What Happens During a Navy Burial at Sea
Published May 29, 2020
For people who’ve spent most of their life at sea, there is no higher honor than to make it their final resting place. Fortunately, you can request the US navy to have your or your loved ones remains to be buried at sea.
But not all are entitled to such privilege. Only the following are eligible for Navy Burial at Sea Program:
- active-duty members of the uniformed services.
- retirees and veterans who are honorably discharged
- US Civilian Marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command
- dependent family members of the above
Making the Request
To request for a navy burial at sea, the Person Authorized to Direct Disposition (PADD) should contact the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Office.
PADDs are usually the primary next of kin or anyone legally authorized to dispose of the deceased’s remains. They need to submit a Burial at Sea Request Form accompanied by supporting documents such as:
- a photocopy of the death certificate
- the burial transit permit (for non-cremated remains) or cremation certificate
- a copy of the DD Form 214, discharge certificate, or retirement order
The deceased’s family may send a flag to be used during the ceremony. It will be returned to them afterward. The navy will also provide a flag should the family decline or fail to do so. But it will not be sent to them after the ceremony.
Dependent family members, however, will not be allowed a flag at their burial.
Preparation of Remains
The US Navy Mortuary Affairs allows both cremated and casketed remains for burial at sea. But they must follow specific preparation protocols. All expenses for the preparation of remains shall be on the account of the PADD.
Due to EPA rules on scattering ashes at sea, all cremated remains must be placed in a biodegradable container. The urn must be sturdy and well-sealed to prevent spillage during shipping.
In compliance with EPA rules, all plastic materials shall be removed from the casket prior to burial at sea. Metal caskets are, however, allowed but subject to regulations. The PADD will also have to select a funeral home in the area of the port of embarkation.
Shipping of Remains
Remains should be forwarded together with the Burial at Sea Request Package to the desired port of embarkation. You can find a list of this on the US Navy website.
Before shipping the remains, you first need to inform the burial at sea coordinator of the impending request. A burial at sea coordinator is stationed at all ports of embarkation.
The coordinator will also inspect the intact casketed remains to assess if it meets all preparation regulations.
The navy burial at sea ceremony is usually officiated by an authorized person according to the deceased’s religious beliefs. They will, however, perform only the religious parts of it. Everything else will be done by the ship’s officers and crew.
In the absence of an appropriate religious chaplain, the commanding officer or designated officer may also perform the entire service. A more detailed description of the ceremony can be found here.
After the religious rites, the remains will then be prepared for committal while the company performs a hand salute. A seven-man firing party will then commence during which the remains are slowly lowered to the open sea. The flag flying at half-mast will then be folded and presented to the commanding officer.
Families of the deceased are not allowed onboard the military vessel during the burial ceremony. If they want to witness it, they may do so aboard a civilian boat that is positioned close to the military ship. They may also request the Coast Guard to ferry them to and from the burial site.
After the burial ceremony, the commanding officer will send the family a personal letter describing such. It usually includes details such as:
- the date and time of the ceremony
- geographical coordinates of the burial site
- pictures or videos of the ceremony
For further questions about the Navy Burial at Sea Program, you may contact the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs Office at 1-866-787-0081.