The Coast Guard changed its tattoo policy in 2017 to incorporate some minor adjustments. Though the majority of the policy stays the same as always—banning tattoos that are vulgar, racist, or gang-affiliated—there are upgrades to the instruction that make important changes to tattoo and brand location policy that addresses ultraviolet or black-light tattoos and clarifies separation policy for violations for both new accessions and active duty members.
The policy can be found at COMDTINST 1000.1C. Here's what you need to know.
Changes to Tattoos in the Coast Guard Policy
The Coast Guard made several key changes to tattoo and body art policy in the upper body area.
Neck/Chest Tattoos. The requirement that tattoos not be visible when in uniform is now gone, as well as the body percentage rules, but there are still some standards you must adhere to.
Any tattoo displayed on the chest must not be visible more than 1 inch above the v-neck undershirt worn beneath the Tropical Blue uniform shirt. Previous policy stated that no tattoo could be visible when wearing the V-neck undershirt.
Hand Tattoos. As with the branches of the Department of Defense, only one tattoo ring can be displayed on each hand and shall not extend past the first knuckle on the finger from the base.
Tattoos or brands must not be below the wrist, but sleeves are allowed.
All tattoos including UV and black-light tattoos are allowed, but they must follow normal tattoo rules. Though there are not restrictions on what percentage of the body they can cover, brands do have a size limit. A brand may be no larger than a four-inch-by-four-inch area and cannot appear on the head, neck, face, or hand.
Tattoos or brands anywhere on the body that promote racism/discrimination, indecency, extremist or supremacist philosophies, lawlessness, violence, or sexually explicit material are prohibited.
- Racist or discriminatory tattoos or brands are those that advocate the degradation of a person based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or gender.
- Indecent or sexually explicit tattoos or brands are those that contain a visual image, the dominant theme of which depicts or promotes graphic nudity, including sexual activities or organs, in a lustful way. Tattoos featuring fully exposed nudity are prohibited.
- Extremist tattoos or brands are those that depict or promote extremist activities or organizations that advocate hatred, intolerance, or lawlessness (e.g., terrorist groups, neo-Nazis, skinheads, outlaw gangs, the Confederate flag, or extreme political organizations with violent histories). Because some extremist/criminal groups and organizations exploit popular symbols (e.g., cartoon characters), care must be taken in evaluating such tattoos or brands so as not to implicate members who may have selected the tattoo or brand based on its artistic value rather than a hidden meaning. In these cases, the service will make a determination based on the totality of thematic elements expressed by tattoos or brands elsewhere on the body.
- Tattoos or brands labeled violent or promoting lawlessness are those that depict extreme graphic violence, profanity, glorifications of drug culture, or markings that can reasonably be interpreted as anti-government in nature
No tattoo or brand of any type is authorized on the head, face, neck, or hands (except for one ring on one finger). The dark blue Coast Guard t-shirt collar shall be the reference point for the back and sides of the neck; i.e., no tattoo or brand may be visible past one inch above the collar of the t-shirt on the neck. In the case of a tattoo or brand very near the collarbone, a final evaluation shall be made to ensure that no tattoo or brand is visible when wearing a v-neck undershirt and an open collar shirt. The wrist bone shall be the reference point for tattoos or brands on the hands. No tattoos or brands shall be visible below the wrist bone.
There is no longer a percentage standards of tattoos of the body. Visibility in uniform is the defining factor when referring to size of tattoos on the body has been relaxed from previous years. In the case of branding, no more than one brand, not to exceed four inches by four inches, may appear anywhere on the body.
The Coast Guard’s policy on tattoos does not forbid cosmetic tattooing, which refers to medical or surgical procedures conducted by licensed, qualified medical personnel. For example, an individual may be medically authorized a tattoo on scar tissue that creates a noticeable gap in an eyebrow line.
The Coast Guard’s policy also addresses mutilation, dental ornamentation, and body piercing.
Intentional alterations or modifications to a member’s body (e.g. scarring, excessive ear-piercing and stretching, tongue-splitting, beneath the skin decorative implants, decorative tooth plating or engraving, etc.) are not authorized. This does not include traditional elective medical procedures (such teeth straightening, breast augmentation, or cosmetic plastic surgery).
The use of gold or platinum caps (permanent or removable) for purposes of ornamentation is prohibited. Teeth, whether natural, capped, or veneered, will not be ornamented with designs, jewels, or initials. The unnatural shaping of teeth for non-medical reasons also is prohibited.
The Coast Guard bans piercing, other than those for earrings (as described in Coast Guard Uniform Regulations, COMDTINST M1020.6), through the ear, nose, tongue, chin, eyebrow, or any other body part that would be visible while in any uniform. This prohibition applies to male and female members alike and is specifically intended to limit the less than military appearance associated with vacant holes in the face and other exposed areas of the body.
Other piercings concealed by the uniform (such as navel and nipples) are strongly discouraged due to the potential for infection and medical complications. Under no circumstance shall such concealed piercing and accompanying jewelry be visible through, or interfere with, the professional appearance of the member in uniform, nor shall such jewelry be visible while on board a Coast Guard unit.