Navy Tattoo Policy For 2020

Navy Tattoo Policy for 2023

Body art like tattoos is a way to represent yourself.

Unfortunately, certain organizations still frown upon tattoos and other types of body art.

Despite the military having strict standards for personal grooming, it has actually relaxed many of its previous rules on tattoos.

What is the Navy tattoo policy for 2023?

The Navy has one of the most relaxed tattoo policies of any military branch but there are still certain restrictions.

The main takeaways regarding the policies are:

  • You CAN have a single tattoo on your neck, provided it’s less than 1 inch in diameter
  • You CAN have full-sleeve tattoos
  • Hand tattoos, including ring tattoos, are also allowed
  • You CANNOT have tattoos on your head, face, ears, or scalp
  • Offensive, racist, extremist, and sexist tattoos are NOT allowed.
  • Cosmetic tattoos performed by a licensed medical professional are now permitted.

Here’s a more detailed discussion of the policies.

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What Tattoos Are Allowed In The Navy?

navy tattoo policy
The Navy changed its tattoo policy to include a small neck tattoo, as well as larger tattoos on the arms and legs. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tattoos in the United States actually have origins in the Navy.

Sailors were some of the first to start getting body ink after touring Southeast Asia, where the tradition was already common.

As a result, the U.S. Navy has observed looser rules and standards when it comes to tattoos compared to other military branches.

The Navy recently changed some of its grooming standards in 2016, including far fewer rules regarding tattoos.

The policy was also been updated to allow a single tattoo on the neck (as long as it’s less than one inch in diameter).

navy neck tattoo
Sailors may have neck tattoos so long as they are below an inch in diameter and do not touch the hairline. This is an example of a neck tattoo that would require a waiver since it is larger than one inch. Image: Pexels

Additionally, tattoos below the knees and elbows are now allowed regardless of the quantity or size.

navy tattoo sleeves
Larger tattoos/multiple tattoos are now allowed on the forearm and legs. Image: Pixabay

Therefore, sailors are no longer regulated by the number of tattoos on their arms or legs, meaning service members can have full sleeves.

This is good news for Navy SEALs, as they tend to have an affinity for full-sleeve tattoos.

Related Article6 Best Navy SEAL Documentaries Of All Time

permitted navy tattoos on arms
Multiple examples of permitted tattoo sleeves. Image: Flickr

Hand tattoos, including ring tattoos, are also permitted under the new guidelines of the U.S. Navy.

navy ring tattoos
An example of a permitted ring tattoo. Image: Flickr

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What Tattoos Are NOT Allowed In The Navy?

tattoos not allowed in navy
There are many types of tattoos that are still prohibited in the U.S. Navy. Image: Pixabay

The U.S. Navy, like the other branches of the military, operated for decades without changing tattoo policies.

However, as tattoos have become much more of a social norm, the U.S. Armed Forces has begun to relax its standards.

Regardless, there are still certain standards you need to follow in order to qualify for the Navy.

While neck tattoos were once not permitted, the ink needs to remain small and under one inch in diameter.

Secondly, tattoos are still not allowed on the head, face, ears, or scalp.

navy face tattoo
Face tattoos are not allowed in the U.S. Navy. Image: Flickr

Since body art is such a diverse subject with an endless list of images one can ink to their body, it is difficult for the U.S. military to create a list of everything the organization does not allow.

Consequently, the Navy grants permission to a commanding officer to determine what is acceptable and what is not allowed.

The U.S. Navy has zero tolerance when it comes to body ink that is considered “offensive, racist, sexist, extremist, or discrediting America.”

navy racist tattoo
Tattoos are not allowed to be racist or endorse gangs. Image: Wikipedia

Tattoos may also not discriminate against national origin or religion, even if the ink is covered under a uniform.

illegal navy tattoos
Tattoos that endorse illegal substances or drug use are not allowed. Image: Inked Mag

Any body art that suggests gang affiliation or the use of illegal substances is also not permitted.

Lastly, body mutilation is not allowed in any regard in the U.S. Navy.

It includes tongue forking, skin modification (including intentional scarring), intentional burns to create designs on the skin, or any type of dental ornamentation.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

There are several questions that are asked frequently by people interested in joining the Navy:

Are hand, neck, or face tattoos allowed in the Navy?

Hand and neck tattoos are allowed in the Navy.

Neck tattoos were recently added to the acceptable list of Navy tattoos as long as they are below one inch in diameter.

Tattoos behind the ear are also permitted as long as the ink is not touching the ear directly.

There are some circumstances where a Navy recruiting commander may grant a waiver for having a neck tattoo that exceeds the maximum 1 inch x 1 inch dimensions.

