Burial at Sea: A Time-Honored Tradition


Most people think a burial at sea is something that happens only in the movies, but it's an option that is still widely used today. For many sailors and Marines, there is no more honored choice for their mortal remains than burial at sea. Since the burial is from an active military ship, family members are not able to attend the ceremony in person. However, some family members choose to observe the ceremony from a civilian ship that is positioned nearby. For families who want to attend the service, civilian organizations offer burial at sea from a civilian vessel.

Who Is Eligible

While anyone can have their remains buried at sea, burial at sea from a U.S. military vessel is limited to:

  1. Active-duty military
  2. Retirees and veterans who were honorably discharged
  3. Civilian personnel of the Military Sealift Command
  4. Dependents of active-duty members, retirees and veterans

Following the ceremony, the commanding officer of the ship conducting the burial at sea will send the family a personal letter describing the exact date and time of the ceremony, the burial flag, pictures or video of the ceremony, and a chart showing the longitude and latitude where the service was performed.

The family may provide a burial flag, which will be flown at half-mast on the ship during the committal service, and then returned to them. If they don't provide a flag, the Navy will provide one but won't return it to the family after the ceremony.

Application Process

After the eligible person dies, the next-of-kin or other authorized individual (relative, clergy, funeral director, etc.) should contact the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs office at 833-330-6622 to request a packet and for additional information.

The request must include:

  • A photocopy of the death certificate
  • The burial transit permit or the cremation certificate
  • A copy of the DD Form 214, discharge certificate, or retirement order

For more information see the Navy website or call 833-330-6622.

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