Navy Tattoo Policy and Regulations

What Tattoo Is and Is Not Allowed in the Navy

Joining the Navy but worry that your tattoos will violate Navy tattoo policy?

The Navy has updated guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable for enlisted personnel and officer tattoos, including restrictions on offensive tattoos and places on the body where tattoos are acceptable. You can read the full list of navy tattoo regulations here. But even if you have a tattoo that violates regulations, you have options.

Here’s everything you need to know about being tattooed in the Navy

Navy Tattoo Regulations

Updated in 2016, the Navy tattoo regulations are now some of the most lenient in all branches of the military. Prior rules prohibited any neck tattoos and limited the amount of ink that could be shown on forearms or legs. New regulations allow for unlimited tattoos on the legs, arms, neck, and even on the hands and behind the ears. The only places on the body that are off limits are the head, face, and scalp. Tattoos on the torso are also allowed, but they must not be visible under dress whites.

TAttoo Content

What the tattoo means 

Navy tattoo policy prohibits tattoos that contain discriminatory, indecent, racist, supremacist, or racist elements as well as tattoos that include sexually explicit images or promote lawlessness or violence. In other words – no gang affiliations, no Confederate flags, no graphic violence, no exposed nudity, and no glorification of drug culture or anti-government statements. The ultimate decision about whether sailor tattoos violate Navy tattoo regulations is up to the commanding officers.

History of Navy Tattoos


The US Navy has a rich history of tattoo culture. For a large portion of US history, when people thought of tattoos, they thought of sailor tattoos. Sailors in the 1700s were inspired by the indigenous people they encountered in Polynesia and the South Pacific and were some of the first in the west to get tattoos.

These early tattoos were built on superstition and also told the stories of the sailors’ travels. A sailor tattoo of a turtle on its back, for example, meant the wearer had been to the equator. Because sailors are associated with the Navy, sailor tattoo meaning became associated with Navy tattoo meaning. Here are some of the most common tattoos seen on Navy personnel (and sailors in general) and what they represent:


Sailor Jerry tattoos

Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins was one of the most famous sailor tattoo artists in history and was known for his images of sharks, “Aloha” monkeys, bottles of booze, anchors, and pin-up girls. Many Navy personnel get Sailor Jerry tattoos in remembrance of this icon.

Swallow bird tattoo

The swallow bird tattoo was first seen on the crew members who staged a mutiny on board The Swallow and was meant to help them identify their co-conspirators. In modern times, a swallow typically represents a guide to land and symbolizes loyalty as swallows mate for life.


Navy seal tattoo

Those who are currently in or have retired from the elite Navy Seals division of the service often get a U.S. Navy Special Warfare Insignia in the shape of a trident. This Navy seal tattoo indicates they have completed their training.

Navy anchor tattoo

The anchor is a given when it comes to sailor tattoo meaning and navy tattoos. It represents calm, steadfastness, hope, and salvation.

Nautical star tattoo

The nautical star is an icon than ensures that a sailor can always find his way home.

Do you have a tattoo that needs to be removed?


FAQs on Laser Tattoo Removal for Navy Service Workers 


If you plan to join the Navy, you shouldn’t get any tattoo that would violate the Navy tattoo policy. However, if you already have Navy tattoos that aren’t permitted, there are still options. Laser tattoo removal can get rid of such tattoos and allow you to join the Navy and rise through the ranks.


What is laser tattoo removal?


Laser tattoo removal uses powerful lasers to break up ink particles under the surface of the skin. Once the ink is broken up into small enough particles, the skin safely flushes them out of the lymphatic system. Unlike creams or surface abrasion, laser tattoo removal targets the ink where it resides in the lower levels of the skin to remove them safely and effectively so you can adhere to Navy tattoo policy.


How long does tattoo removal take?


Getting your Navy tattoos removed is not a quick process. Depending on the size, location, and colors used in your tattoo, it can take anywhere from four to ten sessions spaced six to eight weeks apart. This allows for the skin to heal between sessions and prevents excess skin fatigue and scarring. If you have a prohibited tattoo according to Navy tattoo regulations and want to join, you should begin your sessions as soon as possible.


How much does tattoo removal normally cost?


To adhere to Navy tattoo rules, you will spend anywhere between $200 and $500 per treatment to remove a prohibited tattoo. The cost and number of treatments depend on the size, location, and colors used on your tattoo as well as how old it is and how deeply the ink penetrated the skin. At The Finery, we give you an estimate during your consultation for how much your removal will cost, and you will pay this flat fee no matter how many sessions it takes.


Find a tattoo removal location near you