Burial at Sea is a long standing maritime tradition and, just like a committal service on land, there are certain procedures to follow. Picture courtesy of navaltoday.com.
It’s not just military members, Coast Guard or Merchant Mariners, there are also law enforcement and firefighting departments that have water-dedicated sections and burial at sea for the members of those sections would be appropriate.
The elements for a land-based full honors funeral are the body bearers (pallbearers), color team, firing party, and troop escort. See also The Graveside Sequence for Funeral Directors Part 1 , Part 2, and Part 3 for explanations of the different arrangements for funerals.
Being at sea is a bit different. The six or eight body bearers are there whether there is a casket or cremains and the firing party is there. The color team is replaced by the flag(s) flown at half mast aboard ship. It depends on the size of the deck as to whether there is room for a formation (the troop escort).
Also, because the committal service is on a boat or ship at sea, standing at attention with your feet together is not necessarily the most stable position. Keeping your feet apart is probably going to be the better technique to maintain stability, no matter the position for the rest of your body. Notice the picture here of Neil Armstrong’s burial. All of the Ceremonial Guardsmen are at Attention even though their feet are apart.
Casket, Urn, or Shroud
It all depends what the deceased wants or what the family wants for the deceased. If a metal or wood casket is used, weights are added and large holes drilled to help it sink quickly. If the casket does not readily sink, the casket must be retrieved, weight and/or holes are added and the casket is then sent into the water again.
For cremains (cremated remains), there are a couple of different ways that the cremains enter the water. Due to environmental concerns, placing a plastic urn into the water is not done anymore. Metal and ceramic or good, but biodegradable urns are preferred.
An alternative to placing the urn in the water is to open the urn and the plastic bag that is inside and then pour the cremains (some ashes, but mostly bone frangments) into the water.
The burial shroud can be sail material or this interesting shroud that is specifically made for sea burials and yet is appropriate for viewing the deceased in the funeral home. This is the Atlantic & Pacific Sea Burial Shroud. It is pre-weighted with canon balls in a separate compartment at the bottom.
The Firing Party
The team fires the Three Volley Salute out over the water without taking aim.
For complete details, click here to download NAVPERS 15555D, Navy Military Funerals, or from the Downloads page.