Showing posts with label burial at sea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label burial at sea. Show all posts

Friday, May 25, 2012

Burial at Sea

There are many ways to dispose of human remains.  In the United States, we tend to prefer burial.  In England, cremation is the first choice.  In Tibet,  sky burial is favored.  But now that ‘green burials,’ (those that are more in tune with nature) are catching on again, burial at sea is becoming more popular.

Burial at sea is accomplished by taking the deceased’s body, or their cremains, out on the ocean and dropping them over the edge of a boat into the water. Burials at sea have occurred since ancient times.  

Viking Ship
The Vikings would place a body on board a ship and set it on fire as a way to help the deceased get to Valhalla.

Egyptian Raft
Throughout the islands of the South Pacific, the dead were placed in canoes and launched into the sea.

The ancient Egyptians placed their dead on papyrus rafts and floated them off to sea.

Military Services
Military navies around the world have practiced sea burials for hundreds of years.  From the fifteenth century to WW II, sailors have committed their own to the sea.  Superstition had it that a sailor not buried at sea would become restless and haunt the place where he died.

Davy Jones Locker
If a ship capsized and life was lost, sailors would refer to those who had drowned as having been sent to Davy Jones Locker.  The origin of the saying is not known, but it was first reported in Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts published in London in 1726.  During the nineteenth century, the phrase became popular among sailors.

Burial at sea is not a complicated process, but rules and regulations must be followed.  In the U.S., a body must be taken at least 3 nautical miles away from the coastline and dropped in water at least 600 feet deep.  There are some areas that require the water to be 1800 feet deep.  The remains must be prepared in a manner so that they will sink quickly and permanently.   
Casket for Sea Burial

If using a casket, it must be weighed down with one hundred pounds of weight, and have twelve 6 inch holes drilled into the lid and bottom of the casket, in order to allow the water in to aid in the sinking. Five metal bands must also be wrapped around the casket.

Sea Shroud
New England Burials at Sea,
offers full body burials at sea.  The body is placed in a shroud that is weighted down with cannon balls.  The shroud will decompose over time and the cannon balls help to form a reef, keeping everything natural. 

All sea burials must be reported to the EPA.  A Burial at Sea form must be completed. It will require the name of the deceased, port of departure, name of vessel, longitude and latitude of the drop, and if the remains were cremains or a body.  For more information visit

Lighthouse Urn
Shell Urn
Almost 90% of human remains taken out to sea for burial are cremains, the remainder of the cremation process.  They may be taken out three miles from the coast and scattered on the water or dropped into the ocean in an urn. The urn may be watertight or one that will dissolve with time. 

Man-made Reef Urn
Neptune Memorial Reef
Urns may also be part of a reef that attracts sea life.  The Neptune Memorial Reef is the largest man-made reef ever built.  It is located just over 3 miles east of Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida and attracts sea life and scuba divers.

Religious beliefs can influence whether someone may be buried at sea.  Traditional Orthodox Judaism prohibits burial at sea.  Reform Judaism may allow a burial at sea after consultation with a Rabbi, but burial is still preferred.

The Roman Catholic Church will approve burial at sea in a casket or urn when the deceased has died at sea.

Buddhism specifies that the body should be cremated, placed in an urn and buried or put in a columbarium.  However, a ceremony has been developed for Buddhist military personnel who must be buried at sea.

Hinduism requires the deceased to be cremated and the ashes placed in the Ganges River.  But burial at sea can be approved after discussion with a Hindu priest.

Islam calls for the body to be buried deep into the ground.  However, if the person died at sea and decay could be a problem, a sea burial is allowed.  Also, if enemies might dig up the body to mutilate it, a sea burial is acceptable, as in the case of Osama bin Laden.

The cost of a burial at sea is quite inexpensive when compared to a traditional burial in the United States.  Depending on the company, some vessels will charge a nominal fee ($50 to $100) to carry ashes out to sea and scatter them.  Others will take the family out to sea where a service can be held and the remains dropped over the edge of the ship or boat.  Prices vary, but the smaller the boat, the less the expense.

