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United States Navy Tattoo Policy

Before you get your next tattoo!

October 23, 2015

If there was one branch of service that was synonymous with tattoos, I think it would be the Navy. The days of a Sailor pulling into some exotic far east port and having a few drinks, and then heading down to the local tattoo artist have been seriously hampered by the latest instructions. A Sailor can still get a tattoo, but he or she must consider a number of things before picking the location, size, and content. So before you get your next tattoo, keep reading!

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 (there have been various updates, and those are defined at the bottom of the article).

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.

Removal/Alteration of Tattoos/Body Art/Brands

Disqualified applicants who later have any tattoo/body art/brands professionally concealed or altered may request reconsideration for enlistment/commissioning eligibility determination.

Be advised, all applicants are warned not to obtain any new or additional tattoos/body art/brands while awaiting accession and that failure to comply with this warning could result in their discharge. While in the Delayed Entry Program, Future Sailors should not add any tattoos, body art, body piercings, etc. Future Sailors will be screened 30 days, and again 7 days before leaving for boot-camp to ensure no new tattoos, body art, or brands have been added since entering the Delayed Entry Program. Not only is there a chance for infection, but the tattoo, art, or piercing itself may very well disqualify you and lead to your discharge.

Policy Updates

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, 2013: “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

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

  1. NCCM(ret):

    Liz, the regulations are similar across the services. My hope is that those who get tattoos understand that placement and even the art work itself may have a detrimental impact on being able to serve. Feel free to circulate this information to the widest audience, I’d hate to see someone get a tattoo who wants to join in the future unable to only because the tattoo is one inch too high onto the neck or some other reason listed in the instruction.

  2. Liz | libra tattoos:

    I had no idea the navy actually has regulations regarding the tattoos service men and woman can wear. If I was in the Navy I would find it frustrating if there was a tattoo I wanted to get but did not meet the regulations. I wonder if the regulations have tightened up over the years? Also I would wonder if someone that already has a non regulation tattoo is unable to join the Navy. maybe one of the other branches would accept them!

  3. Honest:

    To be honest alot of tattoos can be waivered as long as they aren’t insulting/disrespectful/anti-government or race. I serve in the USN, and work closely with every branch, as long as you keep your tats hidden it won’t matter, only when they are visible are they a serious issue and even then they have to fall under the areas I mentioned area but that goes with the ones hidden for we are obligated to report those kind of things. We do over look new tattoos acquired while in service, however those who join with tats get a bit more scrutny due to they are getting fully examined and people can plainly see these things. Honestly the navy is still very much a tat covered military unit, I think army is close to follow, those thinking marines do just so you know marines fall under the Department of Navy. I have to say the coast guard is probably the most strick due to they want to seem most military given they are sometime not seen as a military force. Only thing when it comes to tats you need to worry about is the content, but if it isn’t like the KKK, Nazi or the South Rise Again(Seen as anti-government sometimes over looked if got while in) tat you should be good.

  4. NCCM(ret):


    Thank you for your input. Yes, those already serving may be granted more leeway in content/location but for those joining, the rules listed above are absolute.

  5. Worried:


    Just wanted to get your opinion, I am very set on joining the Navy, I have a great GPA (college senior) a really hard work ethic and unfortunately two full sleeves of tattoos. None go below the wrist, all are tasteful and NONE are in any way offensive or prejudicial. To be quite honest, it was a dumb decision to get them, something I did when I was young and immature. I have high hopes for joining the Navy’s Healthcare wing, do you think they will give me a chance? Thank you for your time.

    Oh and this question is open to anyone who is currently serving and knowledgeable about this issue.


  6. NCCM(ret):


    Your tats will be a waiver as they exceed the individual size limit. Your best bet is to get the process started.

    “(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.”

