Saturday, September 24, 2011

Married At Sea, Buried At Sea (Re-post)

I'm taking a few weeks off to get married and go on a honeymoon, so I'll be re-posting some favorite articles. Look for fresh posts starting October 12. This one, appropriate to the occasion, was first published July 25, 2009.

Time was, if a couple in love wanted to be married at sea, the captain of their ship enjoyed the happy privilege of performing the ceremony. That's still possible in today's increasingly regulated world, but the restrictions are much tighter than they used to be.

For a shipboard marriage to be recognized in most jurisdictions, it has to meet the requirements any land-based marriage would in that jurisdiction. For instance, if a wedding is performed in the territorial waters of a state requiring that an ordained minister perform the ceremony, the captain must be ordained in order for the marriage to be legal. Many American captains, including yours truly, are ordained for this very purpose. If the couple wants to be married on the high seas -- outside the territorial limit of any state or nation -- they must often have a civil service performed in port if they want the marriage to be recognized as legal. Some large cruise lines have worked around this. Princess Cruise Lines used to be the best bet for a high seas wedding, but other cruise lines are starting to offer the service as well.

Ironically, it may be simpler to be buried at sea than married at sea. In the United States, a captain may scatter ashes as long as the vessel is at least three nautical miles from shore or "bury" a body at sea if in at least 600 feet of water. California forbids full-body burials at sea and most other states require some preparation to ensure the body sinks quickly. Local jurisdictions tend to be more forgiving of cremated remains, allowing ashes to be scattered as long as they don't blow back on shore (Alaska), or even right off the dock (New York).

Burial at sea is so popular that some outfits offer it for a fee. The Neptune Society is the most well-known of these companies, although it has had some legal troubles. Last October its Colorado franchise was cited by that state's Division of Insurance; other franchises have been in court facing charges of illegal dumping and emotional distress caused by co-mingling of ashes.

The Cruise Critic website has a good article about getting married on a large cruise ship here. It's undated, so I'm not sure how current the pricing and availability information is.

For more on the Neptune Society's controversy, see the Funeral Consumers Alliance website here.

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