BURIAL AT SEA
History And Rules
Bodies have been committed to the ocean depths for centuries. Despite the honor associated with the tradition, many Americans are unaware that this type of burial is available to them.
Human remains may be buried at sea in accordance with regulations based on the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuary Act. Burial at sea refers to both the sinking of bodies or inurned cremains, as well as the scattering of cremains on the water’s surface. You must contact the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, or the civil authority under whose jurisdiction the water burial falls, so as to ensure that you obtain the necessary burial permits. If you are unsure as to the appropriate civil authority where you live, contact your state’s Office of the Attorney General.
The U.S. Navy will perform sea burials for veterans and their eligible dependents, while the U.S. Coast Guard performs such burials for civilians as well. Sea burial of non-cremated human remains must take place at least 3 nautical miles from shore and the water at the burial location must be a minimum of 100 fathoms (600 feet) deep. The remains must be weighted so as to sink quickly to the bottom and be held there.
Cremated remains are not subject to these depth requirements provided that the burial takes place 3 nautical miles or more from land.
Flowers and other readily decomposable tributes may accompany the burial, either left floating on the water’s surface or weighted to rest with the remains.
We Came From The Sea And Return To The Sea
For those with close ties to the sea, such a burial may offer a fitting final resting place and, as such, give comfort to surviving family and friends. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, in a speech delivered in 1962: “…we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
Inland Water Burials
Burial in inland waters is subject to conditions specified in the Clean Water Act, and a permit will be required from the appropriate state agency. A water burial must be reported to the Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator within 30 days of its occurrence. The agency will require such information as the deceased’s name, the date of the burial, the nature of the remains, the nautical coordinates of the burial location, the vessel’s name and the port from which it departed carrying the remains, and a report as to whether, in the case of non-cremated remains, the body sank rapidly.