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Burial at Sea

Definition Burial at Sea refers to the practice of interring a deceased eligible U.S. military veteran’s remains in the ocean. This solemn ceremony is conducted by the United States Navy, Coast Guard, or other authorized organizations. It is a dignified and honorable maritime tradition to honor the service members who have passed away. Key Takeaways […]


Burial at Sea refers to the practice of interring a deceased eligible U.S. military veteran’s remains in the ocean. This solemn ceremony is conducted by the United States Navy, Coast Guard, or other authorized organizations. It is a dignified and honorable maritime tradition to honor the service members who have passed away.

Key Takeaways

  1. Burial at Sea is a unique and honored way for eligible veterans to have their remains laid to rest in the ocean.
  2. It can be performed by the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, or other authorized organizations, and it includes burial of cremated remains or casketed remains.
  3. Eligibility for this service extends to veterans, active-duty members, retirees, and their dependents, as long as certain requirements are met.


The VA benefits term “Burial at Sea” is important because it represents a unique and honored burial option for eligible deceased U.S.

veterans, active-duty military members, and their dependents.

This traditional maritime ceremony, conducted by the United States Navy or Coast Guard, signifies the deep respect and gratitude for the individual’s service and commitment to their country.

In addition, the “Burial at Sea” can provide solace and closure to bereaved families, as it is a time-honored and solemn rite that highlights the ultimate sacrifice made by their loved ones.

The offering of this esteemed method of interment showcases the nation’s appreciation and enduring support for its veterans and servicemembers.


Burial at Sea is a time-honored tradition that has been practiced across various seafaring nations throughout history due to its strong cultural and religious significance. Today, it still holds particular importance for the United States military as a means of honoring and commemorating the lives and sacrifices of veterans who served the nation.

The purpose of this solemn ritual is to not only pay tribute to a veteran’s dedication but also to provide a sense of closure for the surviving family members, as well as acknowledging and venerated the individuals’ ties to the maritime community; by incorporating a unique and elemental connection to the sea, this ritual conveys a sense of unity, respect, and reverence for both the individual and their service. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assists in facilitating these ceremonies for eligible individuals by arranging either full body or cremated remains burials at sea.

This service is typically offered to active duty personnel, honorably discharged veterans, retirees, as well as some civilians who have contributed significantly to the maritime community. Families of the deceased often find solace and admiration in the knowledge that their loved ones’ remains can be consigned to the sea’s vast expanse with grace and dignity while respecting the legacy of their military service.

By offering the choice of Burial at Sea, the VA plays a crucial role in preserving this deeply rooted maritime custom and, at the same time, helps maintain invaluable connections between veterans, their families, and the overarching maritime community.

Examples of Burial at Sea

In 2012, a United States Air Force veteran named John Francis Ryan passed away and had his remains scattered at sea as per his wishes. John was a decorated Vietnam War veteran and had received various medals, including a Purple Heart. Through the VA burial benefits program, John’s family was able to get assistance to coordinate the burial at sea. The U.S. Navy conducted the ceremony, and his remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean.

In 2018, the United States Navy honored the final wishes of John Ellsworth Stevens, a World War II veteran who served on the USS Lexington. In accordance with the VA burial benefits program, he had requested a burial at sea, and his ashes were scattered in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The ceremony was performed by the crew of the USS Essex, and the U.S. Navy shared pictures of the event on their official website as a tribute to the veteran’s service.

In 2016, the cremated remains of 22 military veterans were honored with a burial at sea. The service, organized by the United States Navy, took place onboard the USS George Washington in the waters off of the coast of Virginia. The VA helped the families of these veterans coordinate the solemn ceremony, which featured a military honor guard and a rifle team to offer a final salute. The occasion was captured on video and shared by the Department of Defense as a testament to the dedication and service of those who were laid to rest.

FAQs – Burial at Sea – VA Benefits

Q1: What is burial at sea and who can avail of this service?

A1: Burial at sea is a military tradition where the remains of an individual are committed to the ocean, following necessary preparation and religious ceremonies. It is offered by the United States Navy to veterans with honorable service records, active-duty and retired service members, as well as their dependents.

Q2: What are the requirements to be eligible for a burial at sea?

A2: To be eligible for a burial at sea, the deceased must be either:

  • An active-duty, retired, or veteran member of the uniformed services, including Military Sealift Commands,
  • A dependent family member of active-duty, retired, or veteran uniformed services personnel, or
  • A civilian who was an employee or contractor of Military Sealift Command or eligible for Social Security number-based maritime benefits during their lifetime.

Additionally, United States citizenship and an honorable discharge (if discharged) are required.

Q3: How should the remains be prepared for a burial at sea?

A3: The remains should be either in the form of cremated ashes in a biodegradable bag or an embalmed body in a suitable casket, depending on the preference of the deceased or the family members. All remains must be prepared according to proper standards and regulations provided by the Department of Defense.

Q4: How do I apply for a burial at sea?

A4: To apply for a burial at sea, you must submit a complete application with the required documents to the Burial at Sea Coordinator. Documents include:

  1. Copy of DD Form 214 or equivalent military service record,
  2. Copy of death certificate,
  3. Copy of a cremation certificate (if applicable), and
  4. Any additional required paperwork or identification documents.

Contact your nearest Military Personnel Office or a VA representative for more information and assistance in the process.

Q5: Will the family receive any documentation regarding the burial at sea?

A5: Yes, the family will receive a personalized letter from the commanding officer of the vessel that conducted the burial, an official certificate, and a chart showing the coordinates of where the burial took place. This documentation will serve as a permanent record of the burial and a tribute to the deceased’s military service.

Related VA Benefit Terms

  • U.S. Navy Military Honors
  • Maritime Bereavement Ceremony
  • Full Body Burial Casket
  • Cremated Remains Scattering
  • U.S. Coast Guard Authorization

Sources for More Information

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