Navy Tattoos-Brands-Body Art Policy

Before you get your next tattoo!

If there was one branch of service that was synonymous with tattoos, I think it would be the Navy. The days of the Sailor pulling into some exotic far east port, having a few drinks then heading to the local tattoo artist have been seriously hampered by political correctness. The Sailor can still get a tattoo, but must consider a number of things before picking the location, size, and content before moving forward.

The policies of tattooing, branding and body art extend to those wishing to join the Navy. Below I have quoted a section of the Navy recruiting manual which discusses the topic.

Four criteria will be used to determine whether tattoos/body art/brands are permitted for Navy personnel: content, location, size and cosmetic. (During the screening process, tattoos must be seen either in person or by sighting a photograph)

(a) Content. Tattoos/body art/brands located anywhere on the body that are prejudicial to good order, discipline, and morale or are of a nature to bring discredit upon the naval service are prohibited. For example, tattoos/body art/brands that are obscene, sexually explicit, and/or advocate discrimination based on sex, race, religion, ethnic, or national origin are prohibited. In addition, tattoos/body art/brands that symbolize affiliation with gangs, supremacist or extremist groups, or advocate illegal drug use are prohibited.

(b) Location. No tattoos/body art/brands on the head, face, neck or scalp. The neck area for purpose of this policy is any portion visible when wearing a properly fitted crew neck T-shirt. However, the NRD CO may approve an eligibility determination for a tattoo visible above the collar of a crew neck T-shirt, but is not visible while wearing a properly fitting open collar uniform shirt (from any direction). In addition, otherwise permissible tattoos/body art/brands on the torso area of the body shall not be visible through white uniform clothing.

(c) Size. Individual tattoos/body art/brands exposed by wearing a short sleeve uniform shirt shall 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. Tattoos/body art/brands that exceed size criteria are waiverable provided they do not violate the content or location criteria.

(d) Cosmetic Tattoos. This regulation does not prohibit cosmetic tattooing to correct medical conditions requiring such treatment. For the purposes of this regulation, cosmetic tattooing refers to medical or surgical procedures conducted by licensed, qualified medical personnel.

(5) Mutilation. Intentional mutilation of any part of the body is prohibited. Mutilation is defined as the intentional radical alteration of the body, head, face or skin for the purpose of and or resulting in an abnormal appearance. Examples of mutilation include, but are not limited to a split of forked tongue; foreign objects inserted under the skin to create a design or pattern; enlarged or stretched holes in the ears (other than a normal piercing); intentional scarring on the neck, face or scalp; and intentional burns creating a design or pattern.

(6) Dental Ornamentation. The use of gold, platinum, or other veneers or caps for purposes of dental ornamentation is prohibited. For purposes of this regulation, ornamentation is defined as decorative veneers or caps. Teeth, whether natural, capped, or veneered, will not be ornamented with designs, jewels, initials or other similar ornamentation.

While in the Delayed Entry Program, Future Sailors should not add any tattoos, body art, body piercings, etc. Not only is there a chance for infection, but the art or piercing itself may very well disqualify you and lead to your discharge.

UPDATE as of 15 OCT 2009: “Cosmetic tattoos applied in good taste so that colors blend with natural skin tone and enhance natural features are acceptable. Exaggerated or faddish cosmetic styles are not authorized. Permanent lipstick colors shall be conservative and complement the individual.”
UPDATE as of 28 May 2010: “Tattoos on the inner lip that are not visible with an open mouth are acceptable as long as they meet content criteria.”
UPDATE as of October 15, 2012: “Tattoos/body art/brands that exceed the top of a properly fitted crew neck T-shirt may no longer be approved for enlistment.”
UPDATE as of November 5, 20132: “Policy guidance for applicants with tattoos has been updated. The neck area for purpose of this policy is any portion visible when wearing a properly fitted crew neck T-shirt. However, the NRD CO may approve an eligibility determination for a tattoo visible above the collar of a crew neck T-shirt, but is not visible while wearing a properly fitting open collar uniform shirt (from any direction). Additionally, during the screening process, tattoos must be seen either in person or by sighting a photograph.”

The current Tattoo Screening Certificate: NAVCRUIT 1130/104

Read Comments (234)

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234 Responses to “Before you get your next tattoo!”

  1. NCCM(Ret) says:


    If you joined with those tattoos — if you are already in the DEP and had them when you joined, then you won’t have a problem, but even if you are not, you would not have a problem joining the Navy with those as you describe them.

  2. Zachary says:

    NCCM (ret)

    I’m joining the coast guard not the navy and no I’m not in DEP. Will MEPS let me swear in as long as I can remove my knuckle tattoo before bootcamp?

  3. NCCM(Ret) says:


    I am not sure how the Coast Guard works, but for the Navy, you would not go to MEPS with a questionable tattoo before the recruiter sent it up for a review. I would think the Coast Guard would do the same. But again, I don’t think your tattoos are out of standard.

  4. Zachary says:

    NCCM (ret)

    Thank you sir.

  5. Derrick [Last name redacted for privacy] says:

    I recently finished a full sleeve tattoo of polynesian tribal. Will this be a problem for me when joining?

  6. NCCM(Ret) says:


    The tattoo will have to be waived due to its size.

  7. Derrick [Last name redacted for privacy] says:

    What does that mean?

