Meet the Captain

We asked you to submit questions for our new Captain Sea Cadets – here are his answers 

Photo of Captain Neil Downing
Captain Sea Cadets, Captain Neil Downing RN

Our new Captain Sea Cadets has had a varied career, from starting as a Midshipman in the Royal Naval Reserve, to commanding an RN Establishment, all while being a headteacher. Read on to find out more about him…

Name: Captain Neil Downing RN 

From: Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland 

What’s your earliest memory of being on the water? 

A family holiday on a motor cruiser on Loch Erne in County Fermanagh. I think I was about five years old. 

Were you ever a sea cadet? 

Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to be a sea cadet, but I joined the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) (RN) at my school when I was 12 and remained with the organisation until I joined the Royal Naval Reserve when I was 18. I have many amazing memories of my time in the cadets and would thoroughly recommend the experience to any young person who wants to have nautical adventure and fun.

Tell us something more about you

I’m an animal lover and have had a variety of pets over the years – dogs, cats, lizards, guinea pigs, rabbits and hamsters. As my children have grown up and moved away, their animals have remained at home with my wife, Paula, and me. My daughter’s cat, Baby, is now in charge. She cries like a baby and has trained her humans to ensure she gets what she wants. She can regularly be found curled up where she is really not supposed to be. She always goes for long walks with us, but insists on being carried home!

What made you want to join the Royal Navy?

My grandfather was a Royal Naval Shipwright and I remember listening to his stories about life at sea. But I think I first thought of joining the Royal Navy as an officer as a result of my experiences with the CCF. I remember going to sea on HMS Thatchum when I was about 15. The Officer In Charge gave me the chance to take the helm and try my hand at navigating. That’s probably when I got the bug!

What difference do you want to make at Sea Cadets?

I hope to make Sea Cadets an even stronger organisation, by seeking out and securing more opportunities that will enable cadets to develop the life skills that they will need to reach their full potential in an ever-changing world.

What skill or experience from your RN years will you bring to the role of Captain Sea Cadets? 

While I originally joined the Royal Naval Reserve as a Mine Warfare Specialist, I have spent a lot of my career developing training packages and working with the newest members of the naval family to ensure that they become capable in their role as soon as possible. I believe that my skills and experience in RN training and civilian education will help me to ensure that all of our sea cadets get the best possible training experience and that our dedicated volunteers will have the skills needed to provide that experience. 

Do you plan to visit units around the UK? 

I want to visit as many units as I can around the country. I am already talking to the Area Officers about visiting a number of units informally, before I begin to make formal visits in my role as Captain Sea Cadets. Captain Phil has passed me a list of the units that he has not been able to visit during his time as Captain Sea Cadets, and I intend to prioritise them over the coming months. 

What aspect of being Captain are you most excited about? 

I am really looking forward to visiting units, so that I can meet as many of you as possible! I enjoy talking to young people and want to give as many as I can the opportunity to talk about their experiences and how they see their Sea Cadets experience developing to better serve them.

What would you say to a young person thinking of joining Sea Cadets?

Sea Cadets will help you to develop friendships and many of the skills that you will need, in order to reach your full potential. I truly believe that Sea Cadets can inspire you and help you to seize the opportunities that are offered as you journey through life. 

Captains Neil Downing and Phil Russell
Captain Phil Russell RN hands over the role of Captain Sea Cadets to Captain Neil Downing RN

See what Captain Sea Cadets is up to by following him on Twitter @Captain_SCC

More news & Events

A group of cadets on board TS Royalist

Keeping everyone safe at Sea Cadets 

The latest editions of the Safeguarding Pocket Guides are now available for juniors and sea cadets to help keep everyone safe

Midlands Boat Station

Midlands Boat Station almost ready for action

Progress has been made at our new boat station and it’s nearly ready to welcome cadets for life-changing experiences

South West Area

Area news: Spring 2024

See what cadets have been getting up to, from winning sailing competitions to celebrating 50 years with Sea Cadets.
Share news from your area by emailing