What You Need to Know About US Navy Tattoo Regulations

December 11, 2015

Tattoos have always been a common and celebrated part of life in the Navy – there’s even a distinct tattooing style for Sailors.

Some Sailors sport tattoos from before they joined the Navy. Others get new ink to commemorate their time in the Navy. There’s even a distinct style of “Sailor tattoos,” pioneered by Norman Collins. Collins was fondly called “Sailor Jerry,” and the signature style that he used on sailors and soldiers in Honolulu during World War II remains popular today.

While many members of the Navy do have tattoos and tattoo culture is strong, there are several restrictions on the content and size of your ink. Regardless of how many tattoos you have and their type, if you’re thinking about joining the Navy you’ll want to review the US Navy tattoo regulations.

Current Tattoo Regulations For The US Navy

Your body art will be subject to screening by Navy Recruiting personnel before you’re allowed to enlist. Recruiters can photograph your tattoos and any other body art that is located below the knee, and also from the shoulder joint to the fingertips.

Any tattoo that is prejudicial to good order, discipline and morale, or of a nature to bring discredit upon the Naval service is understandably banned. The most commonly banned tattoos contain designs that are sexist, racist, vulgar, anti-American, anti-social, gang related, and/or extremist group or organization related. Further, tattoos that represent illegal associations, including illegal drug use, are prohibited. These rules might seem common sense, but some recruits are surprised to learn that certain tattoos, like band or cartoon-related designs, occasionally include insignias that aren’t allowed.

Head, face, neck, and scalp tattoos are not allowed. The neck area refers to any portion of the tattoo that is visible when wearing a crew neck t-shirt. But, recruiting personnel may grant approval for a tattoo that is visible above the collar of a crew neck t-shirt, as long as it isn’t visible when wearing an open collar uniform shirt. You shouldn’t count on an exemption, though.  Lastly, tattoos in otherwise permissible areas of the body cannot visible through white uniform clothing.

The Navy also regulates the size of your ink. Individual pieces of body art that are exposed when wearing a short sleeve uniform shirt must be no larger in size than the wearer’s hand with fingers extended and joined with the thumb touching the base of the index finger.

How Navy Tattoo Regulations Have Changed

The Armed Services have seen plenty of debate over tattoo policies in recent years, and the Navy has participated in those discussions. However, the Navy has actually relaxed its policies. The most recent change to the tattoo policy of the United States Navy was on April 21, 2006. These changes came about after the realization that the policies from 2003 weren’t clear.

Policy modifications from 2003 included a “25 percent rule,” which stated that no more than 25 percent of any limb or part of the body that does not show while in uniform (like the back) could be tattooed. Now, a full back or torso tattoo is allowed, but the ink still cannot be visible through the white Navy uniform. The 2006 clarifications also required existing Sailors to have their tattoos documented in their personal medical records.

Why were the policies dialed down, though? In 2006, Master Chief Robert Carroll, Command Master Chief for the Chief of Naval Personnel, called the policy change “a compromise” that lets young Sailors do what they want with their bodies while also preserving “the image we want our Sailors to project to the world.”

The US Navy has always set regulations to assist American Sailors in maintaining an honorable and professional appearance, which ensures that enlisted members can complete their assignments while looking professional. However, keep in mind that even with less restrictive policies it would still be smart to verify whether your current and future tattoos meet Naval standards.

What To Do If Your Tattoos Don’t Pass US Navy Standards

If you’re considering a career in the Navy, but have tattoos on your neck, head, face, or scalp, you’ll need to have them removed before you may enlist. Additionally, if you have tattoos that are exposed when wearing the Naval uniform and they are larger than your hand with fingers extended and joined with the thumb touching the base of the index finger, you may need to have those removed fully or partially. If your tattoos meet the size and placement rules, but not content restrictions, it’s occasionally possible to cover them up with another tattoo.

Remember, covering up prohibited tattoos with makeup during recruitment isn’t a long-term solution. You’ll also want to avoid harsh, do-it-yourself methods of removal, like vanishing creams. The resulting skin damage can look like branding, which can cause you to be turned away, even if your tattoo fades. If you have tattoos that will need to be removed before you can enlist in the Navy visiting a high-quality laser treatment facility with a history of success is your best option.

Zapatat Offers Steep Military Discounts For US Sailors

Zapatat provides affordable, professional laser tattoo removal treatments for everyone – combined with a military discount of 15% for active duty military members, veterans, and their spouses, you just can’t go wrong. And don’t worry if you aren’t an active duty Sailor yet. To get the discount, just show us a note from your recruiter or have them get in touch with us.

For speedy tattoo removal, you’ll be very impressed with Zapatat’s ART™ (R20) Fast Tattoo Removal – the world’s fastest tattoo removal treatment. Just one session lightens tattoos by 50-85% with no scarring or side effects. Since each session is like 6-7 standard laser removal sessions, you’ll get your tattoo removed in fewer visits at a very affordable cost.

Learn more about Zapatat’s ART℠ tattoo removal treatment and our generous military discount – or, just call us at 703-248-0909 to schedule your free consultation at our Arlington and Newport News locations.