  8. NCCM(Ret) says:


    It means that because the tattoo is larger than a hand and it is below the sleeve, it is disqualifying, so it needs a waiver. Pictures will be taken of it and sent to the waiver authority and they will determine whether you can enlist. A waiver is likely provided it does not violate the content or location criteria as stated in the post.

  9. Jay says:

    I’ve got my physical coming next week and I’m starting to worry about my stretched ears. They aren’t big at all, 00g. I’ve taken them out when my recruiter told me they might be a problem. The size has shrunk a considerable amount but I feel it’s not…enough and I wouldn’t want to get reconstructive surgery cause they’re not that big and I don’t have enough money for such a procedure…I’ve heard people pass even though their ears weren’t normal piercing size…should I be worried?

  10. NCCM(Ret) says:


    If the doctor can see through the holes, do not expect to clear medical.

  11. Jay says:

    Oh jeez that’s not good…the only way they can see through the hole is if they grab my ear but if you’re just looking at it than it looks normal…I would be really disappointed if I failed just cause of something like that…

  12. Tatijuana says:

    So if I have a borderline neck back tat and it’s not visible in a crew neck or navy work uniform then I’m okay or no??

  13. NCCM(Ret) says:


    It depends. Borderline means it will require a review — it is possible now per the latest policy update that I added to the bottom of the article. I hope it works out!

  14. tjoseph says:

    Hi I have a tattoo on the side of my middle finger that says ‘faith’, would that be a problem if I wanted to join the army or air force?

  15. NCCM(Ret) says:


    I don’t know what the rules are for the other services, but I would think you would have a problem due to the placement of the tattoo and the message that could be gathered from it.

  16. Niklas says:

    I have a Deinonychus skull (I’m a bit of a paleontology nerd) tattooed on my forearm that measures about 7″ by 5″.
    It’s my only visible tattoo (the other is a Roman numeral 6 on the shoulder).

    Would I be okay with just that poor would I need to seek a waiver?

  17. NCCM(Ret) says:


    Due to its size, I would expect the forearm tattoo to require a waiver. Oh, and you don’t seek out tattoo waiver consideration, it finds you :)

  18. kirsten says:

    Hi I’m eondering if I’d be able to enlist in the navy with a forearm tattoo of a camera and flowers thats roughly the length of my hand from the tip of my middlefinger to the bottom of my palm and a small wrist tattoo that says no lies?

  19. NCCM(Ret) says:


    Based on what you wrote, it may require a waiver for size, but you should be okay.

  20. MM2(SS) says:

    so I have a tattoo below my elbow that I want to turn into a sleeve. In your experience how likely is it to get approved with a special request chit?

  21. NCCM(Ret) says:


    I have not yet heard of a tattoo request disapproved if the content is inline with good order and discipline. Good luck because I am sure it varies based on who is bottom lining it.

    For those reading this, he is already in the service — if you are thinking about getting a tattoo, I advise you wait until you are in and finished with boot-camp before you proceed; it is the safest way!

  22. Junior says:

    I’m really interested in joining the navy but I have a tattoo of two music notes behind my right ear, pretty visible. I was wondering if I can still enlist?

  23. NCCM(Ret) says:


    No, you are not eligible with any tattoo above the shoulders.

  24. Tania [Last name redacted for privacy] says:

    What if you have a tattoo almost in the center of your back a black heart Will I still eligible ?

  25. NCCM(Ret) says:


    As long as it meets the criteria listed within the article, you should be fine.

  26. Kendra says:

    My situation is kind of complicated. I have a tattoo that stretches below my waistline, it is of an armored realistic heart. Also I have a tattoo that reads for those I love I will sacrifice and others I will destroy. I know the destroying part is probably a little much and might need to be covered or removed. My other tattoos don’t worry me after reading this discussion board. All of my tattoos would not be visible in uniform but the location and content of the two I mentioned is sketchy as far as meeting regulations.

  27. NCCM(Ret) says:


    Before you do anything, have the tattoo(s) in question reviewed — don’t spend any money covering or removing anything. Take a non-revealing picture of it (just the tattoo) so the recruiter can forward it.

  28. JayShady says:

    I have a half-sleeve tattoo on my left forearm with a grim reaper exiting the earth holding the bible with tornado and clouds around it! Will I be able to enlist in Navy? By the wY it’s 10 inches long with only black ink. Not gang related or anything racist

  29. NCCM(Ret) says:


    The tattoo will require a waiver due to its size — I don’t think you will have an issue because of the content of the tattoo itself.

  30. John [Last name redacted for privacy] says:

    I am 38 yrs old and I am considering naval reserves. I have numerous tattoos on my forearms of a koi fish, Japanese dragon, other arm has an art piece and a fleur de lis. My question is this: would it be possible for consideration based on number of tattoos below elbow because of my age?

  31. NCCM(Ret) says:


    Based on the description you provided, you will require a waiver, but you should be fine.

  32. Kyle says:

    I have a neck tattoo that is the pieces astrology sign with tribal, I know that is a disqualification but is there any way I can get a waiver or of I enlist could they possibly help me get it removed?

  33. NCCM(Ret) says:


    I wish I had better news, but, no. The tattoo must meet the standard before you would be allowed to process.

  34. Kyle says:

    Thank you sir I appreciate it. I will think about removing it and see about proceeding with my enlistment.

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