36 US Navy Memorial Tattoo Design Ideas


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How do you honor a fallen Navy veteran? Many families choose to have a military funeral. These beautiful ceremonies are an excellent way to give tribute to someone who sacrificed for our country. Some choose to have a Navy symbol placed on the headstone of the deceased. 

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Some friends and family members of deceased veterans choose to go one step further when honoring a loved one who was in the U.S. Navy. They get a tattoo to honor a deceased loved one who was a member of the military.

Explore some Navy memorial tattoo designs if you’d like to honor a friend, family member, fellow sailor, or loved one who was a member of the U.S. Navy. 

If you're interested in other unique ways to honor a loved one, you can consider a custom urn from a store like Foreverence or even have a memorial diamond made from ashes with a company like Eterneva. Creating an online memorial page, if you haven't done so already, is also a wonderful way to honor your loved one. Cake's online memorial pages are easy to use, and they allow visitors to leave tributes and even donate funds if you enable fundraising.

Small US Navy Memorial Tattoo Ideas

Let’s say you want a memorial tattoo but you need to limit its size. Here are some tattoo ideas that would look good regardless of how big it is.

» MORE: Everyone's wishes are different. Here's how to honor your unique loved one.

1. Anchor

Even a small anchor tattoo is recognizable from a distance. Consider adding your loved one’s initials and birth and death dates to the design so your tattoo has context. 

2. Rose or poppy

You can use red flowers, especially roses and poppies, to commemorate a fallen soldier’s life. Historically, poppies have been used to honor World War I veterans, but some have used the design to remember the fallen during more modern conflicts.

Make sure you research the symbolism of flower tattoos before you choose a design and color. You may want the rose’s petals to be falling to give the image a more melancholy look. 

3. Dog tags

Some websites say that the Navy no longer issues dog tags to sailors. Regardless, you may use this well-known image to permanently honor a fallen soldier.

Instead of including the same information that would be found on a real dog tag, consider having the name, birth, and death dates on the tags. You may also want to add the phrase “never forget” or “RIP.”

4. Broken heart

Losing someone you love is a heartbreaking experience. Show others that you will never quite recover by having a broken heart tattooed on your body. Add the name or initials of your loved one.

5. Compass

Even though compass tattoos typically symbolize direction, guidance, and protection, you may consider using compass imagery on your fallen soldier’s memorial tattoo.

Compasses also represent a safe journey, which would be appropriate since your friend or family member is making a journey. 

6. Yellow ribbon

People use yellow commemorative ribbons to honor someone serving in the military.

Consider honoring someone who is now at sea with a yellow ribbon. You may also add the birth and death dates to the ribbon for someone who makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Larger US Navy Memorial Tattoo Ideas

Prefer to have a statement piece? Tattoos are creative ways to honor someone, so make sure you take time to think about the tattoo before the needle touches your skin. You may want to combine several images to tell the story of your deceased loved one. 

Some of these design ideas would also be appropriate for fellow sailors who would like to honor someone lost in battle. 

7. Portrait

You may consider tattooing a picture of your loved one as a memorial tattoo. Make sure you hire a talented tattoo artist for the job, as creating tattooed portraits requires great skill. 

You may want to choose a military portrait of your loved one as an example. 

8. American flag

If you would like to honor your deceased loved one’s sacrifice, consider having an American flag added within the design of the tattoo. The flag could be waving, tattered in the breeze or placed on the bow of a ship. 

Adding text to this tattoo will indicate that you are honoring a deceased veteran. Consider “never forget” or “in loving memory.”

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9. Ship

If your loved one was proud of his ship, consider having it tattooed on your body. A ship would make a dramatic tattoo, especially across your back.

10. Anchor

Anchors can be appropriate for large designs as well. Ask your tattoo artists to create a design that has a rope, rose, or dixie cup hat incorporated around the anchor. 

While this design would be appropriate for someone who is a member of the U.S. Navy, it can also be used as a memorial tattoo. Add the name of the deceased and the birth and death date to the image. 

11. Waves

Waves make a great nautical image. Within the waves, place the name and birth/death dates of the deceased.

12. Eagles or eagle wing

A bald eagle tattoo can show your patriotic spirit but you can use tattoos with wings for a memorial tattoo.

Combine this dual symbolism and design a tattoo for your fallen soldier based on the wing of an eagle. 

Old-School or Retro Navy Memorial Tattoo Idea

Make sure you let your tattoo artist know if you’re looking for an old-school or retro Navy tattoo. Old school tattoos not only have particular designs, but they also have specific color palettes. 

Here are some designs that have stood the test of time. 

13. Anchor

An anchor appears in many traditional Navy tattoos, but there are many different versions of this retro design. For example, some anchors have a rope wrapped around them, and others have a rose or another type of flower. You might also find a tattoo design that shows an eagle gripping an anchor or one emblazoned with the words “Grandpa” or “Dad.” 

No matter the design you choose, an anchor tattoo symbolizes strength, safety, and ability. (Also, Popeye had a tattoo of an anchor on each arm, so if it was good enough for the “Sailor Man,” maybe it’s good enough for you.)

