Planning a Burial at Sea or already contracted? Here are some tips when it comes to Good Boating Etiquette 101:
"Permission to Board” is a well-known phrase in which the ship’s captain gives his official okay to board the vessel. Not only should you ask, but also wait to hear it’s okay. Whether the vessel is privately owned or a commercial vessel, captains are responsible for your safety starting at the dock. Some of the reasons you could be asked to wait may be because it's unsafe to due to a wet deck or the boarding steps or plank aren't secured. Likewise, always wait to hear when it's safe to disembark.
Before you start the planning, keep a few things in mind. Ideally, you’ll want to contract with a vessel that can accommodate the number of guests you anticipate for your loved one's funeral at sea. A larger vessel will be far more comfortable, but if you have six passengers or less, the cost difference may dictate. Many families anticipate a large attendance and contract for a head boat (thirty passengers or more), only to have many, if not most guests cancel in the days before the planned at-sea memorial. Therefore, get a firm passenger count and commitment before you contract for a vessel. Once you have a headcount of passengers, you should then begin your search. Children are considered passengers based on Coast Guard rules. Ask your captain if children are allowed; I have encountered a few who do not allow children under ten years of age but that's rare. Always let your captain know if your passenger count changes either up or down, but especially up, an additional mate might need to hired.
Types of Vessels:
Expect your funeral at sea journey to be on a commercial fishing vessel of some type, although not a fully-rigged trawler. More than likely, it will be a motorboat, head boat or sport fishing boat. Commercial fishing boats cater to the public and are inspected annually by the Coast Guard. Vessels, by their very nature, are not handicap accessible, but if the individual can stand and take a few steps with assistance, then it’s possible to get them aboard. Portable wheelchairs can be placed on board as well, but usually not the heavier self-powered chairs, unless boarding is via a boat ramp. Even then, many ramps begin or end with a high step. Always communicate to your captain or staff before you contract with a vessel if you have anyone with special needs. Handicap accessible ramps are now available and many captains are attempting to open boating to all.
A sport fishing boat typically holds up to six passengers although I know of some approved for up to 12.
Head boats, carry from 60 to 100 passengers, depending on the size. These are surprisingly affordable and provide for the most comfortable ride. Most will also have a sound system for background music. When it comes to being out in the ocean, bigger is definitely better.
A word about vessel safety and life preservers. All commercial vessels will have life jackets on board, however, they are not distributed unless needed. If you have children and want them to wear a life-jacket while on board (suggested), ask your captain in advance to be sure he has a small enough size. Very small sizes for toddlers and infants may not be available but you can purchase them online at a reasonable cost. Footwear is important. Always wear sneakers or flat-soled shoes. If you’re inviting guests, be sure to advise against high-heels or flip-flops.
Date and Time:
If you and your guests are traveling to the port and staying several days, try to schedule the memorial at sea early in your stay to allow for alternate days in case of bad weather. (I’ll discuss this later under “Cancellations - What if it rains?”) It’s helpful to be flexible regarding the date. Focusing on one date because it’s an anniversary, birthday or special in some way may be challenging if it’s the height of the boating season.
The average memorial at sea is one to two hours in duration. Captains don’t want to give up morning or early afternoon charters unless you’re willing to pay for a half day. In most cases expect to be booked at the end of the charter day, typically between 3:00 and 6:00 PM. If the captain doesn't take a charter on that day, he or she will allow you to go out earlier.
Cancellations - What if it Rains?
Light rain doesn’t necessitate a cancellation. However, high winds, small craft advisories and storm conditions will result in the captain cancelling the trip. He or she will make every attempt to reschedule with you. However if it’s not possible because of the vessel schedule or yours, you will get a full refund.
What Do Glass and Bananas Have In Common?
Neither are welcomed on board; glass for the obvious reason of potential breakage and injury, while bananas have a more colorful reason for not being wanted.
In folklore and well documented, many captains do not allow bananas on board for various superstitious reasons. While this may seem ludicrous it's true. I personally know several captains and when pressed for a reason will simply reply - They're Bad Luck.
Should You Include a Tip?
The answer is yes. While tips aren't required they are welcomed. I recommend first tipping the mate(s) and then the captain if you're feeling generous. Your captain has likely been at the helm since early morning and takes on memorial trips, often out of the goodness of their spirit. I know a captain who didn't want to take any compensation for ash scattering trips; I convinced him to accept enough to cover his expenses. So the long and short of it, tips for any service are always a considerate gesture on your part and conveys a heartfelt Thank You.
Regardless of the size or style of vessel, your memorial service is what you make of it. You can write the script, say prayers, recite readings or simply share your favorite memories; there's no right or wrong way to say good-bye. Your captain will provide for a safe voyage to the site of internment and return you back to port with an experience like none else.
For more on captains check out our post "Oh Captain, My Captain".