However, face tattoos are still NOT permitted in the United States Navy.

The same is true of the head, scalp, and ears.

Are Navy officers allowed to have tattoos?

Yes, the new Navy tattoo policy grants the same privileges to officers as enlisted personnel.

Therefore, Navy officers are allowed to have tattoos that extend below the elbow or knee, places on the body that were previously restricted prior to the updated policy.

Commanding officers also have discretion when it comes to allowing or prohibiting body art on other sailors that go against the Navy tattoo policy for 2023.

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Will the Navy pay to remove tattoos?

Unfortunately, the answer is usually no.

In the past, a soldier could get funding from the military branch he or she was serving in order to remove a tattoo that was not allowed for service.

However, in 2006, the Department of Defense released a new policy that requires active-duty military personnel to pay for their own tattoo removals.

There was hope along with the new Navy tattoo policy that the decision would be reversed, however, the DOD policy still remains in place.

Sailors who are ordered to have a tattoo removed by a commanding officer can get financial support but a command-directed tattoo removal in the Navy is rare.

The good news is that since the Navy is looser with its tattoo policy than other branches, the chances of needing to remove a tattoo in order to serve your country are far less.

Can you go to the Naval Academy if you have tattoos?

The Naval Academy is located in Annapolis and prepares some of the brightest young minds for officer positions in the military branch.

In the past, the restrictions against having tattoos in the Naval Academy were fairly intense.

The academy has loosened some of its standards in support of the new Navy tattoo policy for 2023.

While it is still fairly frowned upon to join the Naval Academy with a tattoo, there are exceptions.

The official academy policy on tattoos states body art is prohibited anywhere on the body that is “prejudicial to good order, discipline, and morale, or are of a nature to bring discredit on the Naval Service.”

Though you may get away with a few tattoos on the arms or legs, the academy does not allow any body art on the head, face, neck, ears, or scalp. 

Permissible tattoos on the torso area of the body shall not be visible through white uniform clothing, and chest tattoos will not be visible when v-neck undergarments are worn underneath any uniform.

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Can you get a waiver for tattoos in the Navy?

Yes, you can receive permission for a tattoo that is otherwise not allowed under the terms of the Navy tattoo policy.

Though waivers are not handed out liberally, you may receive a pass for a neck tattoo that is larger than one inch in diameter.

In order to qualify for a neck tattoo waiver, the ink may not touch the hairline or reach behind the ears.

Military waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis with no guarantees.

What happens if you are caught with a prohibited tattoo after you’ve enlisted?

Sailors who are discovered to have tattoos with prohibited content may face disciplinary action.

The disciplinary action could include involuntary discharge in the most extreme situations.

The U.S. Navy presents commanding officers with the discretion to decide which tattoos are acceptable under its tattoo policy.

Unless it is an extreme case, most sailors are given the option of removing or modifying the tattoo in order to conform to current rules and regulations.

Related Article: Navy Enlisted And Officer Ranks And Pay 

What other grooming standards does the Navy have?

Body art is not the only grooming standard that the U.S. Navy regulates.

The Navy also enforces rules regarding haircuts, facial hair (beards, mustaches, etc.), and body piercings.

The U.S. Navy currently prohibits body jewelry when on duty for both men and women. There are no prohibitions on earrings for men or women when off duty.

Navy hair standards require men and women to keep it “neat, clean, and well-groomed” with specific requirements regarding length.

Certain hairstyles are not allowed, and you can find a full listing of permitted and prohibited hairstyles in the link below.

The Navy requires sailors to have a clean-shaven face with the exception of tightly regulated mustaches and sideburns.

Beards are not permitted in the U.S. Navy unless a medical shaving waiver is issued.

Get more details about Navy grooming standards by clicking here.

Related Article: Navy Height And Weight Standards


The Navy tattoo policy is adapting to a changing society where body art is becoming much more socially acceptable.

New standards allow small neck tattoos, as well as larger tattoos that extend below the elbow or knee.

The new policies for 2023 are a slight change from massive body art reform across various branches of the military that began in 2016.

We will do our best to keep the article updated with any new changes to the Navy tattoo policy. 

Tattoo Policies For Other Military Branches

Army Tattoo Policy

Air Force Tattoo Policy

Marine Corps Tattoo Policy

Coast Guard Tattoo Policy

National Guard Tattoo Policy

Nicholas A.
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Navy Tattoo Policy

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The Navy has a long history of being favorable and lenient towards sailors having a wide variety of tattoos. With that said, they do have some rules and regulations that you need to follow.
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