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Marked by the Sea: Tattoos in the U.S. Navy

A temporary exhibit coming soon to the National Museum of the American Sailor.

<p>Early Navy Tattoo Design</p>

Discover the history of tattoos with one-of-a-kind artifacts and artwork, and uncover the history behind how tattoos became a symbol of and for sailors. This new temporary exhibit explores how modern tattoos are rooted in the nautical world, beginning with British sailors in the early eighteenth century and spreading to sailors in the U.S. Navy. "Marked by the Sea" follows the history and culture of sailor tattoos through all American wars and conflicts, delves into the meaning behind common tattoos, and explores how sailor tattoo culture cultivated mainstream acceptance of this unique form of body art. 


Get more sailor tattoo history!

Can't wait for the new exhibit to open? Learn more about sailor tattoo history and the making of this exhibit with the following resources.

Preble Hall Podcast - Staff from the museum sat down with our friends at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum to discuss the creation of this exhibit. Discover our favorite tattoo artifacts, what goes into the making of a museum exhibit, and how "Marked by the Sea" was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in this episode of Preble Hall. Click here to listen, or find Preble Hall on your favorite podcast streaming service. 

Speaker's Bureau Presentation - NMAS offers a free Speaker's Bureau for groups and civic organizations. We offer a variety of naval history presentations including one all about Navy tattoo history. All presentations are now available virtually, as well as in person. To reserve your Speaker's Bureau presentation, click here


<p>Tattooed sailor aboard USS Missouri</p>

Are you a tattooed sailor? Share your ink!

Submit an image of your Navy tattoo for the chance to be featured in the exhibit. "Marked by the Sea" will showcase the tattoo designs of current and former Navy service members, accompanied by an explanation of the tattoo's design. 


Entries are limited to current and former Navy service members. 


Each individual may submit up to three tattoos for consideration. Tattoos must have been completed while serving in the United States Navy.

Although the museum encourages all artistic expression and individuality, submitted images must be appropriate for all ages to view. Explicit and/or discriminatory images of any kind will NOT be accepted, as the discretion of NMAS.


To submit your Navy tattoos for possible inclusion in "Marked by the Sea: Tattoos in the U.S. Navy," download and complete the Submission Form along with up to two high-resolution digital images of each tattoo. Entrants must submit images and a completed form to no later than September 30, 2020.


For questions regarding tattoo image submission, or general questions about "Marked by the Sea," contact us at or by calling 847.866.3154.

Published: Wed Jul 29 09:45:23 EDT 2020