Many Coast Guardsmen have tattoos – and when compared to other military branches, the Coast Guard’s tattoo policy is fairly lenient.

Some Coast Guard members have one or more tattoos, designs that they got long before they enlisted. Others get their ink to memorialize their time in the Coast Guard. While many Coasties do have tattoos there are restrictions on what is allowed within the Uniform Regulations. Whether you sport full sleeves or a single tattoo, if you’re thinking about joining the Coast Guard you should review US Coast Guard tattoo regulations.

Current Tattoo Regulations For The US Coast Guard

Similar to other military branches, your tattoos cannot promote racism or discrimination, indecency (including nudity), extremist or supremacist philosophies, lawlessness, or violence. Many of the rules are very reasonable, but the Coast Guard recognizes that some extremist and/or criminal groups use popular symbols, like cartoons, in their insignias. Essentially, your tattoos cannot detract from the overall professional appearance of the Coast Guard.

You cannot have any tattoos on your head, face (including the inside of your mouth), or neck. However, permanent eyeliner makeup is authorized for women. The eyeliner must be conservative, in good taste, and complementary to the individual’s complexion and the uniform. That means no brightly colored permanent eyeliner, and the tattoo must also be ⅛ of an inch or less in width, not extending past the outer corner of the eye. For tattoos near the neck the Coast Guard Light Blue Shirt (as worn with the standard Tropical Blue uniform) will be your reference point – tattoos cannot be visible above the collar of the Light Blue Shirt. Hand tattoos are permitted on one finger (not thumb) per hand and only in the design of a ring. The design must be ¼ inch or smaller and must also comply with the content restrictions.

Finally, the Coast Guard does not regulate the size of your ink. If your tattoos meet the content and location regulations there is absolutely no limitation on how large your tattoos can be. For Coast Guardsmen who want to advance their careers within the Coast Guard (by attending Officer Candidate School, for example), as long as all tattoos are in compliance with the Uniform Regulations there won’t be any obstacles to advancement.

How US Coast Guard Tattoo Regulations Have Changed

Debates about tattoos and other forms of body art have been common throughout the Armed Services, but Coast Guard leadership recognizes that tattoos are becoming more and more popular. The tattoo policy of the United States Coast Guard was last changed on August 31, 2009, and these policies are still in effect today. Prior to 2009 there were also policy modifications on June 17, 2005.

The Coast Guard implemented a more restrictive tattoo policy in 2005. Under these rules potential recruits whose tattoos covered more than 25 percent of an exposed limb were turned away. When explaining the policy change in 2005 (the first in 30 years), Commander Wayne Muilenburg (the Washington, D.C.-based chief of the Coast Guard’s Policy and Standards Division) said, “Our standards dated back to a time when tattooing was restricted to a very small portion of society … Consequently, there was little need to spell out, in detail, the dos and don’ts of body art.” This policy didn’t last long, though, and by 2009 there were no longer restrictions on the size or amount of ink a potential Coastie could have, as long as the designs fit certain guidelines.

The US Coast Guard has always kept a set of guidelines that help maintain the professional and honorable appearance of American Coast Guardians, and the intent is to ensure that enlisted Coasties look professional while doing their jobs. If you want to join the Coast Guard and are thinking about new tattoo possibilities, or even if you already have tattoos, spend some time determining whether your intended design fits the rules.

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

If you want to join the Coast Guard but have tattoos on your head, face (including the inside of your mouth), neck, or hand tattoos other than a single ¼ inch ring tattoo on each hand, they must be removed before you begin the enlistment process. If you have neck tattoos that extend above the collar of the Light Blue Shirt you may need to have those fully or partially removed. Tattoos that meet placement and size rules, but not content regulations, can oftentimes be covered up with an additional tattoo.

Using makeup to cover tattoos during recruitment isn’t a good long-term solution. A lasting solution is the better choice, even if you’re tempted to try using vanishing creams or other potentially damaging methods of tattoo removal. The best option for tattoo removal before joining the Coast Guard is a high-quality laser treatment from a facility with a long track record of successful removals.

Zapatat Offers Steep Military Discounts For US Coast Guardsmen

Zapatat provides affordable, professional laser tattoo removal treatments for everyone – combined with a military discount of 15% for military, veterans, and their spouses, you just can’t go wrong. You can even get the discount if you aren’t an active duty Coastie quite yet. Simply show us a note from your recruiter, or have them call one of our offices.

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.


    • Tattoo, Body Marking, Body Piercing, and Mutilation Policy.