  7. delt with it:

    I wanted to join the united states cost guard but was not allowed because of my tattoo .. so they said but it could have been an excuse for being 15 pounds over weight . i looked in to the navy and tattoo regulations messed me up and my father would not allow me to join the army because he is x navy . so i cant do anything

  8. rosie:

    i’m a 22 yr old woman who wants to join the navy and i have a few tattoos… i was told my tiny cross tattoo on the back of my neck would be waivered because it would be covered by my hair(i have it as far up in my hairline as possible) and collar. however, i have a rose that is on my ankle and foot. i’ve looked everywhere and haven’t found an answer… i will report having the tat but will i be turned away for it? i’m talking about when i wear dress whites and i have to wear a skirt and pumps… i’ve covered it up with makeup before and u couldn’t even tell it was there. that’s the only one i’m worried about.
    any info would be great!
    thanks, ROSIE

  9. NCCM(ret):


    A tattoo on your neck is disqualifying; even if the tat is covered with your hair.

  10. janine:

    i think the navy should allow people with tattoos cause to me thats like racisum in itself cause not all people with tattoos are thugs and when there dreams of getting into the navy are dashed its hard for them to pick themselfs up again. i should know.

  11. worried:

    So, a tattoo behind the ear, on the neck is automatically up for disqualification? Is there any waiver?

  12. NCCM(ret):


    No waiver would be authorized.

  13. adrian:

    You can get a waiver for any tatoo. I was in the navy for six years and I have tatoos on my neck and wrist. They have tightened the rules a bit but that is to not allow offensive/gang related tatoos. Anyhow all they can do is tell you “no.” Go see.

  14. NCCM(ret):


    No waiver will be approved for a tattoo on the neck for enlisting. A waiver may be granted for those already serving, but not a new enlistment.

  15. Ern:

    I just went through MEPS yesterday. Because I’m a female and have only male recruiters, they couldn’t see my tattoo before going down to be processed. So at MEPS they took a photo. I have a 10in x 6in tattoo of Bettie Page on my side, naked. They figured that it wouldn’t be an issue because I’m a girl and my side would always be covered up. The photo went through about 6 or 7 people, and in the end was not approved because she’s “too naked”. They said I could get a whole bunch of Wrecking Ball, or put some sort of clothing on her. I’m absolutely fine with this, and she’ll be getting a new bikini sometime soon! But just because you CAN get the waiver, doesn’t mean you’ll be APPROVED for it.

  16. NCCM(ret):


    You are correct. Because you can get a waiver, it doesn’t mean you will, but from what you describe, I think if you did cover up the nakedness – chances are pretty good you should be OK.

  17. daimo:

    ok so i have a kanji symbol on my neck its about a inch and a half big and i really want to join the navy besides laser removal see as how expensive it can get any other options or hope of me being able to join?

  18. NCCM(ret):


    There are no waivers for tattoos the neck – removal would have to be complete.

  19. MM3 McGrady:

    To all people having questions about joining the navy with tattoos as long as they arent offensive you will get them waived. Im stationed in charleston right now at the nuclear training base and their are a couple people with sleeves and a cpl girls with small neck tattoos. Heck i joined with a huge eagle tatted on my back and a forearm tattoo and got waivers. Ive also got 3 tattoos since ive been in and getting them approved is easy as hell.

    Im saying that if a someone like me can get into the nuclear program (one of the hardest to get into other than seal) with a forearm tat thats bigger than regulations i dont see why anyone else cant. Last year when i was in bootcamp ive seen people with hand tattoos with waivers and neck tattoos with waivers

  20. NCCM(ret):


    Those neck tattoos you saw would not have received a waiver for enlistment; they had to have been over looked/missed by the Navy liaison and MEPS medical staff – it occurs when there is hair covering the neck and the applicant fails to disclose it. Also, there is not a separate tattoo requirement for nuke; all tats are viewed for overall enlistment eligibility – your tats qualify for the Navy, they qualify for all programs.