Many well-known people have been buried at sea including;

John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Alfred Hitchcock
H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946)
Janis Joplin (1943 – 1970)
Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980)
Rock Hudson (1925 – 1985)
Vincent Price (1911 – 1993)
Gene Kelly (1912 – 1996) 
John Kennedy Jr. (1960 – 1999)
Dick Clark         (1929 – 2012)

Those who request burial at sea usually have a deep affinity for the ocean, whether from working on it, being near it, or just loving to look at it.  Many people find a sea burial to be a serene and unobtrusive way to sail off into the sunset.

I Must Down to the Seas Again, the Lonely Sea and the Sky

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
         ~ John Masefield, Poet Laureate (1878 - 1967)

~ Joy

Friday, May 13, 2011

Burial Customs of Different World religions

We have been burying our dead for over 200-thousand years.  But why do we mainly choose interment?  There are several reasons given for this practice.  Respect for the dead is the number one reason – not concern about decay, disease, or scavengers.  Burial is a manner in which to show respect or esteem for the deceased. Burial is also seen as a means of closure, the end of life as we know it and a time to move on for family and friends.  Religions and cultures that believe in an afterlife sometimes feel that burial is necessary to help the deceased go forward toward another phase of their life. 

Tree Burials
Cave Entrance

There are many forms of entombment.  In ancient times burials took place in earthen mounds, caverns or caves.  Burial practices around the world include many different methods.  The Japanese do not bury, they cremate.  Most American Indian tribes buried their dead in mounds, but the Plains Indians did not.  Instead they performed aboveground burials where the body was placed on a scaffold, in a tree or a canoe and left to decay.  In Tibet, a sky burial is similar, except that the body is cut up and prepared to become food for the vultures before being placed on a mountaintop.  

Coffin Burial at Sea

With the sea burial of Osama bin Laden almost two weeks ago; I became curious as to how different and varied burial practices were between various religions.  Today, we’ll look at five religions and three denominations to learn how each regards the practice of caring for the deceased body.

Buddhist at Prayer

Buddhist  - The majority of Buddhists have the body cremated.  Before cremation a white cloth may be offered on behalf of the dead. The deceased can be dressed in simple clothes.  The funeral hall where the body lies for services should be simple and peaceful.  An alter may be set in front of the coffin and a photo of the deceased placed there during the funeral ceremony. A Buddha image should also be set up in front of the casket.  A monk may be invited to perform the Buddhist rites, or friends may conduct the services. 

The casket is then sealed and taken to its final destination.  If burying, the coffin is then lowered into the ground.  If cremating, the casket is placed into the furnace. The decision to bury or cremate is a personal choice.  Either is acceptable in Buddhism. 

Hindu Funeral Procession

Hindu  - Hindu funerals and burials have changed over the centuries.  Bodies were originally given a sky burial – left for the vultures, or buried in the ground or a cave.  Now cremation rituals and post cremation observances have become the preferred method.  Hindu funeral rites depend on one’s social class or caste.  There are rites, which are performed when the person is dying, rites when the body is disposed of, and rites, which enable the soul to transcend to the realm of the ancestors. 

For a Hindu funeral, the deceased is placed on the floor with the head pointing to the south, the direction of the dead.  An oil lamp is placed near the body and kept burning for three days.  The body is then washed in purified water, dressed in new clothes and adorned with flowers.  After being placed on a stretcher, it is transported to the cremation site.

Funeral Pyre
A pyre is built near a river and the corpse is laid with its feet facing southward.  Once fire consumes the body a 13-day mourning period begins for the family.  The preta-karma is a very important aspect of the Hindu funeral.  It is during this rite that the soul moves from the preta (ghost) stage to live with the ancestors.  The rites can last up to ten days.  It is then believed that the preta has joined the ancestors and can be worshipped during the sraddha ceremonies.

