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I once wrote about being boarded by what I described as an "everything bagel" of law enforcement. The various agencies were training together on how to root out terrorists on the Intracoastal Waterway. There were six of them, but only one stands out in my memory.

What would you expect? A lot of them are still kids.

What would you expect? A lot of them are still kids.

The Coast Guard officer in the group was covered in some pretty hideous tattoos. I'm a consciencious objecter toward tattoos to begin with, but, truth be told, some of them are indeed art. Not hers, though, and I was pretty sure their placement, where I could see them, was contrary to Coast Guard regs.

A more traditional approach.

A more traditional approach.

Not anymore. The Coast Guard revised it's tattoo policies recently, and, as one retired guardsman quipped, it looks like the agency has pretty much given up. The Coast Guard has to compete with the other military branches for the best recruits, and its restrictions on tattoos were hurting competitiveness, particularly against the U.S. Navy, which gave up a while ago.

As Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens put it in a 2016 interview with USA Today: “We just got to the point where we realized we needed to be honest with ourselves and put something in place that was going to reflect the realities of our country and the needs of our Navy… We need to make sure that we’re not missing any opportunities to recruit and retain the best and the brightest because of our policies.”

The Coast Guard said changes "will ensure the Coast Guard’s workforce presents a sharp and professional military appearance to the public while permitting body art that is consistent with the Coast Guard’s Core Values. Aligning the policy closer to current tattoo trends also allows the Coast Guard to increase the pool of otherwise-qualified potential applicants for service."

The Coast Guard's tattoo policy now permits:

· Tattoos and/or brands may not be visible above the collar of the Coast Guard’s Operational Dress Uniform’s (ODU) crew neck T-shirt.

· One finger tattoo per hand is permitted. The tattoo must be between the first knuckle closest to the wrist (base of finger) and the second knuckle on the finger. One ring tattoo per hand remains authorized and will be considered as a finger tattoo. No tattoos are authorized on the thumbs.

· A single tattoo per hand no larger than one inch in any dimension, is authorized on the hand between the wrist and the first knuckle closest to the wrist (base of finger). No tattoos are authorized on the palms of hands. 

· In total, one hand tattoo and one finger or ring tattoo are allowed per hand.

Permitted tattoos on hands.

Permitted tattoos on hands.

“I am pleased to see the Coast Guard’s new tattoo policy reinforces a professional appearance to the public while adopting some of the very same tattoo standards that are now acceptable among the public,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden. “The new tattoo policy will expand our recruiting candidate pool and provide those already serving in the Coast Guard with a few new options.”

The rules governing body piercings and other body modifications have not changed from the previous policy. To read the new policy in its entirety, go to