updated 10/14/2005 7:43:58 AM ET 2005-10-14T11:43:58

The Coast Guard has tightened its rules for tattoos for the first time in 30 years in response to the increased popularity of permanent body art.

The goal is a more professional appearance for the military branch that has the most contact with the public.

“The 1940s, party-hard sailor is not the image we’re going for,” Chief Petty Officer Keith Alholm, a spokesman in the Coast Guard’s Seattle-based 13th District, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Recruiters have found an increasing number of applicants with “near 100 percent coverage on their arms and/or legs,” according to the new policy, which went into effect over the summer.

Under the new rules, applicants whose tattoos cover more than 25 percent of an exposed limb will be turned away, the Coast Guard said. The previous standards were more general, prohibiting offensive tattoos but not naming a permissible amount.

So far, at least 26 applicants have been rejected under the new policy. There won’t be repercussions for most Coast Guard members who already have tattoos.

“Our standards dated back to a time when tattooing was restricted to a very small portion of society ... Consequently, there was little need to spell out, in detail, the dos and don’ts of body art,” said Cmdr. Wayne Muilenburg, the Washington, D.C.-based chief of the Coast Guard’s Policy & Standards Division.

Other military branches also have tattoo policies. The Army has long prohibited tattoos that show when the soldier is in uniform. Last spring, it also banned offensive markings “regardless of location on the body.” The Navy also bars visible tattoos.

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