  21. Maria:

    Hi I’m a girl thinking about joining the navy.
    I have 3 tatoos all able to be covered, flowers on my shoulder, a poem down my side and star and quote on my foot. none offensive either as you can see.
    my question is, piercings. I have my ears gauged, they are at 1/2″ which is a little smaller than a chapstick tube. no I have not worn anything for months in my ears and they never seem to close, maybe a tad bit but easily go back to it’s normal size.
    would this cause a problem in trying to join?when I don’t have anything in my ears it really just looks like a deep slit in my ear, can’t even see through it.
    I’m just afraid that it won’t close, and I can’t afford surgery to close them. Can you get them approved even though they are big?

  22. NCCM(ret):


    The large holes in your ears will have to be healed, closed to at least the size you would expect for a regular earring, before you could join.

  23. Tugboat:

    I have a large colored tattoo on my back covering about half of my back. Is this an issue at all? The only part I’m confused on comes into play with being visible with white uniforms. Can anyone clear this up for me? Thanks

  24. NCCM(ret):


    Depending on the content of the tattoo of course, but you should be OK as long as it doesn’t extend up your neck. You will be wearing a tee-shirt under the uniform, and that, hopefully, will ensure the tattoo doesn’t “shine” through while in uniform.

  25. Sammy:

    Hi I am an 18 year old girl and I have two tattoos on both the tops of my feet. They are no larger than my fist. One is a moon with stars and the other is a sun with clouds. I was just wondering if I will be turned away from joining the navy because of my tattoos. Thank you

  26. NCCM(ret):


    Those tattoos should not pose an issue.

  27. Tyler:

    Are Celtic knot tattoos disqualifying? I know some Irish gangs use te Celtic cross but I am looking at a brotherhood not

  28. NCCM(ret):


    Your tattoos would have to be submitted for review if the MEPS has a question about it. As long as you didn’t have a gang relationship, I haven’t heard of that tat being an issue – if it is not in a disqualifying location, you should be fine. Once you do find out either way, I hope you come back here and let us know.

  29. addy:

    I have an “A” branded into my right forearm. I have no gang affiliation. Its something stupid I did when I was younger. “A” for addy (my name). Will this cause a problem when I try to enlist?

  30. NCCM(ret):


    As long as the “A” isn’t bigger than your hand, you shouldn’t even need to have the brand evaluated; you should be fine.

  31. cheryl:

    hello i have a tattoo of a lizard on the back of my neck, it’s about 2in about the size of a dollor coin and im worried about it cause i want to join the navy and its been my dream and i was wondering would this affect me from getting in or could i get it waivered?

  32. NCCM(ret):


    A tattoo on your neck is disqualifying, and there is no waiver authorized.

  33. blake:

    i have a concern about my full sleeve and chest tattoo, my sleeve is all about bycicle racing gears and tools and my forarm has a suger scoal on it,and bike tires, but on my shoulder i have a 4 inch size brass nuckles that siads ride or die in it, some thing stupid i know it was a sticker i had on my bike for ever, any way i all so have a family cattle brand on my ring finger ( small in size and easy to be lazered right off im shure) and i have angle girls on my chest and it siads family is forever, would any of these be a problem for me joining the navy? iv herd u can get a waiver for tattoos, but really for ful sleeves or a ring finger tattoo?

    im worried im about to turn 24 and if im going to join i need to do so asap iv allways wanted to i just never actually went for it and now im set on doing so!

  34. NCCM(ret):


    Because the tats cover so much area, you will have to go see a recruiter and have him submit them to the powers that be for approval. Based on what you describe, I don’t think it will be much of an issue, although I can’t see them, unless they cover any part of your neck – I think a waiver is possible.

    Note, if anything gives you a problem, I think it will be the brass knuckles with the comment “Ride or Die”.