Funeral Prayers

Islam – Muslims believe that a person’s life does not end at death, so you must pray that their eternal life will be a happy one.  Muslims prefer to bury as soon as possible after death, thereby avoiding embalming or other methods of preservation, which disturb the body.  Cremation is forbidden.

Men at Burial Location

When someone dies family members or others in the community wash the body and shroud it in a clean white cloth.  (Martyrs are buried in the clothes they died in.)  The deceased is then taken to the location where funeral prayers will be said.  This is usually held outdoors.

Muslim Cemetery
After prayers, the body is taken to the cemetery for burial.  Only the men of the community accompany the body to the burial grounds. The body is placed in the grave, on its right side, with the head facing toward Mecca. Gravestones are discouraged but if the family insists, markers must be simple and not over 12 inches tall.

Regarding a Muslim burial at sea, the body should be wrapped in a white cloth, prayers should be said and the body lowered into the sea with weights on the feet.  This is allowed when a death has occurred at sea or when there is concern about the body being exhumed and defiled.

Christian – Christian burials also involve many rites, depending on the type of Christian religion practiced.  Those of the Christian faith prefer to be buried, usually in sacred ground, such as a churchyard.  Only recently have Protestants and Catholics allowed cremation.  The Eastern Orthodox Church still forbids it.

Catholic Funeral Mass
Catholics -  The Catholic religion requires a church funeral made up of three stages - prayers, a funeral Mass and prayers for absolution.  These prayers do not forgive the deceased’s sins but ask for mercy regarding the soul when in purgatory.

The body is then taken to the burial ground where the tomb is blessed; the body sprinkled with holy water and a final prayer said.

Eastern Orthodox – The Eastern Orthodox religion has five different funeral services, depending on the deceased’s station in life.  Immediately after death the First Pannikhida is celebrated.  This is a memorial service for the deceased.  The body is then washed and dressed for burial by family and friends.  A wake is held with family members taking turns reading the psalms until it is time to take the body to graveyard.

Services usually take place at the churchyard for individuals.  At the gravesite, prayers are said, hymn and psalms chanted. Bells are then tolled, the coffin is nailed shut and a choir chants as the body is lowered in to the earth. 

Eastern Orthodox Church

If the deceased’s grave is not near where they died, or a special service is being held to honor all of the departed, then a memorial srvice is held at the church.  Hymns for the departed are chanted, a litany is read and the funeral service begins.  The service may last up to two and a half hours.

Protestants – There are many denominations of the protestant religion.  Most funerals are simple in nature.  After death, the body is transported to a funeral home where it is embalmed and prepared for burial. The dressing of the body usually involves a suit for men and a dressy outfit for women.  

Outdoor Funeral
The body is then placed in the coffin and arranged for the visitation or viewing by family, friends and acquaintances.  A visitation may remain private, depending on what the family requests.  Services are usually held at the funeral home chapel, or at the church the deceased attended, with a minister presiding.  Protestants may decide to skip the funeral home viewing and service, and hold graveside services instead. For chapel services, a singer and organist provide hymns.    After the minister has spoken, male family members or close friends will bear the casket out to the hearse.  Family members and friends accompany the coffin to the cemetery.  The casket bearers will then deliver the coffin to the gravesite.  The minister will decree the body to the earth and God and final prayers are said. 

Jewish – For a Jewish burial the body is prepared by washing, purification and dressing in traditional burial clothes.  Burial will occur as soon as possible after death.  Embalming is forbidden, as is cremation. The coffin is then prepared by removing any linings and ornamentation.  A sheet and prayer shawl is placed in the coffin and the deceased is then wrapped in both.  The coffin is closed and sealed. The chevra, which asks for forgiveness from the deceased for anything they may have done to offend, is said.  Once at the burial site, prayers and psalms are said.  Then mourners step forward one-by-one to help fill in the grave with a shovel full of soil.

Have a great weekend!

~ Joy