More Ink on Heads, Fingers Allowed in Updated Coast Guard Tattoo Policy

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Coast Guard men, women and recruits now have more options to show off tattoos on their fingers or behind their ears under a new policy.
Coast Guard men, women and recruits now have more options to show off tattoos on their fingers or behind their ears under a new policy. (Coast Guard Twitter page)

Coast Guard men, women and recruits now have more options to show off tattoos on their fingers or behind their ears under a new policy the service announced Monday.

The new finger regulation allows service members to get a tattoo anywhere between their first knuckle and fingertip, or on the top or side of the finger, in an area that "may be visible at the position of attention."

The Coast Guard previously had stipulated that a single finger tattoo could be placed per hand but needed to be between the first and second knuckle. Any ring tattoo counts as the single finger tattoo allowed on that hand.

The new rules also allow for a single tattoo no larger than an inch wide to be placed behind one ear.

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Hand tattoos remain authorized as long as they are no more than an inch wide. One finger and one hand tattoo are allowed on each hand, according to policy, published as ALCOAST Commandant Notice 113/21.

The Coast Guard last updated its tattoo policy in 2019 to broaden the pool of potential recruits and allow members flexibility in decorating their bodies.  

Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said in his first "State of the Coast Guard Address" in 2019 that the service's leadership needed to look at its policies to draw service members and retain them.

"Your senior leadership team is exploring more forward-leaning policy changes to recruit and retain a workforce reflective of the nation we serve, including easing the existing tattoo policy, removing single parent disqualifiers, and revising outdated weight standards that disproportionately affect women," Schultz said.

All the military services have issued updates in recent years to address similar concerns, as well as trends in the general population where they hope to attract recruits.

As part of a sweeping review of military personnel policies in 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the services' tattoo policies could be excluding recruits who otherwise would be qualified for military service.

The Air Force updated its tattoo policy in August as part of an overhaul of dress and appearance standards, allowing for scalp tattoos. The change followed sweeping alterations to Air Force policies in 2017 that eliminated its "25%-coverage rule," which restricted the size of tattoos on the chest, back, arms and legs, and allowed for sleeve tattoos.

The Army loosened its tattoo policies in 2015, generally drawing a line on ink visible while wearing the dress uniform. The Navy instituted a significantly more lenient set of rules in 2016, allowing sailors to have tattoos on their neck, behind their ears and on their hands.

The Marine Corps continues to have the strictest tattoo policy, limiting officers to only four visible tattoos in their physical training uniform and restricting enlisted Marines on their tattoo sizes. Sleeves remain banned, as are face, hand, neck and knee tattoos.

The service has, however, relaxed the rules for submitting photographs of any tattoos that aren't visible in physical training, or PT, gear. It announced in June it was abandoning a requirement for Marines to submit a 360-degree photo of themselves in order to reenlist or apply for special-duty assignments.

Coast Guard officials said they would include the newest changes in a revision of Tattoo, Body Marking, Body Piercing, and Mutilation Policy, COMDTINST 1000.1D, to be published next year.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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