Sea cremation is perhaps better known as burial at sea or scattering of ashes at sea, but, no matter what one calls it, sea cremation is far from a new tradition. Families who have had their loved one cremated may find that there are countless options to inter the remains, but sea cremation seems to be one of the most oFor at least the past several centuries, sea cremation has been commonly practiced by families and cultures of all walks of life from across the globe. Sailors, or others who have spent their lives on the water are to be expected to be among the most likely to partake in the tradition of sea cremation, but one does not have to be a life-long water lover to appreciate the ritual. In fact, throughout history there have been many recorded instances in which someone who spent little or no time near the water (in one case a man spent his entire life of 87 years in a dry, mountainous region of Siberia) actually had a strong desire for a burial that featured sea cremation. One can only assume this is a sort of a phenomenon such as that featured in the famous film “The Bucket List,” in which two terminally ill men make a list of things they want to do before they die. Someone who has lived a land-locked life might find it very appealing to know that his or her cremation ashes will be buried at sea, so that in death, they can experience something that they never got to see in life. In this respect, sea cremation can be a very spiritual tradition.
There are a variety of ways on how to scatter or disperse cremation ashes at sea. We will devote the rest of this article to a few of those methods of sea cremation. Probably the simplest form of sea cremation is the scattering of ashes at sea by a family member. This form of sea cremation can be a very informal affair that does not necessarily have to be done in the company of more than one member of the deceased’s family. In one interesting, albeit touching, tale about this method of sea cremation a man who lives on the Gulf Coast of Texas tells of a day in which he was walking along the shore of his hometown and saw a man in a boat struggling to sink an object in the water a few yards away. The man waded to the boater and saw that that other man was in tears and very distraught. As the wader asked if he could help, the boater showed him the object that he was trying to sink and explained that it was a cremation urn with his father’s ashes. “This was Dad’s favorite fishing spot. He waded out to this spot every weekend for the last 10 years of his life,” the man said. The urn, unfortunately, had not been designed for sea cremation, and simply had too large of an air pocket inside of it. The urn simply floated. Further, even if the urn could be sunk, it would probably not result in the type of sea cremation that the man was intending. The Good Samaritan also knew that sinking such an urn so close to shore – in not more than 4 feet of water – would also likely result in the urn ending up washed ashore with the next tide. So, he suggested that the man in the boat simply open the cremation urn and pour the ashes into the water. The man thanked him for that kind suggestion, and the two strangers carried out the very simple and very touching sea cremation right there in the Texas bay. The man who had simply happened on the scene felt a great attachment for his new found friend, and the two have stayed in close touch ever since. The man is a budding country music singer, and he now has intentions of someday turning the story of this sea cremation into a song that is most certain to bring a tear to many an eye. No one knows for certain, of course, how many of this simple type of sea cremations are carried out every year, but one imagines they may be quite common.
Sea cremations can also be very formal affairs carried out by certified ship captains or even members of the military. These much more formal sea cremations are often elaborately planned and even choreographed and involve dozens of people who travel on a boat to places that are miles off shore. Here, in water that is often 100’s of feet deep, specially designed biodegradable cremation urns are tossed overboard with much ceremony and fanfare, and spectators watch respectfully as the urn floats gracefully for a few minutes and then gradually sinks from view. The urn eventually makes its way to the ocean floor where, in a few days, it fully disintegrates in the water, allowing the enclosed cremation ashes to disperse themselves throughout the sea. For those who were members of the military, this type of sea cremation often includes such patriotic honors as a 21 gun salute, and the playing of music as the urn floats in the water. Many ship captains, and others who have spent their lives on the water, not only officiate dozens of these types of sea cremations during their lifetimes, but they also are known to become filled with pride at the thought of being honored in such a way at their own sea cremation.
Still another type of sea cremation is carried out with use of an airplane. With this type of sea cremation, a family member or friend carries a cremation urn in a plane whose pilot flies relatively low over an area that was very special to the deceased. The plane’s cargo bay door is opened, and the family member simply pours the ashes from the urn into the air where, like the biodegradable urn described above, they float gracefully to the sea. Some people have been known to add a special twist to this type of sea cremation by employing sky divers who empty the cremation urn on their way down and then drift with their parachutes to an area on shore or to a shallow area of water.
No matter the type of sea cremation a family of a deceased person chooses, this type of cremation can be among the most meaningful of any. The sea is a mysterious place, filled with undying wonder for even the person who has devoted his entire life to it, and that makes sea cremations particularly special as well.