  35. blake:

    thanks for the info, now about the waiver, what is a waiver? how does it work? and is it hard to get a recruiter to issue me a waiver for my tatts? what is the reason for getting a waiver for the tattoos? i know i have alot of questions. is it possible that a recruiter would tell me no just because he doesnt feel like doing the paper work or dealing with me cause it is hassle.

    iv researched alot on the web about diffrent things about joining the service. and have read that some recruiters might just say no but if i keep bugging them or try a diffrent recruit office that it should be possible!
    and i have been a journey men in the pile drivers union, and i want to pursue that field of work. what kind of jobs are offerd that i might like to go in for?

  36. Jessica:

    I have three stars behind my ear? Is that an automatic disqualification?

  37. NCCM(ret):


    Yes, that is disqualifying.

  38. NCCM(ret):


    A waiver is an action completed by a delegated authority that grants the applicant permission to proceed if they have a condition, or an event in their life that would normally render them disqualified. Not all things can receive a waiver, for instance, a tattoo on your neck or scalp is not authorized to have waiver consideration, but a large tattoo, depending on the content, on you back may receive a thumbs up. The recruiter is not the waiver authority, although, it is in their privy to refuse to process any applicant that has a disqualifying condition.

    Use the Navy Jobs link in the sidebar to find the job that most relates to pile driver, I assume it would be under the construction/SeaBee ratings.

  39. blake:

    thanks again for all of the info, this web site has been very helpful!

    hope to be in the navy soon, as a steelworker!

  40. AVERY haygood:

    ok i have a flaming skull on my left hand its it covers the top but still passes as smaller than my hand closed… i also have my left knuckles done and on small tatoo of initials on my left forearm … i really need a dang answer… can i join if i do everything i need to? no bullcrap be str8 up im tired of wasting time..

  41. NCCM(ret):


    Not sure how I am wasting your time.

    If the tattoos are representative of gang membership, advocate racial, ethnic, racial discrimination, sexism (including expressions of nudity), drug related, obscene, or are prejudicial to good order, discipline, and morale, or are of a nature to bring discredit upon the Navy, the tattoos will be deemed disqualifying. If there is any question to the latter, pictures of your tattoos will be taken and sent to Navy Recruiting Command for a determination.

  42. heather:

    I have a hand/finger tattoo, non gang related, not too big, its just on my hand although not visable during a salute. I want to join the navy and i need to know if i could receive a waiver? I’m already approved for the army so i have a backup plan.

  43. NCCM(ret):


    Depending of course on its content, you should be OK.

  44. heather:

    The tat is just a latin word meaning justice, but i’m glad it should be ok. Thank you very much.

  45. NCCM(ret):


    The tattoo isn’t on your middle finger is it? If it is it could be an issue if considered, “…prejudicial to good order, discipline…”.

    Don’t know that it will, but it could because of the connotation/message.

  46. heather:

    nope its starts on my hand and goes to about the middle of my index finger

  47. NCCM(ret):


    Then you should be OK.

  48. heather:

    great thanks

  49. Janina:

    hi, i have a tattoo on the front of my wrist. It’s my nephews name, but its quite small and i can cover it with my index finger, i was wondering if this would be a problem or if i can have a waiver for it? is there some sort of contract to have it removed if it’s an issue?

  50. NCCM(ret):


    That tattoo should not pose a problem.

  51. desmond:

    I have a tattoo of my nickname (dezz) on my neck, I have already talked to the recruiter and he said to get it removed. I have already completed one lazer removal session, but does that mean I have to wait until it gets completely removed before joining. or could I get a waiver since I have already started the removal proccess.

  52. NCCM(ret):


    The tattoo would have to be gone before you can proceed.

  53. Chris:

    I had a quick question about a tattoo I have. I already have a ship date and got it approved at MEPS I ship out soon and had only one concern about it. It is on my chest, it is no where near collar bone or anything but I am worried it would show through a thinner white t-shirt. Is this something to worry about or since it is covered up by a t-shirt should I be alright?
    Thank you,

  54. NCCM(ret):


    Because you were approved by Navy Recruiting, you shouldn’t have a problem at all.

