Navy Cyberspace Surface Ship Website Header

United States Navy Tattoo Policy

Before you get your next tattoo!

Updated: April 29, 2016

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) The following has been extracted from NAVADMIN 082/16, CNRC N3 Operational Notice #43, and NAVCOMCRUITCOMINST 1130.8J (CHG 8):

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.

Location. One tattoo will be authorized on the neck and shall not exceed one inch in dimension (height/width). The neck is defined as the area between the collar line of a crew neck T­-shirt and the base of the jaw bone. Tattoos meeting these requirements are acceptable behind the ear. No tattoos are permitted on the head, face (to include ear) and scalp. 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.

Size. The size restriction for visible tattoos is limited to the area of the neck and behind the ear only. As a result of this change, leg and arm tattoos can be of any size. Tattoo on the neck or behind the ear will not exceed one inch in measurement in any dimension (height/width). 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.

Cosmetic Tattoos. Cosmetic tattoos are authorized to correct medical conditions requiring such treatment. For the purpose of this regulation, cosmetic tattooing refers to medical or surgical procedures conducted by licensed, qualified medical personnel.

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.

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.”
UPDATE as of 31 MAR 2016: The Navy, effective 30 April 2016, will be relaxing its tattoo policy. The current policy as lined through in this article remains effective — the new data will take its place.



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


  1. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Jason,

    Unless the tattoos were applied by a qualified medical professional for cosmetic reasons, any tattoo on the head or neck, unless otherwise indicated in the article, is disqualifying.

  2. PO2 Page says:

    NCCM,

    I’m looking to apply for OCS. Does having a half sleeve seriously impact ones chances of being picked up for commissioning?

  3. NCCM(Ret) says:

    PO2 Page,

    As long as the tattoos meet the standard, it should not hamper your application.

  4. Julie says:

    Questions,
    I Have Tattoos On My Fingers They’re Very Little But Will That Be A Problem

  5. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Julie,

    It depends on the tattoos. Also, keep in mind, with a tattoo on the middle finger — it could prove problematic no matter what it is because of the middle finger’s status in some circles.

  6. Steve says:

    With the new tattoo policy, are sailors still required to submit a chit before getting tattoos? Even if they meet the rules and regulations.

  7. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Steve,

    The new guidance did not change any procedures that were already in place.

  8. ashish says:

    Sir i have a tatto on my forearm ..but when i wear full sleeves shirt ..it dosent seen.. so can i join the navy..

  9. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Ashish,

    As long as the tattoo does not violate the content restrictions, you should be okay.

  10. Worried says:

    Hello , I’m worried about my tattoos and enlistment. I have 4 visible tattoos , 3 on my ankles one side is my grandfather’s name and a cross and the other side some flowers. On my ring finger I have my grandfather’s initials and it’s in color . One on my left lower arm above my hand in a side way kind of way . And I wonder if I’ll be turned away , I’ve always wanted to join and it’s worrying me alot .
    Thank you

  11. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Worried,

    As long as the tattoos meet the content criteria (not considered to be gang related, etc.), then you should be fine.

  12. Temmy says:

    I’m about to join the military, I took a pre-test on the asvab with the army and I got a pretty good score but my tattoo was a big deal. It’s on my right arm, it’s 1 inch longer than my wrist knuckle. It’s in Latin words which says per aspera ad astra with stars around it. Will this be an issue? Or can I get a waiver for this?

  13. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Temmy,

    As long as the tattoo meets the content standards, you should not have a problem joining the Navy with it.

  14. ant says:

    Hi’ would a tattoo on my upper arm and lower back neck of my city area code and city name be a problem? They are both hand size or smaller. Not gang related at all.

  15. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Ant,

    It depends on whether the tattoos violate the location regulation — if the tattoo rides up too high onto the neck, you will be disqualified. Also, if the series of numbers in your zip code indicate any gang relationship, even if that was not your intent, you will be disqualified.

  16. Koneill13 says:

    I know hand tattoos are excepted as long as they are not on your knuckles, but both my recruiter and I are curious if there is a size regulation. My hand tattoo covers my entire top side of my hand. He is currently on vacation and I’m pretty stressed over it, so I’d be very grateful for some help! Thank you!

