U.S. Coast Guard Loosens Tattoo Restrictions

File image courtesy USCG

Published Oct 4, 2019 8:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard has loosened its tattoo policy, following suit after similar changes to personnel policies in the other service branches. The measure will widen the range of eligible applicants for recruiting and "align the policy more closely with current tattoo trends . . . while ensuring that our military workforce presents a sharp, professional military appearance," the Coast Guard says. 

With the update, active duty and reserve Coast Guard servicemembers are authorized to have tattoos in several new locations. Chest tattoos up to the collar of a regulation Coast Guard crewneck t-shirt are now permitted. A single tattoo of one inch or less in size is now allowed on the back of each hand, so long as it is below the knuckles. One finger tattoo between the first and second knuckle of each hand is also permitted, in addition to the previously-authorized ring tattoo on the ring finger. 

“The new tattoo policy will expand our recruiting candidate pool and provide those already serving in the Coast Guard with a few new options," said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden in a statement.

Tattoos that represent "racism, discrimination, indecency, extremist/supremacist ideals, lawlessness, violence, or are sexually explicit" are still prohibited. 

Polling shows that an increasing number of military-age Americans have at least one tattoo, and the armed services have been gradually altering their policies to match. The U.S. Navy changed its rules in 2016 to allow large tattoos on the the lower arms and one small tattoo on the neck or behind the ear. The Army generally allows tattoos, except on the face, neck and hands. The Marine Corps has slightly eased its strict tattoo restrictions in order to boost retention, allowing current servicemembers with non-compliant tattoos to apply to re-enlist by requesting a waiver.