Disposition Options

Burial at Sea - Scattering of Ashes and Whole Body

There are two forms of burial at sea, full body burials and scattering of cremated remains over an ocean or body of water.

1 "Buried" at Sea by scattering of cremated remains (called cremains or ashes)

Cremated remains can be scattered from a boat over an ocean or other body of water. This is one version of a burial at sea.

Some states require the cremated remains literally be scattered over the water; other states allow the use of a scattering urn.

A water-soluble Scattering Urn can enhance the scattering experience. These urns are specifically designed to gradually disperse the ashes. Ashes cast directly into the water will often blow back at the boat and cling to the sides of the boat. This can be both frustrating and unsightly. A water-soluble scattering urn usually will float for several minutes then slowly sink where it will degrade or melt. The survivors will often toss flowers or petals as a tribute as the urn drifts away.

You do not need to live by the ocean to have cremated remains scattered into an ocean. Cremated remains can be mailed to a scattering company, which will provide the service. Often, the company will provide a video recording of the scattering for those unable to attend.

2 Whole Body Burials at Sea

Full body burials require specific preparation to ensure that the body or coffin sinks quickly. The body may be wrapped in a sail cloth, shroud or contained in a casket. If in a casket, the casket is prepared by having holes drilled into it so that it will sink upon contact with the water.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulations for full body burials at sea in the USA require that the site of internment be three (3) nautical miles (3.5 mi / 5.6 km) from land and at a depth of at least 600 feet (180 m).

There are several private companies that provide full body burial at sea services. The US Navy also provides this service to qualified service members and their families. For information on the Navy's Burial at Sea Program call (866) 787-0081 or visit the Navy Personnel Command webpage dedicated to the Burial at Sea Program.

The ceremony is performed while the ship is deployed, and consequently civilians are not allowed to be present. In the USA, eligible for a free Navy burial at sea are:

  • Active duty members of the uniformed services
  • Honorably discharged retirees and veterans
  • Military Sealift Command U.S. civilian marine personnel
  • Family members of the above

In preparation, the officer calls, "All hands bury the dead", the ship is stopped if possible, with flags on half mast, and the crew is assembled, including firing squad, casket bearers and bugler. The crew stands at parade rest at the beginning of the ceremony. The coffin is covered with a flag, and carried feet first on deck by the casket bearers and placed on a stand, with the feet overboard. In case of cremated remains, the urn is brought on deck and put on a stand.

After the ceremony, the firing party is ordered, "Firing party, present arms." The casket bearers tilt the platform with the casket, so that the casket slides off the platform into the ocean. The flag is retained on board.

In case of cremated remains, there is the option to bury the remains including the urn similar to the procedure used for caskets.

The firing squad fires three volleys, the bugler plays Taps, and flowers may also be dropped into the ocean. After the flag is folded, the ceremony ends. The relatives will be informed of the time and location of the burial, and given photos and video recordings if available.