  17. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Koneill13,

    Size concerns are only for tattoos around the neck and behind the ear. Content criteria is the one that stops most applicants; if your tattoos meet that criteria and are not located on the neck or behind the ear, you should be fine.

  18. Nick says:

    Hello,
    I am trying to enlist in the military and have a small branded cross on the outside of my left bicep. It is about an inch and a half long and about a half inch wide. I am 25 now and it has faded greatly since I got it as a senior in high school. I have seen many posts on tattoos but was a little confused on brands. I was just wondering if this was waiver able; thank you.

  19. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Nick,

    As long as it is not considered to be gang related, you should be fine.

  20. Nick says:

    Thank you very much sir for the clarification I greatly appreciate it, I was worried whether it fell under the blurred line of tattoo or scar.

  21. Help says:

    Is there a registry to check who’s in each branch? I’m worried for my sister, my whole family believe her bf is lying about being in the marines, any help would be nice.

  22. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Help,

    If he is currently serving in the Marine Corps, he should be able to produce his unexpired identification card. I would expect he should be proud to display it to whomever asks within your family. Otherwise; to locate a Marine please Contact the Marine Corps World Wide Locator:

    HEADQUARTERS U S MARINE CORPS
    PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT SUPPORT BRANCH (MMSB-17)
    2008 ELLIOT ROAD
    QUANTICO, VA 22134-5030

    Hours of operation: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    Phone number: 703-784-3941 / 3942 / 3943.

    Keep in mind that regulations do not permit random dissemination of listings of names and addresses of service personnel. These regulations have been established to protect individual service men and women from commercial exploitation and to respect their right of privacy. Because of the large volume of requests that each service locator receives, please allow at least four weeks processing time for written requests. The following information is needed for all requests for all locator services: Give as much identifying information as possible about the person you wish to locate such as full name, rank, last duty assignment/last known military address, service number, and Social Security number.

  23. James [Last name redacted for privacy] says:

    I have a tattoo on my hand around the base of my thumb, it is a Polynesian symbol for protection,and is not gang related. should i take precautions before i go to talk to a recruiter?

  24. NCCM(Ret) says:

    James,

    There are no precautions to take — just show the tattoo to your recruiter; if there is a concern, he will send a picture of it to the powers that be for an evaluation.

  25. M.R. says:

    I have a Celtic green man on my shoulder it only goes half way down my arm but it can be covered with a casual tee shirt. Would this be permitted?

  26. NCCM(Ret) says:

    M.R.,

    As long as your tattoo meets the content criteria, and it is not exposed on your neck, you should not have a problem.

  27. Bb says:

    Hello,

    I have a small tattoo of the word “faith” behind my ear. Is there to get that waived? Im graduating in May with a Public Relations degree.

  28. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Bb.,

    As long as the tattoo does not exceed one inch in measurement in any dimension (height/width), you should be okay.

  29. Kennedy says:

    Hello, my names Kennedy & I’m worried because I want to join the navy. But I have a small shoulder tattoo that’s the size of my hand or smaller, but I wanted to get another tattoo in my inner arm, of a single rose the size of my hand or smaller. But if it won’t allow me to pursue my naval career then I won’t. Your input would be great!
    Thank you!

  30. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Kennedy,

    It should not pose a problem as you describe it; however, I always recommend holding off until after boot-camp before getting your next tattoo if you know you are seeking enlistment soon.

  31. BB says:

    Will a tattoo on my wrist affect my enlistment? The tattoo covers the entire inside of my right wrist. With a watch it’s covered but obviously I can’t wear a watch at all times..

  32. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Bb.,

    As it states in the article, as long as your tattoo meets the content criteria, your wrist tattoo should be fine.

  33. Koneill13 says:

    So I have a hand tattoo. Now, my recruiter says that they are now accepting it but we aren’t sure if there is a limitation. I’ve tried calling the US Navy help thing, but it seems they were a little stuck in the past. Lol

  34. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Koneill13,

    The only size limitations are for the neck/behind the ears.

