U.S. Navy Tattoo Policies & Requirements

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 8, 2019
    Last Updated: March 17, 2022

The history of tattoos in the Navy goes back to the 18th century, originating from the exposure of Royal Navy sailors to Polynesian tattoos during the voyages of Captain James Cook in the Pacific. Their use in the US Navy soared during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, finally becoming even more widespread with the naval expansion during the Second World War.

The Navy allows members having tattoos to be admitted into its ranks. It also allows current servicemen to have their own. There are, however, guidelines that determine which tattoos are acceptable and which are not.

The US Navy tattoo policy prevents any sailor from wearing discriminatory tattoos, including depictions of sexism, racism and extremism. No tattoos are allowed on the head, face or neck, but are on the arms, torso and legs within certain parameters.


What the tattoo expresses is subject to certain rules that should not be deviated from. Generally, the tattoo shouldn’t show any prejudice against morale, discipline and order, as well as any kind of discredit to the naval surface.

As such, tattoos can be prohibited if they meet any of these instances:

  1. Obscene or sexually explicit
  2. Discrimination against race, gender, ethnicity, heritage or religion
  3. Promote the use of illegal drugs or narcotics
  4. Show support or affiliation to gangs or any extremist or supremacist group

Location and Size

Recently, the US Navy changed its tattoo policy concerning where you can have tattoos and how big they can be. The new policy is laxer after feedback from members in the fleet and leadership.

The guidelines on location and size are:

  1. Neck: A single tattoo as long as it doesn’t exceed 1 inch in any direction. This is also the same for the area behind the ear
  2. Head: No tattoos are allowed on the head, face, or scalp
  3. Body: Allowable so long they aren’t visible through the uniform
  4. Other: Allowed below the elbow and the knee without any size restrictions

Furthermore, sailors who already have sleeve tattoos can now acquire positions in Recruit Training Command and Recruiting Command.

Cosmetic Tattoos

The Navy allows the use of cosmetic tattoos, in that they’re required to treat a particular medical condition. This usually involves a surgical procedure that’s done by qualified medical personnel.

Documenting Your Tattoo and Determining Its Status

Whether your tattoo qualifies for a waiver or not, all sailors should document their tattoos through the Administrative Remarks (NAVPERS 1070/613). It’s then submitted and then mailed to the Records Analysis Branch (PERS-312) for officer personnel.

The commanding officers, in return, determine whether the tattoo passes or not. In the case of non-waiverable tattoos, the officer directs the member to either alter or remove the tattoo, if possible.

If the alteration of the removal of the tattoo isn’t possible, the sailor could be involuntarily discharged, if deemed appropriate by the commanding officer.

In the case of not complying with these requirements, members can become subject to disciplinary action, which can include involuntary separation.

What Happens With Recruits?

If you’ve just been recruited into the Navy, whether you’re in the active or reserve component, here is what you should expect:

  1. Screen: Commander, Navy Recruiting Command (CNRC) screens all the enlisted recruits for tattoos and whether or not they comply with policy
  2. Existing: For those who’ve served before, waivers received during that period are honored
  3. Possible waiver: If the individual was unable to provide a documented waiver for a tattoo they already had during that time, they could be granted one by the CNRC

The Navy Is at Peace with Tattoos

Whether you’re in the Navy and are thinking about getting a tattoo, or have tats and want to join the Navy, rules have become less strict. You can now have arm and leg tattoos, and even one on the neck. This is possibly a result of the more widespread social acceptance of tattoos around the globe. 

This means that the Navy is providing more opportunities for men or women to join their ranks. Without this, it’s at risk of not recruiting individuals who could rise the ranks and become great sailors.

Related Tattoo Articles