A Navy burial at sea may seem like an antiquated practice, but to many of our nation’s sailors, it’s a rite of passage. After bidding a beloved Navy veteran “fair winds and following seas,” you can have their remains interred on the seas they loved so much. The Navy will absolutely take care of this for you. There are just a few simple rules.
It’s true the Navy still performs this solemn ritual on its ships, but only while the ships are deployed — this means that, sadly, family members of the deceased cannot be present. But the commanding officer who performs the ceremony will inform the family of the time, date, latitude, and longitude once the body has been committed to the deep.
Here are the Navy’s rules for being buried at sea
Burial at Sea Ceremony
The uniform is the Uniform of the Day for all attending personnel. If a chaplain of the appropriate faith is not available, the service will be conducted by the commanding officer or designated officer.
The service is as follows:
- Station firing squad, casket bearers, and bugler.
- Officer’s call. Pass the word “All hands bury the dead” (the ships should be stopped, if practicable, and colors displayed at half-mast).
- Adjutant’s call (Call to Attention).
- Bring the massed formation to Parade Rest.
- Burial service.
- The Scripture (Parade Rest).
- The Prayers (Parade Rest, heads bowed).
- The Committal (Attention, Hand Salute).
- The Benediction (Parade Rest, heads bowed).
- Fire three volleys (Attention, Hand Salute).
- Taps. Close up colors. Resume course and speed at the last note of Taps (Hand Salute).
- Encasing of the flag (Attention).
- Retreat (resume normal duties).
Officers in the funeral procession and casket bearers may wear the mourning band on the left arm.
Performing the Burial at Sea
The chaplain performs only the religious parts of the ceremony. Everything else is performed by the ship’s officers and crew. Casketed remains are covered with the national ensign, with the union placed at the head and over the left shoulder. Six to eight casket bearers will carry the remains, feet-first, with its place cleared on deck.
During the prayers, the deck is at parade rest, heads bowed. Once the religious parts are over, the crew is called to attention.
The company executes a hand salute until the remains are secured with feet overboard and at right angles to the launching. A Chief Petty Officer takes charge of the seven-man firing party and the Chief Master-at-Arms will command the burial party until the flag is folded and presented to the commanding officer.
It’s between the prayers and benediction that the remains are committed to the open sea. The three volleys are then fired as the crew salutes.
Who is eligible to be buried at sea?
All active duty members of the uniformed services of the United States are eligible for burial at sea. So are retired and honorably discharged veterans. Marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command and dependent family members of all of the above are eligible as well.
How to be buried at sea
Once the individual has died, contact the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs office at 1-866-787-0081 to request more information about Burial at Sea. You will need a copy of the person’s death certificate, a burial transit permit or cremation certificate, and their related discharge papers. The DD-214 will suffice. These, along with the Burial at Sea request form, are all you need.
Everything you need to know about being buried at sea
- Every burial requires a flag (except for dependents). If you send your own flag to your loved one’s service, it will be returned to you. If you don’t, the Navy will provide one, but you won’t get to keep it.
- Cremated remains must be in an urn (no stopping at Ralph’s) which must be sent to the point of embarkation with the paperwork necessary. You must use the Post Office with tracking and signature on delivery to ensure the urn’s arrival.
- For full, casketed remains, you are responsible for shipping your loved one to the point of embarkation, along with the paperwork and burial flag. The start and end points for this transaction should be coordinated through transferring and receiving funeral homes.
All other questions should be sent to the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs office at 1-866-787-0081.
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