What happens if a body is found out at sea?

I’m a novelist (brand new to this forum) and working on a book about Internet repair ships. I recently heard a story about a boat out at sea that came upon a floating body. It all seems a bit unlikely, but I’m interested in seeing what the experts (you!) think. Thank you in advance and I hope my question is not off base. I’m wondering what the protocol might be for a ship that comes upon a floating body (especially if it is far out to sea)? Are they obliged to pick the body up and store it? (I’m thinking of a relatively fresh body). Would they then bring it to the next port of call? What way would the body be retrieved from the water? Are there specific methods for fishing things out of the sea? Are there any instances of this happening that you know of? Where in the ship would the body be stored? (Presumably in a refridgerated area). What affect might this have on the morale of the people out at sea? Are there any other details that you might be able to help me with?
Any help at all would be greatly appreciated …

This is how id imagine itd play out.

Mate: “Captain, we just passed a dead body.”

Captain: “No we didnt”

Mate: “Very well”

The truth in a lot of cases we dont find the bodies we are looking for let alone the ones we aren’t. If theres an active search and rescue going on, good seamanship would say to alert the on scene commander. But in reality youre looking for a coconut in the ocean, a very hard thing to find. Like a peice of pepper in your soup.

The Coast Guard didnt even recover the corpse they found of the El Faro crew member. By the time youre floating youre likley bloated and full of gas. Id argue the best thing to do for everyone involved would be to take off your hat as you sail past and say some respectful words to whoever you beleive in.


Years ago one of our boats came across a life raft with three dead in it. The captain called the USCG, who sent a helicopter out(quite a distance from shore) to recover the raft and bodies. This took several hours. The boat’s part was just to keep a line tied to the raft until the helo arrived.

No rule would compel an American ship to recover a body, let alone store it aboard. The CFRs/US code don’t address the matter, so it is strictly up to the captain. Moreover vessels vary widely in size, storage space, and where they operate.

A small vessel close to land in the 1st World is simply going to call for a CG to recover the body. It might very well be brought aboard, especially in a survival suit, because it may be difficult to tell if the individual is alive or dead until on deck. But if it’s going to be days before they can get an obviously dead body off the boat, all bets are off.

A large vessel in the middle of the Pacific? They would likely email the USCG with the position, maybe take photos, and leave it.


Thank you!

Thank you so much!

If a body is recovered it would go in a chill box. Years ago we had someone die from an overdose on the way to Hawaii. He was placed in a body bag and refrigerated until we hit Honolulu.

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Nothing will happen, ship will pass by. If close to shore they will notify Coast Guard (in any country), if not …

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Once upon a time, we were patrolling off the Lebanese coast (French Navy ship). We got a mayday call from a local fishing boat who had spotted a floating mine. As we were not too far away; we came to have a closer look. Turned-out to be a dead sheep, bloated belly up with its limbs sticking out.
Problem solved with a few rounds of our ½ inch machine gun.


I have heard a dead-body call on the VHF. The boat was asked to stand by until the CG showed up to deal with it.
There is a famous story from decades ago about a boat being asked to take a body to port that they found out at sea. The dead guy was nice and stinky, so they decided to tow him instead of bringing him aboard. He somehow gets rotten enough to break off the line passing a town and washes up there. The locals find his ID on him, turns out that was his hometown. I think this was about 1930s-40s era.

Depends on how long the crew has been without fresh food…

Working in NY harbor its not exactly uncommon. There was a guy in a fancy suit with his hands and feet bound in duct tape about 50’ from the boat in Erie basin making crew change one night, I think Im up to 4 now ? Typically you look the other way.

Sheesh. Obvious suicide.

Was told many years ago they pulled a guy out of the water by Pier 42 — OD’d and fell in. He was a floater by the time he was spotted, they got him out with a little winch and dropped him on the pier, body was so stiff it landed in the push-up position. Cops had to slice the ass pocket off his jeans to get to his wallet because they got too tight from the bloating.

I’m guessing this was a common sight in those days since the John W. Brown students gathered to watch this on their lunch break.

The captain / mate on the #12 talked about having a body wash up in between the tow, cops really didnt wanna even be bothered, found one in the Gowanus above 3rd ave, could smell him before you saw him. Co-worker here was the one who found the jumper off the Bayonne bridge a few weeks ago, CG came and fished him out. I live 4hrs outside NYC and its not uncommon to have a car dumped with a body in the trunk on state land. Landowner on a job I was cutting 3yrs ago showed up to find someone stuck in the ditch, got lost, dead end road and the guy froze to death in the driveway.

We pulled a backpack with boots and some other items attached to it. It was obvious this stuff came off the dead body. We called NYPD Marine unit. They did come. Never in my life I saw a police officers so upset about having to do their job!

The way the tides and current works, Erie basin is great for this. Once something washes into there it’s trapped. I’ve seen prbly 3 bodies get picked up by the NYPD at Erie basin and one or two at the navy yard over the past 5 or so years. Oh and one hung up on old pilings near sunset park. They always get caught on the pilings eventually because NY harbor’s current flows in and out, so things don’t usually wash out to sea, for anyone here unfamiliar.

I’ve sailed with a person who became deceased while onboard, and transferred one from another vessel to be taken ashore in a helicopter, but never run into a body in the ocean. I can’t imagine the paperwork that would be involved for the Master who shows up to a foreign port with a dead body they picked up along the way. I’d think the most likely scenario if the mate truly saw a body in the ocean would be to establish whether they were still alive, and if not, hats on hearts and a silent prayer, then sail on. “Oh here us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea”

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I had crew ask one time if they died mid-voyage would we get their body home for burial?
“Hell no, you see a freezer on this boat you would fit into? Over you go!”

What body?

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I’d be a little concerned with explaining/proving that I didn’t in fact murder my crew mate and dispose of the body/evidence by “burial at sea” off the side of a yacht…

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