mariner's law

'Do you know why sailors wear gold in their ears?' Uncle asked me. 'It was the law, long ago, that a sailor had to have on his person enough gold to bury him should he wash ashore. So the seaside folk wouldn't be out of pocket at the funeral expense.'

Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer, Sena Jeter Naslund, The Women's Press, 2000.