  35. Caleb says:

    What about bible verse tattoos. Are they prohibited if in the correct location and size?

  36. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Caleb,

    Doesn’t matter where the words may have originated, if they violate the content criteria, it will not be allowed — it depends on what it says.

  37. Chad says:

    I got this dumb tiny brand that was supposed to be a horseshoe but looks like a backwards j is this disqualifying? Ibe honestly stressed about this for a while.

  38. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Chad,

    As long as the brand meets the location and content criteria, you should be fine.

  39. Marlena says:

    So my navy recruiter just sent pictures of the tattoos on the hands but they disapproved them. They didn’t give me a reason. My left hand knuckles say “lost” and my right hand knuckles say “love” and I have a rose on my right hand as well. I know they changed the tattoo policy as far as location. But I’m not sure on what to get removed because they didn’t give a reason. Is there anything I can do about this to get in?

  40. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Marlena,

    Your recruiter should be able to find out the exact “why”. Have him research it.

  41. USTADAWN says:

    Sirs/Madame

    I have an older son that I would like to see join the military. He, unfortunately, has multiple tattoos (he use to be a tattoo artist). He has a tattoo on the back of his hands and I have been told by some that the Navy will accept him with the tattoos there and others have said they will not.

    Can you please clarify. Will the Navy accept applicants with tattoos on the back of their hands?

    Thank you very much.

  42. NCCM(Ret) says:

    USTADAWN,

    Having a tattoo on the back of his hand would not by itself be disqualifying. As long as each of his tattoos, no matter where they are located, meet the “content” criteria and do not invade the neck, face, or scalp area, he should be fine.

  43. Patience says:

    I have been working with my Navy recruiter for almost 2 months and in that time he has had to send my tattoo pictures 3 times saying they told him they were “blurry”
    (They were not) I have done everything required passed my ASVAB with a score 20 points higher than my practice exam. I have a clean background and a high school diploma. I just want to know how the waiver process is handled if he actually is turning in the pictures. I have a tattoo of a cross and it is 3″ height and 2″ width BUT not even an inch shows above the basic PT t-shirt collar. It DOES NOT show in the actual uniform. I was honest about having it even though I was skeptical about the tattoo policy. I don’t have money to get it removed. I would if I did, I was also told not to by another recruiter because then I would have to fill out a surgical form. I just want the truth. I am willing and able to serve. I understand its a long process for some (like me).

  44. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Patience,

    If he has yet to provide you with an answer, ask to speak with his supervisor. It sounds like you tattoo is too large on your neck, but he should be telling you one way or another.

    Whether or not you can afford to get a tattoo removed or not is not germane to the policy itself.

  45. NWI says:

    I have a tattoo on both my bicep and chest will i still be okay to join the Navy

  46. NCCM(Ret) says:

    NWI,

    You should be okay unless the tattoos violate the “content” criteria discussed in the article.

  47. Alexis says:

    I’m still trying to find out the requirements for chest tattoos, they’re allowing a neck tattoo so have they leaned away the chest tattoo if it is not higher than the shirt?

    Please update me if someone could!

  48. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Alexis,

    As long as the tattoo meets the size criteria for the neck, and the overall content criteria required for all tattoos, you should be fine.

  49. Richie [Last name redacted for privacy] says:

    When I was in WW2 Navy boot camp, the rumor/myth/whatever was that any guy with a naked woman on his upper arm had to have a skirt tattooed on figure so that the medics would not hit the exact same spot when giving shots.

  50. Kristofer says:

    I just swore into the Navy a week ago, however, one of the career counselors refused to sign off on my tattoo waiver because of the spider web tattoo I have on my shoulder. He said it was gang related and I would be kicked out of boot camp because of it. I had to get my waiver signed by a CO. I am worried I will be kicked out of boot camp because of my spider web tattoo. Should I be concerned and should I look into getting it covered? Thanks!

  51. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Kristofer,

    If you know the tattoo is gang related, and you think the waiver was granted in error, then you would need to consult your recruiter about the best way forward.

