Burial at sea is a time-honored tradition. You may think it’s a thing of the past necessitated by long sailing voyages, or that it only happens in the movies, but it’s an option that is still widely used today. A centuries old practice, burial at sea is an honored choice of sailors and mariners throughout the world. But it’s not limited to just them.
Today, we receive many requests from families whose loved ones want their ashes scattered along the California Central Coast. Their reasons are as varied as their lives. Usually there is some very special connection to the sea, its power, beauty, and peacefulness; or the family has fond memories of the role the sea played while their loved one was alive. The burial ceremony is seen as a fitting closure, a universal ending or coming home, sometimes even as the “next adventure” their loved one will take, while the family stays behind, says good bye, and lets them go.
We’ve been told that there is immense comfort in a burial at sea ceremony. It not only fulfills the deceased wishes, but it allows each family member or friend to express their grief or celebrate their loved one’s life in a moment of quiet contemplation, private reflection, or shared remembrance. For these reasons, our burial at sea ceremonies are handled with dignity and respect.
After hearing many horror stories of ceremonies going terribly wrong — ashes blowing about the deck, settling on tables and cushions, or even the sides of the boat — we chose a unique and beautifully dignified approach to prevent this from happening. And our solution works well in any sea conditions.
We begin with a small wicker basket and line it with a couple of large leaves from a Bird of Paradise plant. Then we place approximately three pounds of stones in the bottom of the basket, enough to weigh it down, relative to its size. The ashes are then carefully placed in the basket and topped with flowers and rose petals.
For a two-hour service we usually depart the dock around 9:00 a.m. The captain will cruise to a designated spot requested by the family. If the family has chosen an officiate, he or she conducts the ceremony and allows enough time for each person to say their good byes. When everyone who wants to speak has finished, the basket is lowered to the sea’s surface. With a final farewell, the line holding the basket is released. This allows the basket to sink and the ashes to scatter on the way down. The flowers and rose petals float to the top, marking the spot. None of the ashes ends up on the side of the vessel or, even worse, in the guests’ faces. A Memoriam Certificate noting the latitude, longitude and depth of the location, is mailed to the family. We return to the bay and serve a complimentary brunch with champagne and mimosas.
On occasion when it is requested, we provide full body burial services. These services are regulated by the federal government and require that we follow stringent rules. There are only certain areas on the coast where full body burials are permitted. In our area, we must be at least three nautical miles away from shore and have a minimum depth of 650 feet of water. To satisfy this requirement we must cruise west eleven nautical miles off shore.
For this type of service the mortuary brings the deceased onboard wrapped in a canvas shroud. When the destination is reached, weights are added to the shroud before the body is lowered over the side to ensure that it reaches the ocean bottom. Eight bells are sounded when the crew commits the body to the deep.
Compared to conventional burials on land, which can cost $10,000 or more, burials at sea are extremely cost effective. The service can be conducted with bag pipers, taps, flag folding, military rifle salutes, recorded music, spiritual readings, or any tradition the family chooses to honor and remember their loved one with. Often, the ashes of both the husband and wife (sometimes their pets’) are scattered together. We conclude the ceremony by saying: “Rest in peace as you join the dolphins and the whales”.
“Mist to mist, drops to drops. For water thou art, and unto water shalt thou return.” Kamand Kyouri
To view a video of one of the memorials we’ve done aboard the Papagallo, visit the link here.