14. Ship

Are you looking for an impressive tattoo? Why not ask for a depiction of a ship across your back? While this can be a tattoo that’s appropriate for modern times, it could also be considered “retro,” especially if you use an older vessel for inspiration.

Are you looking for a less detailed tattoo? Consider asking the tattoo artist for a silhouette of a ship.

15. Lighthouse

A lighthouse is a sign of hope and safety, but it’s also considered a sign of strength since it’s built to weather any storm. A lighthouse could also make an excellent memorial tattoo for someone who wants to honor a loved one in the Navy but didn’t serve themselves.

16. Compass rose

While a compass rose tattoo can sometimes represent a spiritual awakening, it’s also a practical instrument used in old-school Navy tattoos. 

17. Skull

Sometimes people use the image of a skull in their Navy-themed tattoos. Sometimes the skull has a Dixie cup hat with a large anchor in the background. 

18. Mermaids

You may want to have the mermaid on your tattoo sit on an anchor.

19. Hula girls

While this design may not be an excellent choice for some, it is undoubtedly an old-school Navy tattoo idea. 

Navy Memorial Tattoo Ideas to Remember a Parent

Our hearts go out to you if you recently lost your mom or dad. As a part of your grieving process, you may feel drawn to a tattoo designed to honor your parent. Whether they were in the Navy or you are a member of this illustrious organization, here are some ideas for memorial tattoos.

20. Heart

This classic tattoo pattern can be designed to honor your parent by adding a simple banner across the front of the design. The heart is also an old-school or retro design idea appropriate for the previous section of this article.

21. Folded flag

Your family may have been presented a folded flag at your loved one’s funeral. If this image will forever be associated with that moment of your life, consider getting a tattoo of the image to remember your parent.

22. Wings

Wings are common memorial tattoos, especially if they’re personalized with your loved one’s name, birth date, and death date. However, this symbol isn’t necessarily specific to the Navy.

23. Portrait

One way to commemorate the life of a loved one is to have their portrait tattooed on your body. Make sure the tattoo artist has a lot of experience with this type of design, and ask to see lots of examples of their work.

24. Black rose

While the red rose is often used in Navy tattoos, you might consider using the image of a black rose to commemorate the death of a loved one.

25. Sparrow

Sparrow tattoos have many different meanings for members of the Navy. A dead sparrow (or a sparrow with a dagger through it) typically symbolizes the loss of a loved one. 

26. Eagle tattoo

Some people choose a patriotic design to honor a fallen military member. Why not have the image of a fierce-looking eagle tattooed on your body to remember a deceased parent?

27. Dog tags

Dog tags are a prevalent symbol of military service. Consider having your loved one’s dog tags tattooed on your body. You can edit the text on the tag to include the birth and death date of the deceased.

Sayings or Quotes for a US Navy Memorial Tattoo

Sometimes tattoos need explanations. What better way to explain the significance of a tattoo than to add a few lines of text? 

Use one of these sayings or quotes to tell others that you are mourning the loss of a member of the U.S. Navy. 

28. “May your soul float on.”

This quote may accompany a ship or anchor tattoo. Add the name of your loved one as well as the dates of their birth and death.

29. “You are the anchor of my soul.”

Have you felt adrift since the loss of your loved one? Perhaps the only thing that keeps you anchored is the memories you had with the person you lost. 

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30. “Always in my heart.”

This phrase has nothing to do with the fact that the deceased is a Navy vet, but it may describe exactly how you feel. 

31. “In memory of…”

Add the people you plan to honor with this tattoo. If the list of names is lengthy, consider including initials.

32. “Semper Fortis”

The official Navy motto is “Semper Fortis,” which translates to “always courageous.” Honor your Navy veteran by adding their name above or below this phrase.

33. “Non sibi sed patriae”

The unofficial Navy motto is “Non sibi sed patriae.” It translates to, “not for self but for country,” and explains your loved one’s ultimate sacrifice. 

34. “Brother” or “Sister”

Honor a family member with your tattoo or a brother or spirit in spirit. 

35. “You were my favorite hello and my hardest goodbye.”

We know this quote has little to do with the Navy, but it is the perfect message for a remembrance tattoo.

36. “Heaven has my hero.”

You can accompany this saying with a wing or angel tattoo.

Other Ideas for Remembering a Loved One

Not everyone is into tattoos, so are you looking for other ideas of what to do to remember a loved one 

You can do simple things: 

  • Share your loved one’s image on social media on their death anniversary each year. Let others know that you have not forgotten the date. Consider adding a quote to the image. You may also want to share a favorite story that describes your loved one’s personality. 
  • You could also do an act of service to remember the person you lost. Contribute to a charity that serves Navy veterans and their families. Help someone in your local community in the name of your deceased loved one.
  • Do something that reminds you of your loved one. Make a favorite dish that she enjoyed. Play her favorite music or purchase her favorite flowers. These acts may make you feel close to the person you lost.

Finally, spend some time at a special place to reflect upon your loved one’s life. Whether that is the cemetery, where the cremains were scattered, or a favorite park, spend time in silent reflection. Think about how your life was better having known that person instead of focusing on the fact that they are now gone. 

If you're looking for more ways to honor deceased veterans, read our guides on how to donate a veteran's burial flag and how to write a veteran's obituary.

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