  55. Maria:

    Why are can’t small neck tattoos get waivered when it clearly states, “The neck area for purposes of this regulation is any portion visible when wearing an open collar uniform shirt.”?? I have a tattoo on the back of my neck and it is clearly hidden when I wear an open collar shirt.

  56. NCCM(ret):


    An open collared shirt extends down in the front to expose a small part of the chest – for this regulation, that small portion of the chest would be included as the neck.

  57. Lacey:


    So i have two small tattoos… One of a baby rattle behind my ear for my godson..and also one inside my ear of a little pink star…when i went to go see a recruiter they told me no automatically… Now can you get into the navy with tattoos on ur neck? Because reading these blogs… Everyone’s answer is different.

  58. NCCM(ret):


    Not sure who’s answers you mean. The policy clearly states that a person cannot have a tattoo on their neck or head – there are no waivers. If you are referring to Maria’s comment, I thought my answer to her clarified her misinterpretation/misunderstanding where she thought the neck area would extend upwards to as high as a collar on the back whereas it really means tot he collars/shirt’s lowest point in the front.

  59. watsos:

    My boyfried is in the process of finishing up his paperwork for officer recruit for the navy. He just got a new tattoo on his chest of a ship, but needs it to be finished. Someone told him today that he can’t get it finished and he shouldn’t have gotten it in the first place since he’s already signed a bunch of paperwork for the navy. Is this true?

  60. NCCM(ret):


    As long as the tattoo does not extend high enough to hit the neck, he should be OK after a review. The recruiter should take a picture and send it to recruiting command for review.

  61. Watsos:

    So if he hasn’t taken MEPS yet, just got the first half of the tattoo last weekend, and was going to do the second half of the tattoo in a couple weeks after his physical, that is okay?
    Apparently all paperwork needs to be in by dec 1. And he was told today that he can’t get the tattoo finished???
    It is just on his right pec. Is not scene outside of the shirt.

  62. watsos:

    Just to make sure you understand my questions,
    I would like to know if he can get the tattoo finished after his MEPS or physical (I’m not 100% on the names of things).
    And that if he can get the tattoo finished, that he won’t be penalized at all, and will still be able to join the Navy as an Officer Recruit.


  63. watsos:


  64. NCCM(ret):


    Sorry for the delay in answering.

    If he enters into a contract, he must remain eligible throughout his time in the service. So, if his tattoo becomes a disqualifying factor, he will be discharged.

  65. Rickster:

    I got a brand of a star on my chest this past weekend and Im shipping out in two weeks..the brands smaller than my hand but it’s the entire star, not the border of one..would I still be eligible to report to basics?

  66. NCCM(ret):


    As long as it healed, you should be OK, but not sure why you did not consult with your recruiter before hand.

  67. Rickster:

    Just a spur of the moment kinda thing..thanks!

  68. Andrew:

    I have 3 visible tattoos on my arm. One on my left upper arm that is simply my last name. Ive got a memorial tattoo for my father that covers up my entire upper arm(consists of a cross, eagles, and clouds)Right below that tattoo I have “never forget” written on my forearm. None are obscene in any way but are highly visible. Will I be able to join?

  69. NCCM(ret):


    You should be OK.

  70. Julie M.:

    I have multipul peircings including gauges (9/16), snakebites, septum and a gauged nose, i have green and blue hair i know what to do about my hair and i know to strip my pericings but what about implants?

  71. NCCM(ret):


    The implants would need to be removed.

  72. gunner:

    hey i hve tattoo on my back…will i be the team of navy

  73. NCCM(ret):


    Having a tattoo on your back is not disqualifying as long as it does not violate other restrictions listed in the post.

  74. gunner:

    sir i have tattoo in my back but if i wear dresess it is invisble it wont see…will i be a part of the navy team…can you write down in genral english

  75. NCCM(ret):


    The post is in general English.

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