Your Guide to Funeral Planning | 12.07.2022

Sailor Funerals: Traditions & Everything You Should Know

Sailor Funerals: Traditions & Everything You Should Know

Reviewed By: William Prout

Cross Checked By: Elizabeth Siegel

4 min read

Everything You Need To Know About A Sailor’s Funeral Service

If you’re attending a sailor’s funeral or organizing one, it’s crucial to immerse yourself in the traditions and pay respects the right way. A sailor’s life is very different from yours and mine. Spending your time away from family, sailing on the sea for weeks, months, and years, and making friendships on the sea– all of these make up the lifestyle of a sailor. They are discernibly in love with the ocean and everything that it holds. A sailor’s funeral should honor their love for the waters and remind his/her/their friends and family members what the ocean meant to their loved one.

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A Sailor’s Funeral And Other Navy Traditions

Navy traditions for a funeral service  are honorable and celebrate the legacy of the heritage that comes with being in the navy. These traditions are inspired by the ancient Roman customs like that of reversal rank. Reversal rank at sailor funeral services addresses the notion that no matter who you are and what rank you hold, at death, everyone is equal. This practice also means that the pallbearers are placed in reverse order of rank during the funeral service.
Sailors from the navy also fire three volleys– another Roman tradition that means farewell to the deceased. The Department of Veterans Affairs mentions that three volleys also could be a sign for fighters to trace the dead and wounded during a battle.

Another tradition that has stuck along for centuries in the navy is taps. Taps is played right after the three volleys and just before the flag is folded. Taps is a French tune that is a 24-note bugle call.
National Ensign is another custom practiced during funeral services. It’s when members of the navy place a flag over the fallen soldier. It is meant to honor the deceased and bring to notice the respect of his/her/their members for all the service that the deceased has provided. The National Ensign is draped over the casket, running from the left side of the shoulder to the right. This happens right after the taps and the flag is folded 13 times, leaving only one blue field with stars visible. The flag is then passed onto the next of kin or someone that was close to the fallen soldier.  

For someone who doesn’t belong to the navy, the funeral service will be different. A sailor’s funeral includes singing a song called ‘I think I’m going out to the sea.’ Friends and family members can also find meaningful poems and hold a beautiful memorial service for the sailor. This is known as a sailor poem funeral.
Some sailor's funeral poems can be deeply personal and can convey your feelings with ease. It also acts as a precious parting gift to a sailor who has always loved the sea. Nothing communicates love better than poetry.

Burial At Sea And The Sailor’s Way

Another tradition that is followed by sailors during their funeral is the burial at sea practice. This tradition is when the sailor’s ashes are spread across the ocean waters. It is an honorable way of departing with your loved one while staying true to the sailor’s essence. This is a practice that has existed for a very long time. You could either find a way to sew the deceased into a weighted sailcloth or move the remains to the ocean through a ship or a boat.
Different religions have different traditions of disposing of the ashes into the sea. Some traditions might call for an open casket ceremony, some need the ship to stop and the body needs to be sewn into a canvas.

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The Perfect Way To End The Sailor Funeral

Each funeral service carries traditions and customs followed by sailors for years. The funeral service also needs to pay respect to the wishes of the deceased. Although there are traditions and customs to follow, you can always make the funeral service unique to the personality and truly send off your loved one in the way he/she/they would have wanted. 
Finding ways to make the funeral service meaningful to your friends and family while respecting the deceased could make for the perfect end to a beautiful life lived by the sailor.