  52. Kristofer says:

    Thank you for getting back to me! While I was at MEPs I had to send several pictures and a hand written statement to the CO in order to get a waiver signed. He signed the waiver and my recruiter told me not to worry about it. He said I will be fine when I get to boot camp. I have sworn in and have a ship date. If I have a tattoo waiver signed, can the folks at boot camp still kick me out over the tattoo? Or does the waiver grant me “immunity” from this. Again, thank you for taking the time to reply to me!

    Respectfully,

    Kris

  53. Jack says:

    I have a dragon tattoo on my forearm, will it be disqualifying for the navy standards? It is not gang related or any of the sort.

  54. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Jack,

    If as described, a dragon tattoo on your forearm should not be a problem.

  55. Jack says:

    Or what about the waivering process how long do you think it would take or will there be a chance of them not accepting me (navy)

  56. Hopefullyenlisted says:

    How does the tattoo policy work, I have 3 tattoos none gang related. Will I need any kind of waive for just a look at meps will be enough??

  57. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Hopefullyenlisted,

    Gang related isn’t the only criteria; if they are also considered to be against what may be “good order and discipline”, they will also be denied. For example, a nude human tattoo, or something sexually expressive. Every tattoo is reviewed for location and content. If it is determined the tattoo requires a waiver, then one will be sought.

  58. Cyrus [Last name redacted for privacy] says:

    I have one on my neck and I got it was I was younger it’s bigger than an inch but says family and it’s not too big at all is there any way to work through trying to get in the navy or will they deny me I won’t have the money for tattoo removal it’s over $1,000.

  59. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Cyrus,

    The size criteria on the neck is not waiverable.

  60. brittni says:

    Hello,
    I have a paw print tattoo on the very lowest end of the base of my neck. It’s not up anywhere close to my hair line and a relatively large portion of it is on the upper part of my back between my shoulders. However, sometimes it still pops out when I wear T-shirts. Would this be disqualifying? It would not stick out more than an inch above a T-shirt, and would not stick out at all with a collard shirt.

  61. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Brittni,

    If the tattoo extends onto the neck larger than allowed, then you would have to have the portion of the tattoo that does removed. If it doesn’t extend further than allowed, you will be fine.

  62. Harris says:

    Hello,
    I Have been in the process of getting a tattoo on my neck removed but you can still see it very lightly my recruiter told me not to list it since I was getting it removed and now I’m scheduled to ship out for boot camp November 9 and I’ll have one more laser session on Tuesday oct 24. It shows when I have on a crew neck but they had me try on a uniform top and it didn’t show. I’m scared that at boot camp they will still be able to see it and I will get kicked out , I seen they updated the neck tattoo policy to include while in uniform so I’m thinking I will be ok but I just needed another opinion. I’m also willing to cancel my contract and go to MEPs again when it is completely off but I really don’t want to!

  63. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Harris,

    Did you get the tattoo while you were in the DEP?

    All tattoos must be reviewed before being able to join; if you have one that has not been evaluated, you may have an issue — if you have a tattoo that does not meet the requirements, you will be discharged. Ensure those at MEPS are aware of your tattoo; make sure it is documented before you ship.

  64. Harris says:

    Thanks for the reply but no I’ve had the tattoo for years now and it’s barley visible due to the laser removal sessions but you can still see it , I’m just wondering if the neck policy was for a crew neck or the uniform because I seen recent articles that mentioned not being able to see it in uniform which you can’t but in older posts it says in a crew neck just trying to clarify

  65. NCCM(Ret) says:

    Harris,

    If they saw it and documented it when you joined, then it was cleared for enlistment, or they would not have let you join. As I said, just ensure it has been documented; if so, no worries.

Leave a Reply

Before asking a question, please read the article and comments -- your question may already be answered! Here is a site search to assist you:

A Navy recruiting blog that delves into the military enlistment process and benefits of service. This is NOT an official United States Navy or government web site. The opinions expressed are my own, and may not be in-line with any branches of the government or military.

©Navy Cyberspace. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, content written by Thomas Goering, NCCM USN(RET).

Terms of Service and Privacy Policy