Coast Guard to Allow Waivers for Bigger Tattoos and Ink in New Places

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Coast Guard tattoos.
Members now have a formal process for requesting exceptions to some of the service's restrictions on ink. (Coast Guard Twitter page)

The Coast Guard will now consider waiver requests for its tattoo restrictions on size and placement, considering each on a case-by-case basis, according to an announcement Monday from the service.

Coasties may submit requests for exemptions through their command, while those interested in joining the service can submit their inquiries through their recruiter or officer selection officer. If the waiver is approved, members will receive written consent, according to the Coast Guard-wide message.

Members should refrain from getting any new tattoos "without an explicit written waiver," the message advised.

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Under the policy, waiver requests will not be considered for anything other than size or location exceptions. Tattoos must continue to be "in good taste" and in compliance with the service's content restrictions, which exclude racist, discriminatory, explicit, violent, extremist or supremacist body art.

The change comes as the Coast Guard faces a recruiting crisis, having missed its enlisted accession goals by an average of 20% in the last three years. In 2019, the service launched a review of its tattoo rules with an eye toward recruitment and retention, with then-Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz saying that changes may allow otherwise-qualified potential applicants who had been excluded to join.

In 2021, the Coast Guard updated its tattoo regulations to allow tattoos in various locations on fingers and behind the ears.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan told members of Congress last week that her top priority is workforce management and ensuring that the service draws the best talent to the force.

Fagan pledged to recruit members who are "service-oriented and have a high sense of purpose," with leaders who will provide "an increasingly diverse workforce and strong sense of belonging so every individual is valued, safe and able to deliver their best service to the nation."

"Recruiting is an immediate focus area to ensure that we are drawing the best talent into the service that we can," Fagan told members of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security last Thursday. "We need to get after policies that have served us well but do not continue to serve as well as we move forward in a way that is reflective of society."

According to a survey conducted earlier this year by Rasmussen Reports, 33% of Americans have at least one tattoo, while 21% have two or more.

More information on the Coast Guard's tattoo policies can be found in Tattoo, Body Marking, Body Piercing, and Mutilation Policy, COMDTINST 1000.1D.

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

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