashes scattered. The procedure is similar as that with Anglican. Some parishes have specific consecrated sea areas where ashes can be sprinkled.
Traditionally, the deceased are cremated, the bones and ashes are collected, and the ashes/remains are immersed in the Ganges River if possible or in any other river if not.
The sacred texts of Islam prefer burial on land, "so deep that its smell does not come out and the beasts of prey do not dig it out". However, if a person dies at sea and it is not possible to bring the body back to land before decay, or if burial at land becomes impossible, burial at sea is allowed. A weight is tied to the feet of the body, and the body is lowered into the water. This would preferably occur in an area where the remains are not immediately eaten by scavengers. Also, if an enemy may dig up the grave to mutilate the body, it is also allowed to bury the deceased at sea to avoid mutilation.
In the Sunni Fiqh book Umdat al-Salik wa Uddat al-Nasik, the condition for sea burial is:
It is best to bury him (the deceased) in the cemetery... If someone dies on a ship and it is impossible to bury him on land, the body is placed (O: tightly lashed) between two planks (O: to obviate bloating) and thrown into the sea (O: so that it reaches shore, even if the inhabitants are non-Muslims, since a Muslim might find the body and bury it facing the direction of prayer (qibla)).
But others disagree:
[A]fter giving Ghusl, Hunut, Kafan and Namaz-e-Mayyit it should be lowered into the sea in a vessel of clay or with a weight tied to its feet. And as far as possible it should not be lowered at a point where it is eaten up immediately by the sea predators.
Judaism requires prompt burial in the earth, however, some reform Jews do choose cremation and burial at sea.
Burial At Sea Options
Burial at sea is a broad term for disposing of the body in the ocean. Families choose this option for many reasons and it can be a very beautiful and uplifting experience. There are three basic ways to perform a burial at sea: full body burial, burial of the ashes with the urn in the ocean, or scattering the ashes in the ocean. We will discuss these methods of burial at sea and help you choose the right option for you.
The first method of burial at sea is the full body burial. In this method, the full body is either wrapped in a cloth or placed in a casket and lowered into the ocean. The United States allows full body burials in its territorial waters, which is outside of three miles from the coast. It is state territory within three miles. You will need to check with your individual state to see if they allow for a full body burial at sea.
The second method of burial at sea is to place the cremated remains in an urn and lower the urn into the ocean. The urn can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable. With a biodegradable burial at sea urn, the urn will eventually degrade and release the cremated remains that are inside.
The third method used for burial at sea is to scatter the cremated remains in the ocean. This can be done by boat or by airplane. To scatter the cremated remains by boat, the family and friends set out on a voyage to the desired location in the ocean. This usually involves chartering a boat for a few hours. The cremated remains are placed in the water and allowed to descend into the ocean. Family members may be allowed to perform the burial at sea scattering themselves. The boat needs to be placed into the wind and moving at the right speed. If done incorrectly, the ashes may end up back in the boat instead of in the water, so make sure you choose a reputable company with a captain experienced with burial at sea. Keep in mind that a scattering ceremony on a boat may last a few hours.