When Are People Buried at Sea?
Burial at sea is the disposal of human remains in the ocean, normally from a ship or boat. Although burials at sea are much less common than in the days of sailing ships, they still occur on occasions when people die during a voyage and the boat is still a long way from its destination.
A service is held on board and the weighted coffin is lowered into the sea. Sometimes a burial at sea is carried out in accordance with a dead person’s wishes, or the ashes are scattered over the waves after a cremation.
In ancient times sea burial was often practiced as a cheap method of disposing of dead slaves, foreigners and people considered of little importance. Today some islands, where land is scarce, reserve parts of the sea near the coast are used as cemeteries.
Viking chiefs before the 10th Century were cremated on burning ships to symbolize a voyage to the land of the dead. Nowadays too it is regularly performed by navies, and is done by private citizens in many countries.
Burial-at-sea services are conducted 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 religious representative (of the decedent’s religion or the state 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 from a 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.
This quote is often cited at sea burials:
“The sea is the largest cemetery, and its slumbers sleep without a monument.”
“All other graveyards show symbols of distinction between great and small, rich and poor: but in the ocean cemetery, the king, the clown, the prince and the peasant are alike, indistinguishable.”