Burial at sea aboard the SS UNITED STATES in the 1950s…


Cruise Ship History – Burial at sea aboard the SS UNITED STATES in the 1950s. Bodies (passengers and crew) were not transported to the next port until recently. The passengers were buried at sea…


Photo of a burial at sea aboard the SS United States in the 1950s.

4d301750-2e1c-45db-9034-5bedb915f0e1.jpgThe body pictured here on the promenade deck of the SS United States most likely could have been a crewmember in the stewards or catering department.

Notice how canvas curtains have been placed so passengers could not see the burial.

Besides the officers, there are mainly stewards and cooks in the photo.  The ship would not have carried the crew-member to the next port.  The SS United States on a trans-Atlantic crossing probably would have housed a passenger’s body.  But most lines did not.  Passengers were buried at sea.


Two passengers were buried at sea on the SS Canberra aboard a 1968 sailing from Los Angeles to Australia.

Until the last couple of decades, burial at sea (passengers or crew) was common.  Corpses were not carried to the next port.  In the late 1960s, I sailed from Los Angeles to Australia aboard the SS Canberra and there were two burials at sea.  Both were passengers.

The burials took place around six in the morning.

We were sailing via the Orient so there were long passages at sea – 6 to 7 days.  There were no morgues aboard ship.  The body would be wrapped in a canvas bag and pushed overboard.  It would be covered with a flag but the flag did not go with the body.  The Anglican (Episcopal) service of burial was read, with officers, crew and some passengers in attendance.  There was no announcement in the ship’s paper.

Recently, I was aboard the Princess Cruise’s Island Princess, touring the crew’s quarters and galleys.  There is a refrigerated compartment known as the morgue and bodies are kept there until they can be removed at the next port.






Life was not always easy on a voyage across the Atlantic. The images above were taken by one of the officers (Peder Georg Christian Pedersen) on the Oscar II in 1911. They show scenes from a burial at sea. A Norwegian woman had died on board the ship at sea. The minister is holding a service, the body was covered by a Norwegian flag, and was lowered into the ocean after the service, leaving the mourning relatives without a grave other then the great ocean 



About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…